Category Archives: Environment

Westport Helps Waltersville’s Garden Grow

Westport has a long history with Waltersville School. For years, Staples High School world language students have volunteered at the K-8 facility across the street from the former Father Panik Village in Bridgeport.

Now another group has stepped up. Last spring, the school wanted to transform a barren courtyard into something more inviting. They asked the Westport Garden Club to help.

The low-key — but very committed — 90-year-old organization said “of course!” The result: 4 beautiful perennial gardens.

The Westport Garden Club was joined by Pivot Ministries, a Waltersville neighbor. Labor, design and plants were all donated.

Westporters and Bridgeporters work together at the Waltersville School.

Westporters and Bridgeporters work together at the Waltersville School.

Yesterday’s ribbon-cutting yesterday was a festive affair. School staff, Garden Club members and Pivot Ministries helpers joined together to celebrate.

The opening of Waltersville School this year will be very joyful indeed.

Farmers’ Photo Fan Favorites

Two of our town’s most creative institutions — the Westport Farmers’ Market and Westport Arts Center — have teamed up to showcase the creativity of one of our town’s most important assets: our kids.

The Young Shoots Digital Photography Competition highlights images taken all summer long at the Farmers’ Market.

The remarkable shots — from every angle imaginable — pulse with life. Fruits, vegetables, flowers, people — they’re all there, showing off the vitality of the Thursday market in colorful, imaginative ways.

If you like what you see (and you will) you can vote for your favorite. There are 3 age groups: 8-11, 12-14, 15-18. But hurry: voting closes at midnight tomorrow, Sunday, August 23.

Winners will have their work shown in a gallery-like setting at Sugar & Olives (a favorite Farmers’ Market vendor), and will receive a membership to the Arts Center. Really though, virtually every image is a winner.

Click here for the photos, and to vote. Warning: Don’t do it on an empty stomach.

(Photo/Shira Friedman)

(Photo/Shira Friedman)

Golden Shadows Gets Trimmed

Westporters continue to debate the best use for Golden Shadows.

But no one can argue that the area in Baron’s South — once the handsome home of Baron Walter von Langendorff and his wife — looks a lot better today than it did yesterday.

This morning, historic preservationists Morley Boyd and Wendy Crowther organized a work party. They and Planning & Zoning Commission members Al Gratrix and Chip Stephens were joined by Mike Bernie, one of the baron’s original landscapers.

Golden Shadows is hidden from view, in the middle of the property. (Of course, the town owns Baron’s South, and it’s open from sunrise to sunset.)

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take care of it. Nice to see some concerned Westporters lend a helping hand.

Golden Shadows cleanup 2

Morley Boyd and Wendy Crowther, hard at work.

Golden Shadows cleanup 1

Chip Stephens (left) and Al Gratrix get their hands dirty.

Golden Shadows cleanup 4

The still-impressive hillside near Golden Shadows, after trimming, raking and weeding.

Golden Shadows

Golden Shadows


Aaron Donovan’s Aquatic Adventure: Part 3

For the past 2 days, “06880” has reported on Aaron and Susan Donovan’s journey by 18-foot kayak/pedal boat/sailboat (called a Hobie Tandem Island), from Westport to New York City. In real life, Aaron — a 1994 Staples High School grad — serves as media liaison for the MTA.

Here is the final part of his story:

Aaron and Susan left the lighthouse by 9 a.m. They wanted to be out of the water by 12:45 p.m. After 5 years of kayaking in New York City waters, Aaron knew the importance of timing his trip around favorable currents.

With the East River in ebb mode — water heading south to the Battery — he knew he’d be in good shape, even without a wind.

Aaron and Susan Donovan's boat.

Aaron and Susan Donovan’s boat. It’s not very big.

The East River officially begins at Throg’s Neck. Once Aaron and Susan rounded it, the wind completely died. They switched to pedal mode.

It got hot. They drank tons of water. The only excitement in the upper East River is an austere prison barge parked off Hunt’s Point, and planes taking off from and landing at La Guardia.

Unlike Westport and Norwalk, which allow camping on islands near shore, the City of New York has no such facilities.

