Volunteers Refresh Gardens At Holcombe Hill During Annual Day Of Action

Sparse, cottony clouds and a gentle breeze kept volunteers company Wednesday, June 4, at the Holcombe Hill Wildlife Preserve.

Members from various departments at The Taunton Press gave their time and effort to the Newtown Forest Association property, which includes the Josephine Holcombe Memorial Garden, installed several years ago around her former house at Newtown’s highest elevation. Volunteers worked to weed, prune, edge, and brighten up the perennial beds and shrubbery during the annual Day of Action, sponsored by the United Way of Western Connecticut (UWWC).

Nearly 600 volunteers from 25 local businesses and corporations demonstrated their community support, according to a recent release. More than 100 projects — including the Holcombe property maintenance for the NFA, a private, nonprofit land trust — took place to benefit more than 30 nonprofit agencies throughout greater Danbury and greater New Milford areas this week.

Other volunteers from Newtown Savings Bank spent time gardening and completing grounds work, painting benches, and laying down top soil and grass seed at The Children’s Adventure Center.

Glancing toward Valerie Droukas, who spilled fresh mulch across a shaded garden bed, and looking past the one-story brick house where several other Taunton Press members dug out weeds and smoothed rocks from an area of ground, NFA President Bob Eckenrode said, “They share a passion of having the time to work outside.” Working at the edge of a field left to grow wild and encourage habitat, Kate Sheely, Jonel Dushay, Sheha Suryawanshi, and Dawn Ussery momentarily set their hand tools aside to glance out at a blue sky broken by white tufts of clouds. Wearing sunglasses and smiling as she worked, Ms Ussery said, “We were hoping it would be sunny.”

Thankful for the help on the NFA grounds, board of directors member Harvey Pessin said, “We count on volunteers to help us.”

Her attention drawn from the pruning work she was doing at a side bed, Nancy Boudreau stopped to listen. “Bobolinks. You don’t hear that anywhere else.” She believes that the uncut meadow provides the habitat the bird needs. She described and imitated the “mechanical” robotic warbling of the small birds. “Bobolinks are great; they make a pretty sound.”

Mr Eckenrode agreed that due to seasonal mowing, they lose their habitats.

In a recent release, UWWC CEO Kim Morgan said, “Volunteers are the foundation of every successful organization and every thriving community. We are grateful to be surrounded by so many socially responsible companies who truly value volunteerism and who encourage their employees to dedicate a workday to volunteering. It is because of their leadership support and commitment to our community that so much important work is done and so many lives are changed.”

Day of Action also provides a financial benefit to the nonprofits hosting the projects. These projects can potentially save the organizations thousands of dollars in costly, but necessary maintenance projects, enabling valuable and limited resources to be used for direct services to the organizations’ clients.

 Area companies have signed up for projects such as reading to children, coordinating book drives and book fairs for preschool children, conducting a financial literacy seminar for area workers, cleaning up playgrounds, landscaping, painting, and cleaning. In addition to the volunteer efforts, local businesses have donated thousands of dollars worth of materials and supplies in support of Day of Action projects. 


Holcombe Hill

This 86-acre parcel is situated on the southerly side of Great Hill Road and was donated to NFA in 1997 through the estate of Josephine Holcombe. The property boasts an elevation of 830 feet above sea level; it is the highest point in town, and affords spectacular views of three counties from the 30 acres of hay fields on the property. The buildings on the property are now occupied by NFA offices and maintenance equipment.

Mr and Mrs Holcombe moved to Newtown in 1934.  They purchased land on Great Hill Road in 1938, where she resided until her death in 1997.  During World War II the Holcombes engaged in farming in the course of which Mrs Holcombe operated a crawler tractor and raised livestock. Her husband served as first selectman in the 1940s and was a member of the first Legislative Council.  For many years Mrs Holcombe volunteered as an aide and receptionist in the Emergency Room at Danbury Hospital.

Mrs Holcombe maintained more than a mile of trails on her property where she walked her beloved dogs.  In addition to this parcel, she donated 14 acres on Birch Hill Road and an additional 64-acre parcel on Birch Hill Road with an antique barn know as the Holcombe Preserve Memorial Trail.

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