Community News

Revised Resource Inventory Is Published

A revised edition of the Norfolk Conservation Commission’s Natural Resource Inventory has been completed and is available for sale at Town Hall, the National Iron Bank and the Norfolk Library at a price of $30. It is also available for free online.

The NRI offers fascinating insight into the geology, weather, soils, aquatics, plants and wildlife in Norfolk. It also includes information about open space and historical resources.

“It covers the town pretty comprehensively,” said Conservation Commission member John Anderson, one of the authors. “The inventory attempts to convey how many different resources we have and why they are important.”

The NRI is richly illustrated. “The photography is fantastic,” said Anderson. “We are blessed with many great photographers. [The late] Bruce Frisch contributed lot of photos and we dedicated this updated issue to him.”

Appendices include numerous lists. “One thing I am really pleased with is that the Inventory is unique to Norfolk. Some [town] inventories list species that are ‘likely to occur’ but we say these are ones that have been observed. If it is not on the list, we haven’t seen it yet,” Anderson said. 

“There is not much difference in the animals that were seen since the last one,” he added. “Most were already here, but we do have more specific information on bats. In the previous edition, one species wasn’t listed and others were possibilities, but with no absolute proof. Now, most of those bats have been discovered. Yes, we do have those, plus one additional species.” Happily, the endangered Little Brown Bat still makes the list.

“We also added Damsel Flies, Dragon Flies and some bees and moths,” he reported.

The number of bird species have increased, but other animals, such as the Northern Flying Squirrel “haven’t been seen for a long time.”

The inventory was compiled through collaboration with many other organizations, including the Agriculture Experiment Station and UConn. “There is climate data in the weather chapter gathered from both Great Mountain and Aton forests, the soils have updated because soil types change, and we have expanded the plant list.”

In the middle of the Inventory is a chapter on recommendations for other town agencies to pursue. “Some recommendations have been modified but many are the same. In many ways, that is the most important part. The rest is a reference list, but the recommendation section is what do you do about it. What difference it will make. There are so many recommendations, we knew there would be some push-back, but we all believe it important to put the recommendations in there.”

He said many of the recommendations would be handled by different town bodies in the normal course of business. But the Conservation Commission also works with groups on such things as invasive plants removal, replacing them with native species, and a stream continuity project, which promotes properly sized culverts so flooding does not occur. 

“We have a list of all the culverts in town and they have been evaluated by Housatonic Valley Association,” he said. “We know which ones are okay and which ones are not good for wildlife.”

The first edition, published in 2009 was created over three years by a subcommittee of the Inland Wetlands Agency. Just before it was finished, the Conservation Commission was formed and the subcommittee was appointed to it.

“A lot of what we do in Conservation is to try to find ways to educate,” Anderson explained. “We put on programs and hope to have a few meetings early this year about the NRI. It’s hard because it involves [scheduling with] other groups like the town administration, P&Z, the IWA, etc.”

The Natural Resource Inventory should be revised every 10 years. “We were a little late,” Anderson says, “but it was a bigger project than we thought it would be. We had to have it reformatted and that alone took a while. There are a lot of moving parts—we already have an errata page.”

Newsletter Editor

Steeple Lifted Aloft for Continued Restoration

Three years after it was gently lifted from its towering position above the Norfolk Church of Christ Congregational, the building’s steeple was hoisted back to its rightful spot over the sanctuary Thursday morning.

“This is Christmas all over again, to be able to get behind the scenes a little bit,” said Pastor Erick Olsen. “I was literally able to hold one of the mechanisms for the crane that lifted it up. It was wonderful.”

Designed in 1813 by master builder David Hoadley, the church, which is constructed on the same site as the first one built in 1760, included an elegant steeple that rose from a square clock tower in two octagonal stages capped by balustrades and a tall spire. It bravely endured 206 years of exposure to the elements in a town dubbed the “Icebox of Connecticut” before restoration began.

But an investigation revealed much deterioration and in fall 2020, the church was warned that even a 45-mile-per-hour gale could bring it tumbling down. It was lifted down on Dec. 23 of that year.

Plans were drawn to replace deteriorated wood, to repair decorative urns and arch balusters, to regild the weathervane and to strip, treat and repaint the spire. The clock tower also received much restorative attention and wood-clad steel columns were installed to support the weight of the steeple. 

With a successful capital campaign behind it, the church even had enough money to repair the belfry clock and chimes. The chimes will play a melody written for them by Robbins Battell, a grandson of the Norfolk’s first pastor, was born only four years after the church was constructed. His grandfather, Ammi Ruhamah Robbins, died the year the second church was built.

Lifting the steeple from its cradle to the top of the church was seamlessly accomplished but only after a chilly two-hour wait for the crowd gathered on the village green in 20-degree temperatures. The contractor decided to change the straps that would secure the steeple to the crane after noticing that they would not clear the spire on top of the structure. Then, when all was secure, it was learned that the steeple was frozen to the cradle. Torches were employed to free it from the icy grip. 

