More than one year after town officials approved a subdivision on Weed Street with an attendant conservation easement—a strip of land that provided the “missing link” in what advocates have called a “dream greenway,” connecting the New Canaan Nature Center to Irwin Park—the architects of that project say they’re poised to take a final step toward realizing their vision.
The greenway—essentially a loop that would include a new walk through the woods between Oenoke Ridge Road and Weed Street—includes Nature Center property as well as the easement and separate pieces of New Canaan Land Trust property. The open question that Land Trust Board of Directors Secretary John Engel and others have grappled with for a year is: How to traverse the wetlands that stand between the easement and Weed Street itself?
Now, Engel said, the Land Trust is working with a wetlands scientist “to give us a report so that we can make a raised walkway through the wetlands that will, on the one hand, be the least impactful on the environment and yet it has to be sufficiently substantial so that it is safe for the public.”
If completed, New Canaanites would be able to walk a loop from downtown New Canaan—say, up Elm to the intersection at Weed Street, then to Irwin Park (which itself may connect via a sidewalk to the top of Elm), then through the “new” walkway, across Land Trust and Nature Center property through the woods, then out to Oenoke Ridge Road and down toward God’s Acre and the heart of the village again.
“What is important is that we are completing the circle,” Engel said. “We are completing the circle of Land Trust land and park land and sidewalk to make a complete walk-able circle, a pedestrian-accessible path.”
That “we” includes Eagle Scout candidate Charlie Marsh, who plans to tackle the eastern leg of the trail, as well as developer Coastal Construction, a Westport-based company that has built the houses on the subdivided property and is working on the “bermed” easement portion of the greenway, noted local landscape architect Keith Simpson and soil scientist Otto Theall, Engel said.
The Land Trust is consulting with the New Canaan Inland Wetlands Department to ensure the walkway itself is sufficiently strong and minimally impactful on the wetlands, he said.
Estimates for the work have ranged up to about $40,000, Engel said, and “we will need help from Coastal Construction and others to step up and complete the project.”
“We will ask people to contribute,” he said.
The Land Trust also consulted with New Canaan Community Foundation President and CEO Cynthia Gorey about putting in for a grant this year. After hearing about the project, Gorey said she encouraged the Land Trust to seek funding.
“We never know until May what we are going to be able to fund, but it seems like a really good fit in terms of what we like to support because it’s a permanent improvement to a public resource, it connects existing spaces and makes them more accessible,” Gorey said. “And the Land Trust is a really reliable nonprofit partner in that if they take on a project, they get it done and they get it done well.”
With funding and town approvals, the greenway could be completed some time this summer, Engel said.
By connecting parks through a pedestrian walkway that also touches the downtown, the project would not only rise to meet a goal of New Canaan’s Plan of Conservation & Development, but also marks the type of project that has emerged as a priority for the Land Trust, Engel said.
The Land Trust went through a phase from about 1967 into the 1980s where it was trying to acquire more open space, he said.
“Open space is very precious and the number of gifts has declined over the years, so the Land Trust has a renewed focus on trying to make some of these properties accessible to the public and improve them. And this is a very highly visible and important piece between Irwin Park and its 40 acres and the New Canaan Nature Center’s 40 acres of open space, so this is the new focus of the Land Trust, to focus on land we have.”
Just how the town will fund the final stretch of the loop—from where the Land Trust property lets out just north of the driveway at 929 Weed St. to the corner of Weed and Wahackme (Irwin Park)— remains an open question. It’s in the public right-of-way. The Town Council on Wednesday night authorized the town to apply to the state Office of Policy Management for a $150,000 grant that would pay for the Elm-to-Irwin sidewalk.