A Short History of EcoTravel
Connecticut Audubon Society first offered organized field trips in the 1950s. CAS board member Ulie Hellman and his wife Hildegard were both very active in CAS after World War II and led all the field trips in the 1950’s until 1975, when their health began to fail.
The Hellman’s led no international trips, however, and only got as far as Block Island. They always traveled with their dachshunds and wouldn’t go anywhere that wouldn’t allow the dogs in their rooms! As the Hellman got older, Milan Bull began leading trips for CAS with Dennis Varza (then a CAS employee), who planned and led trips to Chincoteague and Hawk Mountain in the 1970s. Carl Trichka also began leading trips as well. In 1981, Milan began international trips, first to East Africa and the Galapagos, but then (late 80’s) to Borneo, Australia/New Zealand, and many others.
It was mainly a one man operation with volunteers helping with day and weekend trips. Milan raised separate dedicated funds to produce a yearly Field Trip Program. Duties at CAS changed, however, and CAS hired Lauren Brown who then took over Birdcraft Museum and the Field Trip Program on a part-time basis. Lauren ran the field trips until it was decided that it needed to be more than a part-time operation. That is when staff members Alison Olivieri and Cathy O’Donnell, along with Milan and others began pushing to hire current EcoTravel Director Andrew Griswold to run the program full-time starting in November of 1996.
At that time, the name of the Field Trip Program was changed to “EcoTravel.” The newly formed branch of CAS found a home in Essex at the Connecticut River Museum, where it stayed for eight years. The need for space forced EcoTravel out of the museum and into the Kleinschmidt Building on Pratt St., also in Essex, where EcoTravel resided for eight years. The office, in the Spring of 2012, moved accross town to Plains Road in Essex.
Andrew has been running the EcoTravel program for the past sixteen years. With the help of EcoTravel Assistant Mary Dowdell (hired in 1998), EcoTravel expanded its offerings to more than ten international destinations and more than fifteen domestic overnight trips per year. In addition, EcoTravel now runs over 75 day trips to interesting places in and around Connecticut. Day trips concentrate mainly in Connecticut but also reach to neighboring states and visit sanctuaries and museums of special interest. Overnight travel from two days to two weeks has included most US states, several countries, and all seven continents. Places visited are among the most environmentally significant and interesting habitats in the world and tour leaders are experienced, personable, and enthusiastic about sharing these special experiences with travelers. Connecticut Audubon Society EcoTravel is one of the few licensed organizations allowed to travel to Cuba as part of an on-going bird survey.
Currently, there are two full-time staff members who run EcoTravel: Andrew Griswold, Director, and Priscilla Wood, EcoTravel Assistant. Other CAS staff members lend their time to lead tours, including Milan Bull, Frank Gallo, and Andy Rzeznikiewicz. In addition, EcoTravel is grateful to its many volunteers who help with both day trips, overnight tours and other projects, with special thanks to botanist Bob Kuchta who leads all of our botanical tours, James Restivo and Joe Bear for their many volunteered hours leading bird tours, Jim Denham for his tireless efforts in managing budget spreadsheets at EcoTravel, and Janice Krause and Ann Judd who help with data entry. You can find biographies of EcoTravel’s trip leaders on the EcoTravel Team page.