6. The W. Pritchard Brown Wildlife Sanctuary, Valley Road, Donated: November 24, 1969, 10.3 acres, Walking Trails Open to the Public


The W. Pritchard Browne Sanctuary on Valley Road

One of the earliest gifts to the New Canaan Land Trust, this trailed property is a wonderful 30 minute walk through one of the nicest and varied natural woodland settings in New Canaan. Accessible in two points along Valley Road,  the trail offers a wetlands walkway and a wonderful view of the reservoir and fern meadows. Don't miss the large Glacial Erratic Rock at the far corner of the property.





View Browne Wildlife Sanctuary in a larger map


Thanks to the recent efforts of numerous Land Trust volunteers, it is now possible to enjoy a pleasant ramble around the newly created trail system on the Land Trust’s ten acre W. Prichard Browne Wildlife Sanctuary, located on Valley Road in New Canaan.

Twenty-two thousand years ago, such a walk would not have been possible. 

Not only had the trail not yet been built, but the Browne Sanctuary, along with all of New England, remained covered by the Laurentide Ice Sheet.  As this massive glacial system had advanced across Connecticut, it collected rocky material of all sizes, from tiny grains of sand to massive boulders.  That material  traveled with the ice as the glaciers made their southeastward advance across Connecticut.

Then 21,000 or so years ago the glacial  advance came to a halt and the glaciers began to recede. The retreating edge of this great ice sheet may have passed through the Browne Sanctuary around 17,000 years ago. At whatever moment that event actually occurred, one of the Land Trust’s  most enduring visitors arrived in the Browne Wildlife Sanctuary and has remained there ever since.  I refer to The Big Rock.

The Big Rock is the largest glacial erratic to be found on any of the Land Trust’s properties, and may be the largest glacial erratic on public land in New Canaan.

A glacial erratic takes its name from a Latin verb that means “to wander or roam” and refers to any rock carried by glacial ice, often over  great distances, and then deposited in a new location when the ice melts. Strangers in strange lands, the erratic nature of these rocks can be confirmed by noting that their composition differs from the bedrock on which they have come to rest. 

The Big Rock not only provides a memorable destination today for human visitors to the Browne Wildlife Sanctuary, it has undoubtedly  provided reliable shelter for a vast array of animals over the past 17,000 years. Currently, The Big Rock also hosts a variety of plants, including several trees that have taken root in small crevasses in the rock. 

Unfortunately, small cracks, into which roots and ice can work their way,  are the undoing of erratics.  An excellent example of an erratic that has been split in two by natural forces can be found on another Land Trust property, the Watson-Symington Woodlands Sanctuary, located off of Wellesley Drive in New Canaan. 

So do not delay a visit to The Big Rock at the Browne Wildlife Sanctuary; the rock may be much less impressive 17,000 years from now.

Information about the Laurentide Ice Sheet taken from this source: 

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The Browne property: New Canaan’s tranquil woodland sanctuary

