"Our ultimate goal is an educational and cultural facility that brings scientific and artistic endeavors into intimate contact with each other. We want to promote eco-friendly technologies in a way that excites the imagination, celebrates the cultural richness of Middletown, and helps people in very practical ways to live their lives and support their families. The Jonah Center will not simply entertain visitors; it will inspire and educate them to see, think, and act in a new way."
You can read more about this project here.
It strange how I've passed by the street where the former landfill is located hundreds of times but had no awareness of what lies behind it. It is in an area of Middletown that is surrounded by old factories covered with graffitti and littered with trash. I vaguely remember visiting the old dump with my father when I was about 5 or so. I was fascinated by all the gulls and by the huge pile of trash. The smell of the dump is something that I have never forgotton either.
Here is a view from the top of the same hill but from the other side. You can probably see why this area of town hasn't held much interest for me. It is human nature to ignore that which is not attractive but if you take the time to look beyond the surface, you may be surprised at what you find.
On Sunday, February 3rd, I parked my truck in a factory parking lot. I entered the landfill area through an opening in a chain-linked fence which was lined with a single row of very tall pine trees. There was toilet paper and garbage bags hanging from the trees. I passed through pricker bushes and stepped over a little gully filled with mud and water. There was old tires and other bits of junk on the ground. The whole area smelled like mulch piles comprised of used cigars. I started to feel like I was in a chapter of one of Stephen King's novels and that some form of mutated beings might suddenly emerge from the toxic soup that surrounded me.
It wasn't long though before I realized that there was more to the area than meets the eye. I could hear the sound of birds singing and plenty of them at that. Sparrows, woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice were all there and let their prescence be know. I saw a quick flash of a dark raptor quickly pass by me. I could not determine with any certainty what it was. I walked the around the border of the landfill mound and saw a portion of the Mattabasset River. It is a slow- running, murky river. No doubt that work needs to be done to improve the quality of the water, but rivers of this type are often more appealing to wildlife than fast- running , clear rivers are. I heard Carolina Wrens from multiple directions. By the time the morning ended, I counted at least a dozen Carolina Wrens. I cimbed to the top of the hill and enjoyed the view. Looking though binoculars, there appeared to be dozens of gulls, Common Mergansers, Mute Swans and Canada Geese. I could see a Red-tailed Hawk perched in a tree. I didn't see any Bald Eagles on this morning but often see them circling the area. As I looked around I saw numerous American Goldfinches, White-throated Sparrows and Song Sparrows.
After enjoying my view, I worked my way back down the hill passing to Eastern Cottontail Rabbits on the way down. When I reached the bottom of the hill, I had a splendid view of a Northern Harrier swooping and hovering over low over the grass that I had just passed over. That must have been the dark hawk that I had seen pass by and by the looks of things it must have been eager for me to leave. Seeing this large but graceful hawk hunting on top of an abandoned dump made me think that wildlife often survives in spite of us not because of us. I explored the area a little further by following some railroad tracks westward where I crossed a tressle that passed over the Coginchaug River. I always get a little nervous when crossing these things because you can see the water in between the railroad ties. Some of the wood always seem to be rotted too further adding to the uneasiness. The key is not to look down to much. There were some no trespassing signs so so I did my best not to trip over them. As I ventured a little further, I came across a Belted Kingfisher, and several Red-bellied Woodpeckers. My journey ended at a vacant lot that led to another nice view of the marsh seen in the above photo. Exploring this area by canoe is really the best way. You can work your way through the whole marsh and the surrounding areas.
My last stop was at Saint John's Cemetery. It offers limited access to The Coginchaug River and surrounding woods. I was rewarded with a nice view of a Sharp-shinned Hawk (?-or Cooper's) perched on a branch.
I came away from this day with a new appreciation of the rivers and marshland that border the north end of Middletown. It may not be the most attractive part of town, but birds don't care about that. They are looking for food, water, and habitat. This area offers all three. I'm look forward to further exploring this area as the seasons change. If you come across an area that is lined with old factories or the site of an old dump, you may want to see what's behind them. Who knows, you may be surprised at what you find.-Please note that there are no walking trails in the area as of yet although there are plans to add trails in the future. It is easier to gain access to the landill hill through the recycling center entrance when it is open.