‘A Marvelous Destination’: Waveny Park Conservancy Pursues Project at Cornfields; Tailgate Fundraiser To Be Held Saturday

An unsightly clearing in the southeastern corner of Waveny, laden with an invasive grass species grown out of the dredged material that in recent years has been piled there, is to be transformed into a newly landscaped and inviting destination, according to a nonprofit organization that’s taken on the restoration and beautification of the park.

L-R: Brock Saxe, Bill Holmes, Bob Seelert and Keith Simpson stand in front of an antique car on Elm Street, ahead of the Waveny Park Conservancy's inaugural fundraiser, to be held Saturday, Oct. 15 at Waveny. No tickets will be sold same-day and no one will be able to walk on for the fundraiser, which includes a large-screen TV showing college football and live music from Joe Scarborough's band. Credit: Michael Dinan

L-R: Brock Saxe, Bill Holmes, Bob Seelert and Keith Simpson stand in front of an antique car on Elm Street, ahead of the Waveny Park Conservancy’s inaugural fundraiser, to be held Saturday, Oct. 15 at Waveny. No tickets will be sold same-day and no one will be able to walk on for the fundraiser, which includes a large-screen TV showing college football and live music from Joe Scarborough’s band. Credit: Michael Dinan

Known as “the cornfields”—a name that recalls Waveny’s pre-Lapham agricultural roots—the long-untouched area in recent years and until last summer had served as a sort of storage and staging ground for what had been dredged from Mill and Mead Ponds.

Under a new plan developed by the Waveny Park Conservancy—and backed financially by a foundation established by a generous, recently deceased New Canaanite—the area “will become more of a meadow,” said Bob Seelert, chairman of the conservancy’s board.

“It will be a marvelous destination spot, and in that regard, quite frankly, when you talk about continuing to inspire and serve the people of New Canaan forever, this is a transformational kind of destination spot.”

One of the first five projects taken on by the conservancy—projects that undergo the required town approval process prior to any physical work, though they’re funded through the nonprofit organization—the reimagining of the cornfields complements and is tied inextricably to a major plan to restore and beautify the Waveny Pond nearby (at the bottom of the sledding hill). In order to do that work, the conservancy is relying on New Canaanites who enjoy Waveny to support the organization through donations—see details below of its first major fundraiser, to be held Saturday.

In the case of the cornfields, a single donor—the Jeniam Foundation, established by the late Andrew Clarkson (a major supporter of the Waveny Care Center and Lapham Community Center) and led by Tripp Killin—is funding the approximately $300,000 project.

The commitment follows a walk-through at the cornfields where members of the conservancy—led in part by local landscape architect Keith Simpson, a board member—sketched a vision for the future of the cornfields, Seelert said, and “they felt that the cornfields was something that they were particularly interested in”

“They felt that the remediation and re-grading of this—to turn it from what had been dumping ground, in truth, for the dredging material, to a place for passive recreation and enjoyment—could be a tremendous transformational project for them to get involved with,” he said.

It will unfold over the next three to four years, Seelert said, with an estimated two-year phase of “remediation”—involving the removal of phragmites from the area—to start either this fall or in the spring, depending on the timing of approvals.

Re-developing the cornfields area counts among the conservancy’s first five projects, along with the pond restoration, returning the gardens in the envelope around the main house at Waveny to what had been drawn up by the Olmstead Brothers landscaping firm when the Lapham family acquired the property and had the brick structure built more than a century ago, addressing the South Avenue entryway to Waveny (parts of which already have earned high praise from locals) and managing the park’s woodlands.

Among those five, the pond restoration is the most comprehensive—it’s estimated to cost some $800,000, Seelert said—and they all tie in together. For example, New Canaanites ultimately will be able to stand out the back of Waveny house—on the balcony or down in the walled garden, say—and will look down the “sledding hill” toward the pond.

“We will irrigate it, so that it doesn’t turn into the Dead Sea,” Simpson said. “So you will be able to look down and see the pond as an attractive place to go, once it’s dredged and there is a trail around it, and there will be an interest in visiting the pond, and lo and behold, it is adjacent to, in truth, the entryway into the cornfields.”

As it eyes the pond project, the conservancy has scheduled its first annual fundraiser for this weekend, a tailgate party to be held 4:30 to 10:30 p.m. at Waveny, limited to the first 160 cars to register for parking spaces behind the main house (see details and ticket info here and note that same-day tickets will not be available, and nobody will be able to “walk on” and buy tickets).

Brock Saxe, a co-chair of the event with New Canaan’s Scott Gress, said: “For everyone that has ever enjoyed Waveny, we encourage them to come out Saturday for our first event, which is a tailgate and we are lucky enough to have Joe Scarborough and his band ‘Morning Joe Music’ be the headline act and we have a tailgate-themed event where it should be a great night and we still have tickets left.”

Conservancy board Vice Chairman Bill Holmes noted that the tailgate is a “little different from a lot of capital projects in town” because “we will be there forever.”

“We are going to have bills to pay forever, we are always going to have projects,” Holmes said.

Under its operating agreement, developed in partnership with the town, the conservancy not only will develop new plans to restore and beautify Waveny, but also is responsible for upkeep on projects that it executes. Seelert and the board said the conservancy is benefitting from support from the first selectman’s office as well as the Department of Public Works and Recreation Director Steve Benko, and that the town overall has been supportive—for example, with respect to the cornfields and pond, specifically, officials are open to removing the overhead power lines that traverse those areas now.

The Olmstead firm’s planning “basically went all the way down to the pond” and they likely upgraded it with masonry and other work from what it had been previously, according to Simpson, though there was “always a farm pond down there, for cattle and for irrigation.”

The cornfields area “historically had been prime farmland because it is level, it’s very fertile and it’s in a great location in relationship to the town,” Simpson said.

“And during the two wars I think it was used as a highly productive, food-producing area. Now the name ‘cornfields’ doesn’t necessarily mean it was all cornfields, but it was an area of Waveny which was considered for agricultural production. It was really prime land and now it’s really prime land for a meadow.”

Note: New Canaan Wine Merchants is selling beverages to benefit the Waveny Park Conservancy on Thursday. There will be prizes at Saturday’s event for best tailgates and special WPC blankets  for sale at the concert.

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