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Pound Ridge's Armstrong House Preps for Green Debut

POUND RIDGE, N.Y. – Just past the causeway on Route 121 in Pound Ridge is a driveway that winds hundreds of feet up through a 43-acre wooded patch known as the Armstrong Preserve. Many area residents are probably unaware it’s even there – but that’s about to change.

The Pound Ridge Land Conservancy (PRLC), which was deeded the land 10 years ago, is putting the finishing touches on a house that came with the property and will hence be known as the Armstrong House & Education Center.

“We were deliberating for several years what to do with the house, which was built in 1912,” said Elyse Arnow Brill, president of the PRLC. “We decided to renovate it as a green, off-the-grid home that will be maintained by a land steward.”

The goal is to use the home and surrounding property as an education center, replete with gardens and outdoor classrooms. The house – which has no electricity other than that supplied by an array of solar panels – will become a prototype for “living lighter on the land” and showcase how to preserve open space and natural resources by using a sustainable building design and construction.

“Everything [used to construct the building] is green,” Arnow Brill said. “All the materials are reused or recycled. For example, we harvested dead trees to create the fence posts.”

The house employs waste-heat recovery and ventilation systems, low-energy appliances (the refrigerator uses the same amount of electricity as a single light bulb) and water-saving fixtures.

Volunteers are currently readying a community garden, and the conservancy plans to hold a series of classes and workshops teaching gardening techniques. The first, called “Building Soil Mother-Nature Style,” is slated for May 2 from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. It will teach how to build nutrient-rich, friable garden soil without relying on petrol-powered machines and loads of off-site inputs. The hands-on workshop will demonstrate sheet mulching, also known as “lasagna gardening.”

The conservancy will also take advantage of the woods and meadow that make up the rest of the preserve

“The idea is to help people integrate their backyards with the local ecosystem,” Arnow Brill said. “With our outdoor classrooms, people can learn the importance of their properties as a habitat. We have this beautiful meadow here, and people who live next to one can learn why and how to best manage living on its edge.”

The preserve also boasts a vernal pool, where amphibians breed in the spring. There is also a 2-mile hiking loop on the land that passes along some DEP property and through the neighboring Richards Preserve.

The conservancy, through a state Conservation Partnership grant, has hired Tate Bushell to be its land steward. Bushell received a graduate degree in ecology and conservation at Vermont University. Besides leading some of the workshops, Bushell will blog about life in an off-the-grid home.

People will also be able to log onto the Internet and check out the home’s energy use.

“We hope it will inspire people to modify their behavior and lessen their own footprint,” Arnow Brill said. “We want people to see this [building] and think, ‘I could do this – I could live here.’ ”

The conservancy has scheduled the Education Center’s official open house for May 12 from 2-5 p.m. There will be refreshments, live music (solar powered, of course), guided hiking tours and demonstrations. Visit www.prlc.net for more info.

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