Parks Officials by 9-0 Vote Support Waveny Park Conservancy’s Plans for Trails, Cornfields

Parks officials last week voted unanimously to support three major projects that an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization dedicated to Waveny Park has slated for this calendar year.

The Waveny Park Conservancy plans in 2017 to create and improve trails at the cherished town park that ultimately will give pedestrians a high-quality surface that runs from the South Avenue entrance to the western parking lot up at the main house, officials with the organization said during the Feb. 8 Parks & Recreation Commission meeting.

Additionally—thanks largely to a $300,000 grant from the Jeniam Foundation, established by the late Andrew Clarkson—the organization is seeking to comb through a 7-acre site in the southeast corner of Waveny in order to remove a highly invasive grass called ‘phragmites,’ according to Keith Simpson, a local landscape architect and member of the conservancy’s board.

Though the conservancy will stay away from chemical treatments to abate the phragmites that already have taken root in ‘The Cornfields,’ “if we get them down to a really minor amount, we might be able to spot-treat that,” Simpson told the commission at the meeting, held in Lapham Community Center.

“By that time, we should be in good shape. So I think by the end of 2018, we should really start to look like the kinds of fields we want to have. And we want to do this in very close collaboration with the Jeniam people because they know a lot about this, for one thing, and they are also underwriting this for us, so we want the result to be something they have participated in the design of and they are happy with as well as the rest of us.”

Ultimately, the cornfields—for several years an area where dredgings from Mead and Mill Ponds have been piled—will be converted after three to four years of work into an open space for passive recreation, complete with a perennial wildflower meadow, walking trails and benches. It’s one of five major programs outlined by the conservancy in the past year-plus. The others include returning the grounds and gardens around Waveny House to the original vision of the Olmsted Bros. firm one century ago, restoring the pond at the foot of the sledding hill (planned for 2018), improving the entryway to Waveny from South Avenue to the main house and a forest management study that will serve as a foundation for future woodlands.

All projects are being funded by the donor-supported Waveny Park Conservancy, which drew 450 New Canaanites to its inaugural “tailgate” fundraiser last fall.

The commission voted 9-0 in favor of the conservancy’s trail and cornfields projects—plans that are scheduled to be presented to the Board of Finance and Town Council this week.

Those voting included Chair Sally Campbell and commissioners Matt Konspore, Laura Costigan, Katie Owsley, Jason Milligan, Doug Richardson, Andy Gordon, Gene Goodman and Hank Green. Commissioners Kit Devereaux and Francesa Segalas were absent.

Commissioners asked why the phragmites in the cornfield have to be removed from the ground (it’s an “extraordinarily invasive plant,” according to Simpson), whether the conservancy expects to know this summer the extent of phragmites in the soil (it may take four or five cycles of removal, though the phragmites will be diminishing each time), how the phragmites entered Waveny (probably from the Mill and Mead Ponds dredgings) and whether the invasive species is present elsewhere in the park (uncertain though it’s helped by direct sunlight, which the cornfields area affords).

Owsley asked what efforts will be made to ensure that phragmites are not re-introduced there.

Holmes responded: “It will become part of an invasive control element at Waveny. I believe there will be for several years what they call a ‘snip and drip’ to keep it under control when the abatement treatment ends.”

A planned new trail will run about 180 feet alongside the main road through Waveny, on a strip of land connecting the parking areas out front of the main house to the lot near the veranda. The conservancy also, in phases, will re-do—in the same material of newly created trails at Waveny that earned high praise last summer—the walking path that snakes alongside the main road from the park’s South Avenue entrance to the access road behind the Carriage Barn.

“We have had such great response to the sections of trail we have already done, that we decided that we would really like to go forward and tackle going all the way down to South Avenue,” conservancy board member Bill Holmes said.

“That would also include the replacement of two bridging structures,” he said.

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