MYSTIC — A small, experienced group of residents has helped transform the landscape and environmental practices of the StoneRidge retirement community — efforts that are especially noticeable around the time of Earth Day and spring cleanup in New England. 

The initiative began with longtime resident Sally Taylor, professor emeritus of botany at Connecticut College, some 15 years ago. Seeing the need shortly after moving in, she proposed a committee that would look at earth-positive communitywide shifts that would benefit her immediate surroundings and the community at large.

After what she described as a rough first pitch to the resident council, Taylor, who chairs the Conservation Committee, was given a one-year "probationary period" to show that her idea was "valid." She recounted the story in a meeting room, and was joined by Alice Willard, chair of the Gardening Committee, and Rita Madison, a former chemist and longtime volunteer at the Mystic Aquarium.

“I’m very pleased that we still survive,” said Taylor, who is held in high regard by the residents as an authority in her field.

“And she doesn’t mind us calling her, sometimes at ungodly hours, to answer our questions,” Willard joked.

StoneRidge Executive Director Kathleen Dess said, “The philosophy of our community is this environmental movement, underscoring their commitment to making sure that this ground and the grounds surrounding it in the greater community are better for the next generation — being responsible environmental stewards.”

Among the initiatives recommended by residents was the elimination of single-use plastic items from the community’s dining area, a movement monitored by Duffy and Gerhard Schade, formerly of Glastonbury.

“There was quite a bit of single-use plastic in the dining room for people to take home their meals or their salads,” Gerhard observed after moving in. “That bothered us.”

The solution was compostable, reusable take-home containers, which have replaced plastics and foam containers. The facility is also working on sustainable replacements for other plastic items, such as cups at water dispensers.

“That’s really a big step,” Schade said, “because there was a tremendous amount of plastic that was being used once — and you couldn’t even recycle it.”

Dess said she has supported these changes. “It’s so neat to me to see the groundswell of residents’ activity because I can tell you all day long that there is an issue, but it’s much neater to see the residents in action.”

As a member of the Garden and Grounds committee, Alice Willard has been a champion of replacing invasive species with native plants. In this effort she has collaborated with the groundskeeper and the facility's director of operations, and she noted that Dess had attended most of the meetings.

The retirement community has a newly installed pollinator garden, in keeping with a widespread movement to   reestablish gardens that attract and support bees, butterflies, birds, and bats. StoneRidge also provides community planting beds, with residents maintaining 34 raised garden beds, and recently began composting.

As described by Dess, it's important for residents to continue the hobbies they enjoyed before moving in, whether they were gardeners, woodworkers, or engaged in crafts like quilting.  

From her perspective as a gardener, Willard said that the amount of resident participation has been gratifying. "We get a lot of feedback about the grounds, as people walk the grounds," she said. "I’m also pleased about the increase of native plants. And a lot of people are enjoying the community garden beds.”

To continue momentum in these earth-friendly initiatives, StoneRidge is planning to install an e-vehicle charging station, replace all indoor lighting with LEDs, and complete a collaborative bluebird house project with resident Tom Baker, who built the houses, and the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center.

The facility is also looking into creating a bike/walking path between StoneRidge and property of the Avalonia Land Conservancy.

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