Aaron says there are islands off the South Bronx, and another at about East 96th Street, that could. One of those — North Brother Island — was the quarantine residence of Typhoid Mary, and the spot where the General Slocum beached while on fire in 1904, killing more than 1,000 people.

It would be bad to end up by mistake on nearby Rikers Island, of course. “Suffice it to say, we managed to find a location where we camped unmolested by the NYPD, Coast Guard or anyone else,” Aaron says.

The next morning he and Susan woke early. They caught the ebb tide down the East River, pedaling against a southerly wind.

Aaron and Susan Donovan approaching the 59th Street Bridge (feelin' groovy). The UN is in the distance.

Aaron and Susan Donovan approaching the 59th Street Bridge (feelin’ groovy). The UN is in the distance.

“In a weird way, it was just another day heading downtown like my morning commute,” he says. Except they were now on water, surrounded by tugboats, DEP sludge vessels, and the Navy training ship The Empire State. Gone were the recreational craft they’d seen in Long Island Sound for days.

Their destination was Governors Island. The former Coast Guard base just off the Battery has been repurposed as a delightful, quiet park. They enjoyed the afternoon, rested up for a morning of pedaling, and waited for the tide to shift.

The Battery, as seen from Governors Island.

The Battery, as seen from Governors Island.

Unlike the East River (and most waterways), which ebb and flow for 6 hours each, the Hudson ebbs for 8 and flows for 4. The Hudson would begin flowing at 3:50 p.m., providing a northbound current to complement the northbound wind. It was a perfect combination for the final leg, up to the 79th Street Boat Basin on the West Side.

Aaron’s office colleagues were on alert. They captured an image of the kayakers from the 30th floor of his downtown office.

Aaron and Susan, as seen by Aaron's MTA colleagues on the 30th floor. The Statue of Liberty is much larger.

Aaron and Susan, as seen by Aaron’s MTA colleagues on the 30th floor. The Statue of Liberty is much larger.

The winds were the strongest of the trip — gusty and shifty. So Aaron and Susan reefed the sail, untethered from the dock and headed out.

At 14th Street a gust caught them off guard, freaking them out. Their GPS showed they were roaring along at 9 knots over 30 seconds. They steered into the wind, pulled in what remained of the sail, and proceeded the rest of the way calmly and smoothly under pedal power.

When they pulled into the dock at 79th Street, they were relieved to be “home.” But they faced the daunting task of unloading the boat, and carrying it awkwardly up to a small kayak storage area. It was, Aaron notes, “the hardest part of the trip — physically.”

Too tired, and hauling too much gear to catch the West Side IRT, they tried to hail a cab. When none showed up immediately, Susan resorted to Uber.

The driver first refused to take their suggested route to their apartment near Yankee Stadium, saying taking directions en route could be dangerous. Then he dangerously distracted himself by adjusting his GPS the entire way.

Aaron and Susan compromised. But the driver missed an exit, then another turn. Getting from 79th Street to the Bronx might have been the toughest part of Aaron and Susan’s entire 5-day, 4-night amazing aquatic adventure.

Susan and Aaron Donovan. Don't try their adventure at home.

Susan and Aaron Donovan. Don’t try their adventure at home.

Aaron Donovan’s Aquatic Adventure: Part 2

Yesterday, “06880” reported on the 1st day and night of Aaron and Susan Donovan’s journey by 18-foot kayak/pedal boat/sailboat, from Westport to New York City. In real life, Aaron — a 1994 Staples High School grad — serves as media liaison for the MTA.

Here is Part 2 of his story:

Aaron and Susan were in luck. On day 2 — and for the next 2 days– the prevailing westerly wind shifted out of the east. There was no need to lengthen the trip by tacking. Winds were a perfect 10-15 knots.

Off Darien, they encountered a sailing school. Aaron remembered his own summers at Pequot Yacht Club. It was “one of the greatest, most fun and educational things I did as a kid.”

They had 3 islands to choose from off Greenwich. They threaded the boat between Island Beach and Great Captain Island, landing briefly on Calf Island. It’s a publicly accessible bird sanctuary, but overnight permits are available only in advance, after submitting a “wildlife studies curriculum,” along with proof of knowledge of how to perform CPR (!).

