A chat with...Chris Filmer
Updated 1:16 pm, Wednesday, August 10, 2016
DARIEN — If you go to Selleck’s Woods, Chris Filmer will probably be there. Some days he’s walking his dog (always leashed) near the woods’ seven-acre lake. Other days, he may be giving tours to elementary school children who come to visit, showing them the tree fairy, a tin gnome who lives in the hollow of one of the trees. But nearly every day, you’ll find Filmer in the woods, using a pair of tiny clippers that he keeps in his pocket to cut down branches that grow too long or invasive vines that snake up trees. Filmer put a lot of work into saving these woods and he’s not about to let them go to ruin again.
“Fifty acres and I love it all,” Filmer said with a chuckle. The Darien resident became involved with the woods about 20 years ago, when he was on the RTM and the group wanted to put senior housing there. Filmer had to cast a vote on it, so he first went to visit the woods to see what they were like. He found the area to be a disaster. People were riding motorbikes and ATVs that tore up the terrain and pellets from shotguns and empty alcohol containers littered the ground.
“I came here and there was rubbish everywhere,” he said. “But I could see that it was like a diamond in the rough. There were so many different parts of the woods that I couldn’t believe it was changing so fast-from wetlands to uplands, woodlands to thickly forested areas to open canopy.”
At the time, Filmer was working for Pepsi-Cola. But, he became fascinated by the woods and started cleaning up the garbage in it. Soon, he started laying trails and got some people together to form the Friends of Selleck’s Woods to help revamp the area.
“It was just obviously a place that was crying out for help and to protect the animals and trees and shrubs that were here. One of the first jobs was to get rid of a lot of [invasive plants],” Selleck said. “And then it revealed a place that could be helped. We rebuilt and people started noticing. It was nice to come and walk here. It was safe.”
The nature preserve, which is made up two different woods (one owned by the town of Darien, the other owned by the Darien Land Trust) revealed itself to be filled with possibility. The preserve has seven ecosystems and 114 different kinds of shrubs and trees. There is a vernal pool, a temporary pond that comes in the spring where frogs can breed, and Filmer has seen deer, owls and possums, among other animals around the area.
With a lot of work, Filmer and the other Friends of the Selleck’s Woods were able to “chase the bad guys away,” in order to keep the woods as a habitat for these animals and plants. The group started out with $140 in their budget and kept getting cut from town funds, but have now grown into a recognized charity and nature preserve. They’ve spent $60,000 in the past decade, which they’ve raised for the purpose of keeping the woods alive.
Filmer’s success in preserving the woods would be a feat for anyone, but it’s especially notable for him. Filmer had no formal training, except for seminars he’d attended on the environment and nature. Everything he knows about the woods is from these. A native of South Africa, he picked up how to use different equipment from his father, who owned a farm there. But somehow, the man who was otherwise very involved in the commercial world, became one of the biggest advocates for the woods in Darien.
“I found myself doing this more and more. I’m here almost every day to walk my dog or do some work, Filmer said. “This is kind of what I do now. ”
On an average day, Filmer’s work consists of clearing the trails of brush and branches that may get in the way. He aims to keep the paths wide enough for two people. He also enjoys giving tours to the young people of the area. The woods, created with both adults and children in mind, features several features for kids such as an “I Spy” corner, filled with cutouts of 37 different animals.
The woods were also created with nature in mind as well. No matter how much work Filmer does, he aims to keep the area looking as natural as possible to keep it as a habitat for the plants and animals that live in it.
“The idea here is to create a habitat, especially in Darien. The biggest loss is habitat. Over and again, I see people buying big plots of land and then they just clear it,” Filmer said. “We don’t want to make it too pristine. This is not a park. In the town’s lexicon, this is a nature preserve.”
But whether he’s picking up trash, teaching kids to identify wildlife or simply strolling along with his dog, Filmer says the woods is a key component of happiness in his life.
“You know, they say the secret of happiness is to have someone to love, something to do and something to look forward to,” he said. “This certainly, slowly filled the gap of what to do.”