At the Fannie Stebbins Memorial Wildlife Refuge along the Connecticut River in Longmeadow, the floodplain greenery is so full of life that the air practically vibrates with the noises of insects and birds.
This is where Kate Leary began studying plants in 1996.
Then a recently retired teacher taking New England Wildflower Society classes, Leary was soon recruited to be a trustee of the Allen Bird Club. Earlier, the Club had created the Stebbins refuge with small, one-by-one purchases of land.
Leary’s dedication to the land never ceased as she scrambled to secure grants to remove the invasive plants, like Japanese knotweed, that threatened to overrun the refuge’s floodplain. However, as committed volunteers to the project became older, the Allen Bird Club needed a long-term plan.
“We decided to convey the property to an entity that could secure it in perpetuity,” Leary says about the transfer of the property to the Conservancy and to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for inclusion in the Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge.
Last spring the Club donated 244 acres to the Conservancy that over the next three years will be restored using funding secured from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
The Conservancy’s Markelle Smith, who collaborated with Leary, the Stebbins Board and federal partners on the project, says, “It’s gratifying to see Kate’s vision and the Allen Bird Club’s mission achieved at Stebbins. This was a partnership project that resulted in the protection and restoration of a significant floodplain along the Connecticut River. We’re thrilled with the results and are planning to replicate the project in other areas.”