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A Watershed Moment

An April 2024 interview with MRWC/River-Lab founder, Jocelyn Shaw by Elizabeth Donnelly

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On a lovely late May afternoon in 1966, Joy Shaw, an outdoor enthusiast living in the Perry Mill on the Mill River in Fairfield, returned to her home to hear a machine down in the Hollow and find the east bank of the river there littered by felled trees.  Horrified, she leaped from her car, ran down the bank, and confronted the backhoe operator, vehemently informing him that his actions were a mistake and that he should stop.  The infuriated operator responded with equal vehemence that he was following orders.  Joy stood squarely in front of the machine and continued her countermand until the operator eventually left.


Joy immediately called upon neighbors and other conservationists to create the Mill River Wetland Committee (MRWC) to address the policies and activities regarding floodplain trees along the Mill River.  With encouragement, she contacted the local Nature Conservancy office for help in protecting the river floodplain. Joy was then asked to draw up an assessment of the floodplain, stream ecology and the role of the river in the history and development of the town to inform a proposal that the land be categorized as town natural open space. The newly formed MRWC approved of this focus and Joy delved into the necessary research which resulted in the Town of Fairfield buying the Perry property in 1967.  During this process, Joy and the MRWC began to consider the ways grade school students could benefit from learning about the relevance and value of the fascinating history and ecology of the river in their own backyard.  


In the spring of 1967, Joy approached Mill Hill School principal, Vincent Antezzo, with a proposal to provide a multi-curricular program about the river for his students.  He enthusiastically agreed to schedule all K-6 classes to participate!  Sharing in Joy's vision, members of the Sasqua and Fairfield Garden Clubs then led each grade through a set of riverside trail points designed by Joy.

In the summer of 1968, Fairfield Public School officials approved a recommendation to offer the program to all schools, and the River- Lab Program was born.  


Throughout the decades, our award-winning River-Lab Program has stood firm in its commitment to hands-on, inquiry-based science and environmental education. By evolving to meet the latest local and national science standards while fostering a sense of wonder and curiosity, River-Lab continues to engage students and community members with field-based experiences at the Mill River, Ash Creek Estuary, and nearby open spaces.

Mill River with Red House during Summer
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Mill River with Red House during Winter

Our History

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