The Shoemaker Demonstration Forest

– by Ann Racy

Dan Donahue once commented, “Dave Shoemaker was a man of action – he liked to get things done”. I think that comment was an apt observation. Over the years , Mr. Shoemaker was able, through his vision and generosity, to ensure others the privilege of using and enjoying the woods as he did. He gave a great gift to all of us with the donation of his land to The Nature Conservancy totaling nearly 500 acres.

Dave was from an educated, affluent family in Pittsburgh , Pa. In 1938, he left Long Island and abandoned his career as an artist, deciding to move to Connecticut with his wife, where he became a gentleman farmer. He began to buy parcels of land, raise livestock (pygmy goats, rare breeds of cattle, a Myna bird and pet skunk) and experiment with various crops and farming techniques. Mr. Shoemaker loved his land and wanted it to be used and enjoyed, so he encouraged those of us who were neighbors and friends to do so. At the same time, he was planning how to make certain that others in the future would have the same opportunity.

In 1974 he donated 436 acres to The Nature Conservancy for the creation of a wildlife refuge. Rock Spring Game Refuge with its spectacular vistas and features would later become a popular landmark for outdoor enthusiasts. In 1975, a second gift of 35 acres was donated to The Nature Conservancy, and this became The Shoemaker Demonstration Forest. This piece is located on the Brooklyn Turnpike about 1/2 mile west of Rt. 97 in Scotland, CT (see Maps.) In 1990, ECFLA assumed management of the forest. Based on Mr. Shoemaker’s wishes and “forest ethics”, a team of professionals headed by Dan Donahue and Dick Raymond drafted a management plan for the property. It would become the first land trust property held by The Forest Landowners of Eastern CT (forerunner of ECFLA/WDLT) and the first in the state to have an approved Forest Stewardship plan written for it under the federal Stewardship Incentive Program.

Town hall records give little insight into past land use and/or history of this property. Interviews with local multigenerational families confirm the presence (at least up until the Depression era) of a small store selling tobacco and homemade bread, located on
Brooklyn Turnpike a short distance from the property. The Brooklyn Turnpike was an old stagecoach road (? Boston to Providence ) with toll gates scattered along the route. Rumor has it (this is from the town clerk ) that a local antique dealer has a picture in his shop of one such gate, and for the sum of $300 dollars is willing to part with it.

The Shoemaker Demonstration Forest is a challenging property in many respects. It has a relatively flat forested/wetland terrain with several intermittent watercourses. There are no spectacular views, Class A streams or unique habitats. It does have at least one perennial stream, and its proximity to a 200 acre watershed should provide some good riparian habitat as well as serving as a wildlife corridor to some of the farmlands on the west side of Rt. 97.

Currently we are in the process of updating the Stewardship Plan. Some of the same issues such as accessibility, parking, and health and productivity of the forest are still with us. Others, such as signage, marking trails and boundaries are being addressed. New goals include the possibility of a timber sale, creation of a ruffed grouse drumming area, patch cuts, creation of an interpretative trail system, planting of conifers, and possible partnering with a local school for other educational opportunities. This will be an ongoing process for some time, so we hope that people will stop by, check us out and see how we are doing. Hope to see you there!

Editor’s Note: Ann Racy is a co-steward of The Shoemaker Demonnstration Forest in Scotland , CT. She and her husband are actively involved in managing their 147 acres in Canterbury .

This article originally appeared in the June 2004 ECFLA/WDLT Newsletter.