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Forest Detective Tom Wessels Headlines at Highlawn Forest

It’s been an exciting and busy year at Highlawn Forest – the forest adjacent to CFPA’s headquarters. We’ve hosted vernal pool exploration programs, senior walks, letterboxing activities, and forest bathing experiences. We introduced new educational signage on the Discovery Loop trail, and are actively working on a forest management plan to help with invasive species control. A true highlight, however, was a visit and field walk from the legendary “Forest Forensics” expert, Tom Wessels.

Walking through the woods with Tom, even for a seasoned forester, is to see the forest in a new and dazzling light. Years of field and academic study have led Tom to examine “clues” in the forest that reveal how humans, animals, storms, and fire have shaped the landscape. As a professor at Antioch and author of numerous books, Tom has been teaching the public, students, and his colleagues how to interpret these clues to the past for decades.  

At Highlawn Forest, Wessels led a sold out Field Walk for 40 attendees as a kick off to the Connecticut Forest Forum / Urban Forestry Council conference, where he delivered the keynote address.  As the group followed Tom, he explained how to interpret evidence of past human activity: stumps, stone walls, apple trees, cellars, and “pillow and craddle” topography are just a few clues to investigate.  At Highlawn, Tom explained how the types of rocks found in stone walls can tell you what the land was used for, such as hayfields, crops, or pasture.

Though the field walk was peppered with foresters, master naturalists, and other professionals, Tom managed to stump the audience more than once:

“What’s the number one predator of acorns in New England?”

Tom smiled and waited patiently for a correct answer.  He never got one.

“The acorn weevil!” he exclaimed with a humble smile.

It was a real treat to have Tom Wessels at Highlawn Forest, and we look forward to applying the detective skills we've learned to other forests and parks around Connecticut!