With a panoramic view of surrounding towns’ distant horizons, Dave Brooker looked across the lawns and meadows covering Newtown’s highest point. He is the new Newtown Forest Association (NFA) caretaker — an unpaid position — now living at Holcombe Hill Wildlife Preserve and in the caretaker’s residence of former land and homeowner Josephine Holcombe. The NFA acquired the 86-acre parcel at 65 Great Hill Road through Ms Holcombe’s estate in 1997. The preserve is 830 feet above sea level, and includes 30 acres of hay fields.
From his spot on a stone bench shaded by a manicured tree, Mr Brooker said, “I am taking care of what I feel is a gem. It’s a privilege. This is a pretty cool place, fantastic.”
He recalled his first day on the job earlier this summer, July 4. “It was a pinch-yourself moment.” He had set up a grill and cooked hot dogs, watching bursts of distant fireworks brighten his evening view. His job, which includes maintenance, tree work, security, acting as handyman, custodian, and more, was meant to be.
Throughout his life, he said the Holcombe property “kept popping up.” With Mr Brooker this week was NFA President Bob Eckenrode, who slapped him on the back saying, “A door opened, my friend.”
“I have a unique affinity for the property,” Mr Brooker said. In high school he had worked at 100 Acre Farm in Newtown. “We would come here and hay two times a year,” he said. Nearly 25 years after leaving high school, during which time he traveled the country, worked as a caddy for the Ladies Professional Golf Association, as a caddy master in Houston, Texas, and as a drum technician in the music industry, he returned to Connecticut in February 2010. He had also stopped to see an uncle in Washington DC, where Mr Brooker slipped on black ice and broke his leg. The injury was significant in that “it stopped me,” he said.
The broken leg interrupted his life of living from hotel room to hotel room amid the “craziness,” he said. The break took 25 months to heal. During his rehabilitation, doctors had told him to find hilly ground to walk, and strengthen his broken leg. “So, I stumbled around up here for hours on end,” Mr Brooker said.
Last Thanksgiving, he learned that the former NFA caretaker and Mr Brooker’s friend, Ray Ormsbee, was leaving.
Mr Eckenrode and the NFA board members soon interviewed Mr Brooker, and eventually welcomed to Holcombe Hill. Mr Eckenrode said that they enjoyed “great results” with Mr Ormsbee, and “fortunately, he was friends with [Mr Brooker], and the transition was smooth.” He believes that Mr Brooker has the “enthusiasm and passion” needed for the job.
“Ray is always a phone call away, and the board has been very helpful,” Mr Brooker said. He has expectations of keeping the property in order, catching up on the work list, and welcoming guests. The nature preserve is open to the public between sunrise and sunset, and offers various meadows, trails, and views. Dogs on a leash are also welcome. As the NFA and Mr Brooker try to accommodate the public, they also hope to see a “spirit of cooperation” from guests enjoying the preserve, Mr Eckenrode said.
On Saturday, September 6, the NFA will host a Sunset Wine Tasting event on the property to celebrate the private land trust’s past 90 years of preserving open space in Newtown. The event is $35 per person, 21 and older only.
The Newtown Forest Association is a nonprofit organization that protects more than 1,100 acres of open space, forest, farmland, wildlife, nature preserves, and watersheds in Newtown to be preserved for future generations. The NFA is Connecticut’s oldest private land trust. Learn more at NewtownForestAssociation.org