On Thursday afternoon, crews from Valley Restoration LLC were welding the new steel super-structure to the supports in the belfry. “That’s most of the job,” said Olsen. “In the near future, they will shroud the steeple in plastic so the men can heat it and work inside the shroud.”

The steel supports will be sheathed in new material replicating the original structure. Some of the original wood was preserved, but some was too badly deteriorated to be reused, according to Steeple Committee member Marie Civco. “It was rot, rot and more rot,” she said. “Someone said the only thing holding it together was the paint.”

“When it is done, it will look like a brand-new version of what was there,” Olsen predicted. 

When the finished steeple is unveiled this spring, the church will hold a celebration. “We want and need to recognize and celebrate the support we have received for this,” said Olsen. “To be pastor of a church that is clearly so important to so many people is humbling.”

Newsletter Editor

Selectmen Want to Close Pension Fund

The Selectmen looked at termination of the town’s defined benefit pension fund during their meeting this week and decided it would be wise to close the fund and offer annuities to those covered by it. 

“It is very solid defined benefit plan that basically ended in 2011 when we went to a contribution plan—something like a 401(k),” said First Selectman Matt Riiska. “We have six people who are retired who are still in the plan, and two that are still working. We will offer them annuities.”

Persons covered by the old plan will continue to receive the benefits they were promised. “They will receive payments based on their pay grade and years of service,” Riiska said, “but we can probably tap half of what is in the fund to help pay down the town’s debt service.”

There is close to $1.8 million in the fund.

Riiska explained that the fund became “way over funded” when interest rates rose. 

“We decided about three years ago that it would benefit the town to offer annuities [to the pensioners] and to close it. But annuities are more expensive when interest rates are low and it wouldn’t have benefitted the town so much then.”

Faced this year with a cluster of expensive and unbudgeted expenses, the Selectmen and the Board of Finance looked again at the fund and decided to close it and pursue annuities, freeing money to reduce the town’s debt service. With the debt service reduced, Riiska said new borrowing will be sought to cover capital items such as new boilers at the elementary school, keeping taxes lower.

Newsletter Editor

TAHD Letters Say Residents Can Go Home

With remediation of the gas spill complete except for continued testing, the Torrington Area Health District this week sent letters to two families still displaced from their Route 44 homes telling them that they can now go home.

“The letters said the homes now meet acceptable criteria, so they can move back,” said First Selectman Matt Riiska. He said he did not know what the families would decide. 

Since November 2022 the Town has paid for temporary housing for the families, which will end now that the houses have been cleared. “To the best of my knowledge, that’s our position,” Riiska said. “Torrington Area Health and the Department of Health are saying the houses meet the criteria and standards for occupation.” The standard is based on occupancy “24 hours a day, 350 days a year for 30 years.”

“We have been reimbursed by insurance, so that has worked out,” Riiska said. “Our attorneys are still working with the insurance companies to document everything.”

Newsletter Editor

P&Z Approves Three-Lot Subdivision

The Planning and Zoning Commission Tuesday night approved an application for a three-lot subdivision at 305 Mountain Road on a parcel owned by Carlene Laughlin.

She proposed dividing a 57.5-acre parcel into three lots to accommodate construction of two additional structures to be deeded to family members. The new lots would be just under 7 acres and about 7.5 acres.

Allied Engineering, which brought the proposal before the Planning and Zoning Commission for Laughlin, said there is currently a single-family home on the existing parcel. The land is covered by forest and has both wetlands and ledge, with thin soil over the rock. Nevertheless, soil tests have determined the lots to be able to accommodate four-bedroom houses with no impact on stormwater runoff.

Newsletter Editor 

Rescheduled Event

There will be a showing of the film Uprooting Addiction, on Sunday, 2/11/24 at 4:00 p.m. at the Church of Christ Congregational followed by a panel discussion. The film is recommended for ages 12 or older. This free event is sponsored by Greenwoods Counseling, Church of Christ Congregational and the Town of Norfolk Social Services Department. See preview here.

Three Farmers Market Pop-ups Planned

The fate of the Norfolk Farmers Market appears to be settled for another year. The future of the popular market hung in the balance for several months after Farmers Market Committee Chairman Lisa Auclair and market manager Angie Bollard both announced their desire to step down.

At its last meeting, however, the committee had a surprise offer from Chelsea Ryll to manage pop-up markets during the summer and winter Weekend in Norfolk celebrations and at Christmas. The first pop-up market will be staged at Botelle School Feb. 24 during Winter WIN.

In turn, Auclair agreed to continue as chairman for another year and all other members of the committee agreed to continue. Bollard also joined the committee.

“At this time, we are just focusing on the two WIN events and the holiday market in December,” Auclair said. “But we are meeting at the Hub on Tuesday, January 9, at 5:00 p.m. The meeting is open to the public if anyone would like to weigh in or join our efforts in collaborating on what the future of the market looks like.” 

