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07/04/2023 07:44 AM

Bob Kuchta: A Love for the Land

Bob Kuchta spent more than three decades helping Madison protect and plant trees. His work at Bauer Park, Salt Meadow Park, Hammonasset, and numerous other sites will continue to protect Madison in perpetuity, all thanks to Bob’s childhood love of the environment.

Bob says he spent his formative years in Southington, where his passion for the outdoors developed early.

“I was a Boy Scout from age 12 until about 19, so I’ve always been very comfortable in the outdoors. I prefer to be outdoors,” says Bob. “I had a patch of woods in my backyard growing up in Southington, and I’d try and figure out what the plants were. I’d dig up plants to enhance the landscaping around my house. I also had a little business mowing lawns for neighbors, so people would ask me to plant things rather than just mow their lawns. It was a gradual growth, and it continues to this day. That’s why I chose the career that I felt I would be best at. Any kind of plants interest me.”

He joined Southington’s Conservation Commission as a volunteer right out of college and began a four-decade career helping to protect and preserve Connecticut’s biological heritage.

“I got a degree in soil and plant science from UConn, and two months after graduating, I began volunteering for Southington’s Conservation Commission. And then about three years later, I was hired as the assistant town planner there, so I’ve always worked in planning and zoning offices,” says Bob. “Then I went and got my degree in environmental education at the City College of New York.”

Bob’s environmental accomplishments and educational presentations are impressive. For decades, he has helped permanently shape the town’s environmental policy and its actual environment.

Bob worked for Madison for 32 years, retiring only in 2019. He held several positions and wore several hats during his tenure, including inland wetlands enforcement officer and town tree warden, among other volunteer and professional duties.

“A tree warden is not a jail for trees. I never had to send any trees to prison,” Bob jokes.

“Most of that position involved oversight in how the town removed trees from right of ways around town.” he adds. “There are laws that protect those trees, and those laws are 120 years old when so much of Connecticut’s forests were being cut. They realized the value of those street trees and the fact they were public trees. If they were a danger to the public, I would coordinate with a contractor and help with that process. Sometimes trees didn’t need to be cut down; pruning would be the choice. So, I would make a biological assessment and look at it from a liability standpoint as well to protect the public.”

Bob also has volunteered for numerous organizations, including the Audubon Society and the Land Trust, helped plant and create gardens at Bauer Park, and is a co-founder of Mad4Trees, a local group undertaking a massive tree planting project in Madison. He has also sponsored walks and tours of New York City’s Central Park and at sites from Boston and Delaware.

“I’ve probably been to a couple of thousand gardens or parks in my lifetime. My wife, Storm, and I love to travel, so we take every opportunity we have to visit,” says Bob.

He adds, “I wished there had been more money in our budgets so that when we a took tree down, we could plant another one in replacement. That’s why Fran Brady and I developed Mad4Trees — so that we could plant trees. Fran and I were quite alarmed over the loss of trees that were being removed by Eversource, and I think we’ve probably given away more than 180 trees in just the last year and a half. It’s a way of reaching out to the public. If more and more people connect with the program, we will continue to provide trees as long as we have the funds.”

Bob says the passion for learning and teaching has always remained strong. He not only continues to take courses and programs, he also leads numerous educational forums, from his work at the Hammonasset nature center planting memorial trees, to his sponsored lectures, hikes, and walks.

“About seven or eight years ago, I had such an interest in forestry that I went to the Yale School of Forestry in New Haven for four semesters at the graduate level because I noticed that I was spending a fair amount of time in our forests in Madison,” says Bob. “So, when there were projects being proposed by one of those land owners, I needed to understand all of the wetlands and the management of those forests. That’s why I went back for some more learning.”

Bob says education is critical for environmental preservation.

“I have also been a landscape designer. People would hire me to design a garden or some sort of planting. So, my horticultural knowledge, both natural and cultivated, is something I like to pass on. I just love plants, and I love sharing my knowledge and experience of the outdoors with people.”

Conservation and protection are at the heart of his passion, says Bob. His years, literally in the field have provided him with a unique environmental perspective.

“I’ve lived long enough now to see some changes in our weather. I can see how warming has affected our globe. I’ve also watched trees that I’ve planted when I was in my 20s grow up to be 50 feet tall and provide shade. Plants are a critical part of our environment. What I’ve learned over the 50 years I’ve been studying or walking the Earth is that I also try to interpret and help people learn about what they do in their own backyards — to help them understand that we have a real impact, and how we can actually make a positive impact in regard to the environment,” says Bob.

“I’m thinking of the future. If I can have a positive impact, either by teaching other people how to respect and understand what they do in their own yards or in any way, simply do what’s good for the environment. It’s a challenge because so many of us live in cities, and they don’t have that connection like I do.”

According to Bob, everyone has the ability to be part of the preservation solution, and that he will continue to help advance and protect Madison’s environmental future.

“We have to be careful with how we manage our world. We all can do our part. It isn’t that expensive, and we can all help in that respect. The town of Madison has been a great town to live in and work in, and I will try and continue to be a resource for townspeople,” says Bob.

Bob Kuchta spent more than three decades helping Madison protect, and plant trees. Photo courtesy of Bob Kuchta