Aaron and Susan had not done that. They considered pitching their tent on the boat — after all, that is not camping on the island.

But they pushed on, and pedaled through breakwaters and up the Byram River. They landed at the dock behind Bartaco in Port Chester.

Pitching a tent behind Bartaco in Port Chester.

Pitching a tent behind Bartaco in Port Chester.

The staff was very helpful. Aaron and Susan’s 2 main concerns were food, and recharging their phones, computers and homemade GPS.

Aaron learned that his boat was actually parked in the last slip owned by Ebb Tide Marina. He offered a damp $50 bill, and they had a spot for the night.

Aaron and Susan wandered around downtown Port Chester and its waterfront park, had an excellent dinner, then pitched their tent on the boat.

Sleeping behind a bar was surprisingly quiet. Until 2 a.m., that is, when a crew of loud, laughing people returned to a power boat docked next door. A woman fell into the water. Her friends fished her out, and they left. “Thankfully, they did not hit us,” Aaron says.

Day 3 was the smoothest yet. Aaron and Susan evaded some treacherous rocks off Manursing Island, then made a beeline for Execution Rocks Lighthouse.

Surprisingly, they saw the towers of the Throgs Neck and Whitestone Bridges before spotting the lighthouse.

Execution Rocks Lighthouse, as seen from Aaron and Susan Donovan's boat.

Execution Rocks Lighthouse, as seen from Aaron and Susan Donovan’s boat.

When they got there, hosts Craig Morrison and Linell Lukesh — representatives of a nonprofit that bought the island and lighthouse for $1 — were sitting in lounge chairs in their yard (actually, a grassless, concrete and rocky slope).

Docking was tough. Except for a metal ladder going straight to the sea floor, the entire island is surrounded by riprap — large granite boulders that serve as a breakwater to prevent erosion.

Craig pointed to a newly installed open mooring. It took a bit of maneuvering and hard work, but finally they landed.

The lighthouse was the highlight of Aaron’s trip. From the top, they could see Port Jefferson, Stamford, New Rochelle and Manhattan. There were 2 regattas underway, and plenty of fishermen in shallow-draft motorboats.

The Manhattan skyline, as seen from the top of the lighthouse.

The Manhattan skyline, as seen from the top of the lighthouse.

Craig and Linell barbecued, then Aaron and Susan retired to their room.

The lighthouse has 2 guest rooms, each with 2 cots. The charge is $300 per room — tax-deductible, as a donation to the lighthouse preservation fund. But they’re open on Saturday nights only.

If you want to get there without kayaking/pedaling/sailing from Westport, take the Port Washington Water Taxi. It’s a 15-minute ride to the island.

(Tomorrow: Days 4-5)

Susan and Aaron Donovan, standing at the top of Execution Rocks Lighthouse.

Susan and Aaron Donovan, standing at the top of Execution Rocks Lighthouse.

Aaron Donovan’s Aquatic Adventure

As media liaison for the MTA, Aaron Donovan is intimately familiar with New York’s trains, subways, buses, tunnels and bridges.

Its waterways — not so much.

Aaron Donovan

Aaron Donovan

But the 1994 Staples grad’s parents needed their garage space back. They no longer had room for the 18-foot hybrid vessel — part kayak, part pedal boat, part sailboat — that Aaron and his wife Susan bought from the Boat Locker, and had been storing there.

Aaron knew that New York City’s Parks Department has a small kayak storage area on West 79th Street. But he knew better than most that trailering the vessel on I-95 and into the city was no easy task.

So Aaron and Susan decided to sail. They spent the winter finding locations where they could stay during the 5-day, 4-night August adventure.

Aaron researched sunrises and sunsets, high and low tides, and ebb and flow currents. He could not, however, predict the wind.

After multiple stops at EMS, REI and Stop & Shop, the couple was ready. Launch date was Wednesday, August 6.

Susan Donovan in the 18-foot craft. Smaller than it sounds, no?

Susan Donovan in the 18-foot craft. Smaller than it sounds, no?

The house where Aaron grew up abuts the tidal estuary of Sasco Creek. He’d seen a few kayakers and canoeists on it, but it was certainly an underutilized resource.

