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New Canaan Kids Clean Up Norwalk Preserve

NORWALK, Conn. – As Mike Trevail shepherded 10 New Canaan children down a Norwalk street Tuesday morning, a thought crossed his mind: "Where is there a farm in Rowayton?"

Trevail, coordinator for the New Canaan YMCA Counselors in Training, said he arrived with the 12- to 14-year-olds in Camp Y-Ki to make a difference in Norwalk, cleaning up part of the Norwalk Land Trust's Farm Creek Preserve. They joined 16-year-old Frenchman Alec Desbourdes, a Boy Scout who was earning a merit badge on his way to becoming an Eagle Scout, while visiting his grandmother in Norwalk.

Alec pulled invasive plants away from the preserve's driveway, amassing a pile of brush on the property's lawn. The younger kids, an "extraordinarily energetic group," according to NLT Vice President Peggy Holton, cleared invasive plants off the trail, spread wood chips and repositioned the logs that marked the trail’s edges.

The 16-acre preserve at the Rowayton end of Highland Avenue is described on the trust's website as its "most expensive" and "most ambitious" project in its 37 year history. It features a 2.2-acre park at 34 Sammis Ave., with a clearing in front of a 1907 stone barn, the trail along the waterfront and through the woods, and a concrete pier, where children can observe fiddler crabs and sea birds.

Fundraising for $4.5 million to buy the property began in 2006 and ended last year, Holton said. "People are here every day, walking, enjoying, contemplating, whatever," she said. "I'm so happy this is not three McMansions, or four McMansions."

Alec is the daughter of Karen Curtis, a Brien McMahon High School graduate who now lives in France. His grandmother, Jackie Curtis, is a member of the trust. He has been here a week and is staying until Friday, celebrating his 17th birthday Wednesday.

Holton said his work cleared a way for a sign to thank the donors that made the park possible. She said, "We built the work day around the fact that Alec was visiting and it sort of bubbled and gained momentum – and here we are."

Nicki Jezairian, director of community engagement at the New Canaan YMCA, said the kids were in a program called Y Earth Service corps. This program aims to empower young people to be effective, global citizens by providing opportunities for environmental education and action, leadership development and cross cultural awareness. She said in an email, "We wanted to incorporate the camp Y-KI (Leadership In Training members) into this program to add a service component to their camp experience and give new experiences that they would not get in the normal camp day."

Updated, 12:33 a.m. July 27.

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