Did you know that ribbed mussels are a key crustacean in a salt marsh ecosystem because they hold the roots of the grass in place when the tide comes in?

You would if you were a Norwalk fourth-grader who participated in an education program launched by the Norwalk Land Trust 2 1/2 years ago.

Former NLT President and longtime naturalist Marny Smith gave a crash course on the program to the people gathered in the Community Room at City Hall Monday evening for the trust's annual meeting. Smith discussed what students learn in their classroom sessions and on their field trips to Farm Creek Preserve for a hands-on experience of what was presented in class.

The growth and success of the education program was one of several of the NLT's accomplishments in 2011 highlighted at the meeting.

There's only one elementary school the NLT hasn't been to in the city, Smith said, and the hope is to expand the program into the middle schools.

"One of the best days I ever had was when I was walking the trail and there was a father and two little boys coming towards me. And they stopped to say hello," Smith said. "The father said his son was here earlier this week on a field trip, and the son was telling his father and his brother all that he had learned about the Farm Creek Preserve.

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"I just felt pretty good about that. We want them all to know that all of this belongs to them. NLT properties really belong to everybody."

D. Seeley Hubbard, president of NLT, said that what was most outstanding about 2011 for him was that the organization obtained proceeds from the city that enabled it to pay off a mortgage and own outright the 16 acres of the Farm Creek Preserve. Hubbard also touted cleanup of Oyster Shell Park back in April in collaboration with the Norwalk River Watershed Association, which yielded 800 pounds of trash.

"To me, it illustrates what we at the Land Trust have been trying to do, to forge relationships and partnerships with other organizations to be able to make Norwalk a better place, a greener city," Hubbard said.

Aside from owning Farm Creek outright, Hubbard also praised the NLT's efforts made so far in acquiring the Crossland property, consisting of 18 acres in the middle of Norwalk.

It was acquired by the city and the trust requested the opportunity to clean it up and continue to take care of it.

"And that's done," Hubbard said. "Now we are working on a conservation easement. The city, for us taking care of the land, would give us a conservation easement, meaning it would never be developed."

Hubbard asked City Council members in attendance to give their support.

Another aspect of Norwalk Land Trust that Hubbard celebrated at the meeting is the Young Stewardship Program, which gets inner-city kids get involved in cleaning up NLT properties.

"One thing that concerns me in reading about the environmental movement is that it's aging. We are not catching young people who are in their 20s and 30s," Hubbard said. "To me, that is an area that we have to try and address. We have to get more children away from their televisions and smart phones and get them into the woods and get them to appreciate nature and to understand the ecology of these properties. Therefore it is one of our missions is to get as many kids as possible, in conjunction with the public school system, to our properties so that they can see nature first-hand."

Smith said the catalyst for NLT's outdoor classroom for fourth-graders was Richard Louv's book, "Last Child in the Woods," which discussed "nature-deficit disorder," and former Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection Director Gina McCarthy. She spoke at the organization's 2005 annual meeting about "No Child Left Inside."

"She was deploring the fact that children were spending nine hours a day indoors in front of some kind of screen," Smith said. "That made a big impression on us. Then, fourth-grade teacher Ken Wood called me one day when I was still president and asked if we could visit his class and tell him what a land trust is and what we do," Smith said.

What the Land Trust does is gaining more attention throughout Fairfield County thanks to events like the Luci Arnaz concert in October. The number of dues-paying members has increased from 236 in 2010 to 352 in 2011.

The next event on tap for the NLT is an art show called "Seasons of the Norwalk Land Trust." The NLT is looking for conservation-minded, nature-loving artists and photographers, to create an artwork featuring one of four NLT properties and donate it to the NLT to support its stewardship of 28 public open spaces.

The four properties that will be spotlighted are Farm Creek, the pond at White Barn, Hoyt Island and the view from Yost Street overlooking the Manresa Marsh. The juried show will be in the Portside Gallery at the Rowayton Arts Center, 145 Rowayton Ave., from June 10 to 24.

For more information, contact Marny Smith at fifteenhats@yahoo.com or 203-866-8728.