Aaron and Susan planned to wait till shortly after high tide, when the current headed into the Sound. But — trips never go according to plan — they left a bit behind schedule, at 2:30 p.m. The current was against them, the water level low.

They walked the boat over sand, mud and gravel in waist-deep water. It was an inauspicious start.

Aaron and Susan Donovan leave Beachside, rounding Frost Point.

Aaron and Susan Donovan leave Beachside, rounding Frost Point.

They could not set up the mast until they’d cleared the bridge that carries Beachside Avenue into Pequot Avenue over Sasco Creek at Southport Beach. In tall sea grass they let out the sails, shoved off into waist-high waves of the incoming tide, unfurled the sails, and were off into a headwind.

Tacking a few times, they cleared Frost Point and Sherwood Point, en route to their 1st campsite in the Norwalk Islands. The winds shifted, the waves diminished and they arrived at 6 p.m. They beached the boat in tall sea grases, and hoped it would still be afloat — not way up a hill — at low tide.

For $35, Norwalk allows overnight camping on 2 of its dozen beautiful, sparsely or uninhabited island a couple of miles offshore. Aaron and Susan chose Shea Island — not Westport’s Cockenoe ($20) — because Shea offers rudimentary restrooms.

Aaron — whose words I am using throughout this report — calls the camping experience “amazing. So close to civilization, you can see the beautiful waterfront estates, shore lights and beaches, and hear occasional train horns and powerboat engines.

“But mostly you feel utterly surrounded by nature. As night falls, as the wind diminishes and the last rays of the sun taper off in pink and orange hues toward the west, you hear the calls of seagulls, and waves gently lapping on the rocky shorelines. It is like a hidden Eden, just 2 miles offshore.”

The view from Shea Island.

The view from Shea Island.

From their campsite atop a bluff, they had great views of the Sound. Long Island seemed close. Manhattan’s towers beckoned in the distance.

They were alone on the isle — though there are 16 campsites — except for a deer and 2 babies, who wandered over from Sheffield Island on a sandbar at low tide. Spooked, they (the deer) left.

After Susan made breakfast (eggs and beans), they loaded up their non-beached boat, and were off again.

(Next: Days 2-3)

Aaron and Susan Donovan's route, from Green's Farms to New York.

Aaron and Susan Donovan’s route, from Green’s Farms to New York.

(For an interactive view of the map above, click here.)

Here’s The Poop On Otter Trail

There must be a special place in hell reserved for people who make a big show out of cleaning up after their dogs — and then (when you’re not looking) leave the wrapped-up crap right where they found it.

They can’t be bothered to walk to a trash can, or put it in another bag and carry it home.

Alert “06880” reader Gus Ghitelman spotted this sign today on Otter Trail, off Imperial Avenue.

Otter Trail

I’m not sure if the blue bag is there to demonstrate what not to do, or if it’s someone’s not-very-subtle response to the sign.

Either way, the practice of not cleaning up your pooch’s poop stinks.

Farmers’ Market Needs Us!

It’s National Farmers’ Market Week (!).  So here’s your chance to vote for the Westport Farmers’ Market as the best in the area.

I usually don’t promote contests of this kind. But if we win — we’re currently 2nd, behind Black Rock but ahead of Norwalk/Rowayton, Old Greenwich and Ridgefield — our fantastic farmers (and bakers, meat purveyors, honey sellers, etc.) earn an important prize: They won’t have to pay their usual 4% fee on sales for one week.

Click here to vote for what we all know is the greatest farmers’ market around.

In other Westport Farmers’ Market news, members of the Staples High School boys soccer team were on hand today, shopping for goods.

Chef Luke Lampanelli (5th from left) joined Staples soccer players Chris Andrews, Max Hammer, Tyler Wright, Noah Schwaeber, Daniel Brill and Aidan Wisher, plus Westport Farmers' Market director Lori Cochran. Luke and the athletes are shopping for, and preparing, a meal for the Gillespie Center.