Those who cannot make the meeting but who have suggestions about the future of the market or would like to join the committee can email

Ryll has lived in Norfolk for three years and is mother to a toddler and stepmother to two young adults. She is employed as an energy consultant for Brilliant Solar, a privately owned solar company. Locally. she acts as a liaison for special events at the Hub and works at the Yale Summer Music School.

Newsletter Editor

GMF Weather Station Moves to New Location

In a geological timeframe, it is only a historical blip, but the weather station started in 1932 by Edward “Ted” Childs in Great Mountain Forest (GMF) has provided valuable insights into climatological changes affecting the region for nearly a century.

Now, after 92 years in the same location, the weather station has been moved to a new site. Over Thanksgiving weekend, the station, officially designated as Norfolk 2SW by the National Weather Service, was moved about one-third of a mile from its original home on private land to a new site adjacent to the GMF office at 201 Windrow Road.

Little else changed. The new location has only slight variations in climatological conditions and the task of monitoring the station is still carried on by Russell Russ, who has had the task for two decades. 

“I’ve been doing it since 2003 when I took over from my father [who was also named Russell Russ]. Ted Childs used to do the readings, and my father worked with him and then took over from him and did it for 50 years. There were a few people who did it for a while after my father died, but it was not being done very well—the records weren’t being kept, so I took it on.”

“I came up with the idea of moving the station almost two years ago,” said Russ, who is a full-time property manager and forester for GMF. The 6,000-acre ecological laboratory created by Yale-trained forester Childs in the 20th century is now run as a conservation legacy organization under the supervision of trustees.

GMF has a strong educational mission, of which the weather station is one component. The national database generated by members of the Cooperative Weather Observer Program is the cornerstone of the nation’s weather history and serves as primary data for research into global climate change. Norfolk’s station is one of about 170 in Connecticut, and one of only 25 that send readings to the National Climatic Data Center to be archived on a national level.

As such, consistency of its readings is important. “The move had to go through multiple approval levels, but I come here every day anyway, so makes sense to have it here where I work,” Russ said. “We had an easement on the Childs’ property, but now it is under the Great Mountain Forest umbrella, and it will go on after I depart.”

He predicts there may be small changes in the readings but said the move will be noted in the National Weather Service’s records to account for any anomalies. “It’s really not that big a deal to them,” Russ said. “Yes, it moved, but it is well within their station relocation model. It’s not like there is a building right next to it now or pavement around it that would change the temperature. That’s why the Weather Service likes this station, because of its consistency.”

Russ is still working with the same equipment that Childs installed so long ago. The Weather Service did have a fenced location where it installed automated weather equipment after 9/11 because it wanted to monitor wind patterns in case a dirty bomb was detonated in New York City. 

“They put in fancy equipment that shot information to a satellite, then they ran out of money,” Russ said. “It quit transmitting six months ago, so they went back to volunteers to take readings—which is me reading both a digital and an old-style mercury thermometer. I measure the rain that falls into a bucket and the snow that falls on the ground and on a snow board. We’ve never missed a day with humans doing the monitoring.”

Doing the work requires dedication, however. Russ, who lives in Colebrook, drives nine miles to get to the station. “It’s not easy to come in every day at a certain time,” he admitted. “I have to pay attention because you have to track what happened during day—if it snowed, when did start, when did stop, when did it change to rain? Which way is the wind blowing? Is it sunny or cloudy? 

“I don’t go away that often, but when do, I automatically follow the weather for a few days,” he continued. “Then I will go through a day and not notice. But here, it’s a natural thing.”

People often ask him about the weather, and he replies, “I record the weather, I don’t predict it.” But he admits that the “last few years have been a little strange. We’re still getting the precipitation, but lately it has been rain.”

The busiest time of the year comes when he must recalculate all the readings so they can be compared to previous years. “It takes a lot of work, but I enjoy it—what was the warmest day? Year? Month? People always want to know how much snow we got.”

“It’s sort of a way of life,” Russ concluded. “It’s a commitment, which makes it tricky. When I am gone, someone else will have to do it.”

Newsletter Editor

Textile Recycling

Recycle those old towels and sweatshirts, and save Norfolk money! The transfer station is accepting textiles for recycling instead of shipping them elsewhere. Baystate Textiles has placed bins next to the trailers for appliances and electronics and is taking a wide range of clothing and bedding. Click here for details on what they accept.  Remember that clothing in good condition is welcomed by the Church of Christ Clothes Closet, a companion to its Food Pantry.

Colorful Quilt is First Fruit of Botelle Theme

The first fruit of Botelle Elementary School’s 2023-24 theme, “Celebrating All and Creating Community” has ripened in the form of a colorful paper quilt. 

September’s focus was Celebrating Creativity, with Botelle art teacher Shana Bazelmans initiating a community-wide effort to create a community quilt using paper patches from students, staff members and various people in the greater community—firefighters, EMTs, local shopkeepers, librarians, bankers, municipal employees and town volunteers. 

All were asked to use a small paper triangle in anyway they pleased—drawing a picture or perhaps an abstract design—using any color pen, pencil, colored pencils or markers. Now the quilt is assembled it will be displayed at the library and other locations around town.