Sanctuary was sixth parcel donated to New Canaan Land Trust

A stone wall in the New Canaan Land Trust's Browne property. (Cristina Commendatore photo)
A stone wall in the New Canaan Land Trust’s Browne property. (Cristina Commendatore photo)
A stone wall in the New Canaan Land Trust's Browne property. (Cristina Commendatore photo)
A stone wall in the New Canaan Land Trust’s Browne property. (Cristina Commendatore photo)
The sun shone through the trees and illuminated amber leaves carpeting the ground on the New Canaan Land Trust’s W. Pritchard Browne Wildlife Sanctuary. The sanctuary, a 10.5-acre woodland property that offers views of the Grupes Reservoir and fern meadows, is just that. It is a place for residents — and the general public — to walk, contemplate, enjoy nature, and simply unwind.
The sanctuary was the sixth parcel donated to the New Canaan Land Trust. Mr. W. Pritchard donated the property on Nov. 24, 1969, just two years after the Land Trust was founded in 1967. The trailed property is a half-mile, or 20-minute, walk through one of the town’s woodland settings and is accessible from two points along Valley Road. The trail offers a wetland walkway, elevation changes, a view of the reservoir and fern meadows, and a large, glacial erratic rock sits at a far corner of the property.
Chris Schipper, the New Canaan Land Trust president, makes his way across a wooden walkway he created in the Land Trust’s W. Pritchard Browne Wildlife Sanctuary. (Cristina Commendatore photo)
Chris Schipper, the New Canaan Land Trust president, makes his way across a wooden walkway he created in the Land Trust’s W. Pritchard Browne Wildlife Sanctuary. (Cristina Commendatore photo)
The Land Trust, led by President Chris Schipper, has been cleaning up and maintaining several of its properties in town for public usage. The Browne Sanctuary and recently opened Nancy Watson Symington Wildlife Sanctuary, located off Wellesley Drive, are among them.
The trust combined forces with the high school’s Service League of Boys to clean up the Browne Sanctuary and make it accessible to the public by removing branches and cutting back invasive plants and leaves. In addition, a grant from the New Canaan Community Foundation helped the Land Trust purchase markers to set up boundary lines near abutting private properties, as well as to identify accessways to its properties.
An entrance to the New Canaan Land Trust's Browne property. (Cristina Commendatore photo)
An entrance to the New Canaan Land Trust’s Browne property. (Cristina Commendatore photo)
“The properties have been mothballed for the past 25 to 35 years,” Land Trust board member Haik Kavookjian told the Advertiser. “The vision is to make them community pocket parks, so to speak. They are green places for the community and people who are jogging along roadways and the valleys in their neighborhoods could take a detour and have a place to walk or see birds. They are little places of tranquility for the community.”
A deer skull and antlers found on the Browne property hangs on a tree. (Cristina Commendatore photo)
A deer skull and antlers found on the Browne property hangs on a tree. (Cristina Commendatore photo)
Among the goals of the Land Trust are to give residents quiet refuges and places to enjoy open space in New Canaan, as well as to increase membership to help preserve open space in New Canaan. Schipper referred to the Land Trust’s properties, many of which contain old, even historic, stonewalls, as part of the “brand New Canaan.”
The Land Trust currently has 125 members; Schipper’s goal is to bring membership to 600.
“We want to keep membership up to help fund that brand,” Schipper said. “We also encourage people — those who have a deep and abiding love of land who want to see it as such in perpetuity — to donate land to the Land Trust as a gift.”
Along with its stonewall, many other vestiges of the land are scattered and now even on display throughout the Browne property. Skulls of deer that volunteers found in the woods now hang on tree trunks along the trail. A bit farther down along the trail are remnants of an old livestock fence, and an old, rusted plow head found in the woods now rests on a rock along the path. Schipper also built a walkway made of old wood, and old beer and soda bottles found on the property line a portion of the path.
Earlier this year, the Land Trust changed leadership after nearly three decades. Art Potts, who served as president for the past 28 years, stepped down from his post in January and handed over the reigns to Schipper. Members also updated the organization’s image with a new logo and have been spreading the word about some of the work they’re doing and properties that are opening.
Last month, the Land Trust merged with New Canaan Audubon Society in an effort to promote the benefits of preserving open space as wildlife sanctuaries, as well as the scenic beauty of New Canaan. The merger brought seven Audubon parcels of 56 acres into the Land Trust, which increased holdings by 20% and adds more than 100 near neighbors as potential new members.
The Land Trust cares for 365 acres of woodlands, meadows, orchards and wetland marshes in town — 261 acres are owned outright by the trust, 48 acres comprise conservation easements, and 56 acres were formerly held by the Audubon Society.
“I am coming up on a year as president,” Schipper said. “And I am more enamored of the scenic beauty of this town.”
“Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads,” he said quoting Henry David Thoreau.