The Lowell Sun

Longtime Littleton volunteer finds solace among the trees

Feb. 16, 2020

LITTLETON — Rick Findlay jokes that he knows almost every dog in the town of Littleton.

He can almost always be found outside on the town’s trails — either at the Cloverdale Conservation area, Holly Park or Oak Hill — cutting up fallen trees or picking up dog feces that may have been left behind.

As Findlay shows the gear he has in the back of his car — blazing markers (which provide marks for trail walkers so people don’t get lost), doggy bags and a small, battery-powered chainsaw that cuts fallen trees — near the New England Forestry Foundation building, multiple dogs energetically greet the 73-year-old.

“Hi, Spider! Hey Birchie,” he says to a few dogs strolling through Prouty Woods as they rub up against him. “You’re so cute.”

Volunteer Rick Findlay of Littleton, at Prouty Woods. He's involved...

Volunteer Rick Findlay of Littleton, at Prouty Woods. He’s involved with the New England Forestry Foundation, open space preservation, and fighting invasive species. (SUN/Julia Malakie)

Volunteer Rick Findlay of Littleton, on the recently built Cloverdale Boardwalk. He’s involved with the New England Forestry Foundation, open space preservation, and fighting invasive species.(SUN/Julia Malakie)

“He’s the right guy to talk to (about local forests and trees),” Littleton resident Mark Conlon said as he walks by Findlay with his pup, Inga.

Findlay isn’t just a well-known, valuable volunteer for the New England Forest Foundation — where he serves as a board member and has been involved in since 2010. He’s an environmentalist and horticulturist that has worked in town since 1974 to protect trails, trees and general nature seen and used in the area.

Previously in 2016, he advocated for saving Couper Farm from major redevelopment, the Sun reported. He’s given tours to the Williams Lands — showing residents and even some selectmen the value of local forests.

Today, he still gives out seeds for vegetables and flowers to farmers and residents while at Reuben Hoar Library, he said. He can be seen on trails almost every day, cutting branches and spotting unmarked trails.

The New England Forest Foundation, founded in 1944, has helped conserve more than 1.1 million acres of forest and has about 50 volunteers who act as “forest stewards” — checking the conditions of local trails, cleaning trash and keeping an eye out for local wildlife — Findlay said.

“It’s not work. It’s just things I love,” said Findlay, who grew up on the Bronx River in Westchester County, N.Y., and has also served as a board member of the Littleton Conservation Trust, Shade Tree Committee and Sustainability Committee for decades.

As a 5 year old, he remembers fishing in the river and catching fish. Ever since then, he’s been hooked on the outdoors.

“I’m just getting involved in the community,” he said.

Recently, Findlay finished the construction of a boardwalk at Cloverdale Conservation area with close friend Jim O’Neil. Next, he’ll look to address emerald ash borer — an invasive species that can damage local trees — that has been recently found in town, and garlic mustard — a common plant that releases chemicals that can inhibit the growth of other plant species — found near roads.

He said he’s also worried about a local pollination and what could happen if bumblebees go extinct, a direct source of climate change.

Research has shown that bumblebee populations have recently declined by 46% in North America and by 17% across Europe when compared to a base period of 1901 to 1974, The New York Times reported. While walking through the Prouty Woods, he rattles off facts about beached whales, wildlife and flora and fauna that is being drastically changed by the universal issue.

Volunteering to help the environment, Findlay says, is as fun as it is vital: we all share the same earth.

“He’s always willing to get involved,” Littleton Conservation trustee Scott Lewis said. “Everybody knows him and he knows everybody.”

From “wading through bureaucratic waters” at town hall to rolling up his sleeves and building trails, Lewis said the now-retired Findlay loves what he does and his desire to “make things right” stems from Findlay’s professional career as a landscape architect.

“He gives up a lot of time to support these efforts,” Lewis said. “Lots of trails that we walk on everyday, he helped build and as of recently, has cleared. He does have real impact.”

Findlay and the Littleton Conservation Trust will hold an informational meeting on the emerald ash on Friday in the Couper Room of the Reuben Hoar Library. The meeting will start at 7 p.m. and will also include discussions on the spotted lantern fly, which is making its way toward New England from Pennsylvania and is known to infest a variety of trees and plants.

But until then, you can probably find Findlay on a trail. Petting a dog and blazing a trail.

“He’s always generous with his time,” O’Neil said. “He has a love for the environment and is very involved in invasive species.”

By Luke O’Roark, on Twitter: @LukeORoark