Centennial of New Canaan’s Bristow Bird Sanctuary


The Helen and Alice Bristow Bird Sanctuary and Wildwood Preserve will mark its 100th anniversary on September 8, 2024. This centennial celebration honors a century of conservation efforts, beginning with the sanctuary’s establishment in 1924 by the New Canaan Bird Protective Society.

Founded by a diverse group of residents including industry leaders, philanthropists, and local businesspeople, the society formed in response to the widespread slaughter of birds across the United States. Their goal was to foster appreciation for birds and halt their indiscriminate killing. These visionaries acquired land on Old Stamford Road and established the sanctuary, which was later deeded to the town in 1934, exemplifying an early model of public-private partnership in conservation.

Recent years have seen significant improvements to the 17-acre preserve. Under the guidance of Conservation Commission Chairman Chris Schipper and other town officials, the sanctuary underwent extensive restoration and renovation. This included the creation of the Bristow Park Centennial Master Plan and numerous enhancements such as bird-protective fences, cleaned ponds, rebuilt rock walls, and educational facilities.

The sanctuary’s origin is rooted in a broader movement against the slaughter of birds in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Advocates like Ernest Harold Baynes and President Theodore Roosevelt emphasized both the joy birds bring to human life and their economic importance in controlling pests and ensuring crop yields.

The preservation efforts in New Canaan paralleled national conservation initiatives. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, for instance, represented a significant federal step in bird protection.

The New Canaan Bird Protective Society played a pivotal role in local conservation. Leaders like Harry Bates Thayer and Stephen B. Hoyt were instrumental in establishing and nurturing the sanctuary. Their dedication to bird protection and environmental education set the foundation for the sanctuary’s enduring success.

The property’s acquisition in 1924 was largely due to the efforts of Stephen Hoyt and the generosity of donors like Mrs. Barend Van Gerbig. Over the decades, the sanctuary has been a focal point for community involvement in conservation, with various individuals and groups contributing to its development and maintenance.

In anticipation of the centennial, the sanctuary and preserve have been revitalized, marrying history with modern conservation efforts. The Pollinator Path Garden, a new addition, honors late local naturalist Cam Hutchins, showcasing the sanctuary’s ongoing commitment to supporting local ecosystems. Furthermore, practical enhancements, such as senior-friendly access and extended sidewalks, ensure the sanctuary remains accessible and inviting to all visitors. These improvements, funded through a blend of town and private donations, underscore the enduring partnership between New Canaan’s residents and its natural heritage.

The sanctuary stands as a living classroom, inspiring new generations of naturalists, conservationists, and community leaders. It embodies a legacy of environmental stewardship and community spirit, continually evolving to meet the needs of both its wildlife inhabitants and human visitors. As families enjoy the serene beauty of the sanctuary, they also contribute to a story that extends far beyond a single century.

As the Helen and Alice Bristow Bird Sanctuary and Wildwood Preserve steps into its next century, it remains a vibrant symbol of New Canaan’s commitment to nature and community. It’s a place where history is alive, and the future is green. As we celebrate this milestone, our coverage will continue throughout the year, sharing more stories of the sanctuary’s past, present, and promising future.

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