Love of the Land



For all that Dan Barrett has accomplished in his successive careers as a science teacher at Greenwich High School and helping run the Greenwich Land Trust, one gets the feeling that he was hardly working at all. Make no mistake: He devoted countless hours to his jobs. Nearly four decades of students came away with a better appreciation—and in many cases, a passion—for marine biology and oceanography. And anyone who enjoys seeing natural, open space around town owes him a certain debt of gratitude. But in many ways Dan’s work was also Dan’s play. It afforded him the opportunity to pursue myriad interests, satisfy his curiosity, and perhaps best of all bring others along for the ride. “I loved them both,” he says of his positions.

Dan retired from the land trust effective January 1. On Saturday, June 9 the organization will hold a celebration in his honor, Go Wild @ Night: A Tribute to Dan Barrett, at Greenwich Point’s Secret Garden. Proceeds will go toward the establishment of a stewardship fund to care for the nonprofit’s properties in perpetuity.

During Dan’s thirty-eight years at Greenwich High (he retired in 1995), he was the kind of teacher that students long remembered. In teaching oceanography, he established a laboratory at Greenwich Point and created a foundation to buy special equipment for his classes. Warmer months were devoted to studying marine life. In cold weather it was the waves and the currents. There were also trips to places like St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. Through it all was a give and take between Dan and his students and a camaraderie that made learning under him something special. “My whole concept of teaching was to get involved,” Dan says. “I got in there and I got dirty with the students. We had textbooks and films to look at, but much of our time was out in the field.”

So it was, in a different capacity, with the Greenwich Land Trust, where given some overlap with his teaching he spent twenty-four years and held such titles as executive director and environmental director. “He really was the face and the heart of the land trust for many, many years,” says Ginny Gwynn, the current executive director. The group, which manages 733 acres in Greenwich, with some carryover into Stamford and New York state, is dedicated to the conservation of open space. Its properties, acquired through donations and conservation easements, range from salt marshes to meadows to woodlands.

They are places that Dan Barrett knows intimately from a quarter century of walking and overseeing the land. “I know where every corner is of every site,” he says. “I’ve done it so long that people used to laugh and say, ‘Well, what if you’re not here, who is going to know where the corner points are?’” GPS technology, it turns out, is taking over where Dan left off.

His projects, each one pursued with contagious enthusiasm, were legion. Dan helped in the acquisition of property for the land trust. He started keeping detailed notebooks (now on computer) for each of the group’s holdings, recording everything about the parcels and their upkeep. He revived historical apple orchards and in the process brought in beekeepers, schoolchildren, and others to take part and enjoy the bounty. He studied and spoke about the town’s stonewalls. He worked to restore woodcock habitat and the American chestnut. On another front, he helped establish the town’s Shellfish Commission and got the local shellfish beds reopened.

Longtime residents of Cos Cob, Dan and his wife, Cynthia, moved to Shelton recently. But Dan’s schedule seems as packed as ever. This winter, he took a tour of a 900-acre farm not far from his new home and was already working on a presentation about Shelton’s stonewalls. “I’ve been out and getting to know the terrain,” he reports. “I’ve been busy and getting busier as time goes by.”

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