Natural Wonders

Engagement with our CT natural spaces really matters

On Oct. 14, 2023, the moon blotched the sun from the sky, and a temporary darkness briefly fell upon many regions of the Earth. Those in the path of this eclipse had the opportunity to see a rare celestial event: the Ring of Fire, a bright ring of sunlight that surrounds the moon in this type of eclipse. Roughly 70 million people across the United States were able to view the eclipse from their homes (depending on local weather conditions). The excitement of this astronomical event brought many viewers to the eclipse as they traveled from across the country for prime viewing spots of the wonders of the sky.

We’ll be able to view an eclipse here in Connecticut on April 8, 2024. After that, the next eclipse viewable in the United States won’t take place until 2044. The rarity of these events drive most people’s excitement, but there are plenty of things to be excited about right at this moment. If we could channel the excitement of an eclipse toward our local natural wonders, perhaps we could build respect for the space around us.

Here in Connecticut, we are spoiled with natural wonders and, as an Earth scientist, I am partial to our state’s geology. Much of the bedrock that makes up the north-central region of Connecticut, called the Hartford Basin, is the result of volcanic eruptions about 200 million years ago. These eruptions led to the extinction of about three-fourths of all life on Earth at the end of the Triassic period. You can see this in a black streak that purveys many of our cliffs and road cuts. Footprints from Triassic dinosaurs litter the Connecticut River Valley, best preserved at Dinosaur State Park in Rocky Hill. Our rocks and some of our beaches are bespeckled with bright red garnet crystals that can be viewed along the Connecticut Garnet Trail.

Connecticut River valley at the West Cornwall Covered bridge over the Housatonic.

John Woike | Hartford Courant

Connecticut River valley at the West Cornwall Covered bridge over the Housatonic.

When a high-publicity natural event such as a solar eclipse takes place, Amazon carts fill with viewing glasses and faces turn skyward to catch a glimpse of the phenomenon, yet the trails of Connecticut’s Garnet Trail remain empty and the number of attendees at Dinosaur State Park remains low.

If you aren’t interested in geology, we have a wealth of wildlife, including hundreds of species of birds, beautiful hardwood forests full of oak and hickory, craggy shorelines, and diverse glacial terrain covered in streams, wetlands and ancient stone walls. If an eclipse can stir people to action, why can’t our own backyards? Even if you don’t want to hop on I-84, many of Connecticut’s natural offerings can be accessed right outside your back door.

As I gaze through my office window, I’m greeted by ancient stone walls formed from glacial erratics stretching through New England forests while I listen to the songs of our native birds. And yes, an eclipse is exciting; it’s a rare opportunity to get to see one, but why wait to be awestruck by nature when you can step outside right now?

Engagement with our local natural spaces really matters. It has been shown time and time again that time spent in nature develops a relationship with it, not only leading to better physical and mental health but also leading to the development of pro-environmental and conservation-oriented attitudes. If we could channel the excitement of the eclipse into engagement with the natural wonders of our own backyards, we might be able to protect our wild spaces indefinitely.

Joseph Schnaubelt is a doctoral candidate in Earth Sciences at the University of Connecticut with a background in physics. He has been a volunteer in local trail and outreach organizations since moving to Connecticut several years ago. 

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