On Monday, June 8, the Wilton Land Conservation Trust honored two exceptional students as part of the Wilton High School Academic Awards Program, held online this year, as an adaptation to the COVID-19 pandemic.
To create a more tangible experience for its award recipients, the WLCT held a small ceremony at its Spencer-Rice Preserve to commemorate its WHS student awardees and celebrate with their families. It was during this in-person ceremony that the WLCT presented the WLCT Junior Book Award to Eli Grass and the WLCT E. Dan Cappel Senior Scholarship Award to Brett Gilman.
“We’re investing not only in our environment but in our community and its youth,” said David McCarthy, Executive Director, Wilton Land Conservation Trust.
The ceremony was held at one of the newly created Biodiversity Experimental Stations within the Spencer-Rice Preserve. Just a few feet off of the Norwalk River Valley Trail, this newly enclosed area is home to roughly 500 hyperlocal native plants and was the product of a summer internship project envisioned and implemented by WLCT interns. Both award recipients worked to create the stations, and Gilman was project leader.
The WLCT Junior Book Award is given to a rising senior who demonstrates outstanding environmental leadership and a commitment to their community. Donna Merrill, the WLCT Trustee behind the organization’s internship program, made the presentation to Grass.
“I am so thrilled to have worked with the recipient of this award,” Merrill said. “Eli has the most infectious enthusiasm.”
“It’s important to get involved with the Wilton Land Conservation Trust because you’re doing something good for the environment and your community,” Grass added.
The WLCT E. Dan Cappel Senior Scholarship Award is given to a senior in honor of E. Dan Cappel, an incredible and memorable Wilton High School science teacher who was instrumental in protecting the environment in the face of Rte. 7’s proposed reroute through Wilton. The recipient of this award–in parallel with its namesake–was recognized for demonstrating a willingness to preserve Wilton’s biodiversity and build community.
Peter Gaboriault, WLCT president, presented Gilman, with the E. Dan Cappel Senior Scholarship Award of $1,500. “After David met Brett and Eli for the first time, he said to me that it was like conversing with colleagues in graduate school,” he said.
Gilman explained how he approached his work with the WLCT. “I heard this great quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson, ‘hitch your wagon to a star.’ We worked within the limits of what we had, added to an existing project, and partnered with the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Connecticut.”
McCarthy said that both teens demonstrated leadership, motivation, passion, intelligence, and perseverance in seeing the project through. Gilman had planned on working on the project for the WHS Senior Internship project, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, WHS internship programs were canceled. However, he and Grass were determined to realize their vision for their Biodiversity Experimental Stations and received special permission to conduct their work.
“Their perseverance is encouraging, their commitment to community is inspiring, and we think each is well prepared to lead others and solve environmental problems in their professional careers and service activities.” McCarthy said.