Chef Luke Lamparelli (5th from left) joins Staples soccer players Chris Andrews, Max Hammer, Tyler Wright, Noah Schwaeber, Daniel Brill and Aidan Wisher, plus Westport Farmers’ Market director Lori Cochran. Luke and the athletes are shopping for, and preparing, a meal for the Gillespie Center. (Missing: Andres Marmelo)

Community service is an important component of the boys soccer program, and the athletes were getting ready to cook a meal for the Gillespie Center.

Chef Luke Lamparelli is also volunteering his time and expertise. He’ll cook with the Wreckers tomorrow. That evening, they’ll serve fajitas, pasta, salad and dessert at Westport’s shelter.

Funds come from a previous effort this summer. Staples soccer players helped shoppers carry bags to cars, in exchange for voluntary contributions.

It’s a great team effort — just like the team voting effort that will make the Westport Farmers’ Market #1!

Farmers Market

Richard Wiese: Truly Born To Explore

Richard Wiese has eaten rotten shark in Iceland. (“It’s putrid — the worst food I’ve ever had.”)

He’s gone to sea with the only commercial fisherwoman in Chile. (“She was so subdued at first. Out on the water, she turned into Meryl Streep.”)

He’s slopped through dung-filled dye pits in Morocco. (“Places no one would go.”)

He’s traveled all over the Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia. With a tiny crew — 2 cameramen, a sound guy and a producer — he films astonishing stories of unheralded people and places.

After each trip — up to a half dozen a year — Wiese heads home to Westport. There — in a small warren of offices on the 2nd floor next to Bobby Q’s restaurant — he and a staff of 4 turn the footage into 26 annual episodes of “Born to Explore.” The fascinating Saturday morning TV show is entering its 5th season on ABC.

A world map inspires Richard Wiese in his Westport office.

A world map inspires Richard Wiese in his Westport office.

Most Westporters have no idea that the show is planned, organized and edited right here in Westport.

Those who do may not realize how successful it is. “Born to Explore” has been nominated for 11 Daytime Emmys. According to Wiese, only Ellen DeGeneres has more for syndicated shows.

And she’s got more folks doing her hair than Wiese has trotting the globe.

“Born to Explore” is an apt title. Wiese’s father — a Pan Am pilot — was the 1st man to solo the Pacific Ocean in a plane.

Wiese himself climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro with his father at 11 years old. In 2002 he became the youngest president ever of the Explorers Club. He’s been on the go — cross country skiing to the North Pole, living with pygmies in Uganda and aboriginals in Australia, even helping discover 202 forms of new life in the 1st microbial survey of New York’s Central Park — after graduating from Brown University.

Richard Wiese first climbed Kilimanjaro at age 11. He's been back, as this poster in his office attests.

Richard Wiese first climbed Kilimanjaro at age 11. He’s been back, as this poster in his office attests.

“Born to Explore” followed the publication of Wiese’s guidebook of the same name. He’d watched a lot of “exploring” TV shows. They all seemed sensationalized, or “lacking authenticity.” His goal was to show not only scenery and convey discovery, but to offer an understanding of the rich diversity of people around the world.

Litton Entertainment was looking for exactly that kind of programming. A strong partnership was formed (though Wiese retains full editorial control).

Since “Born to Explore” debuted, Wiese says, the cultural component has grown even more important. “We think we’re helping change perceptions of the Arab world, Africa” and other misunderstood places, he notes.

Last fall, during a Turkish crisis with Syria, Wiese was filming in Turkey. “The people were so warm and non-threatening,” he says. In Africa, he met a wonderfully intelligent 11-year-old Zulu girl. Wiese would “put her against anyone at Staples High School.”

With 3 young children at home in Weston, Wiese says, his shows also reflect “an appreciation for mothers everywhere.”

Richard Wiese respects everyone -- and connects with people everywhere. This photo was taken in South Africa.

Richard Wiese respects everyone — and connects with people everywhere. This photo was taken in South Africa.

“Born to Explore” is filmed from Belize to Botswana, Iceland to Indonesia. But many of the ideas are generated at 42 Main Street, simply by looking at a large map of the world.

Another idea came from Jim Fowler, of “Wild Kingdom,” “Today” and “Tonight” show fame. Visiting the Westport office, he suggested a show about the northernmost alligator on the planet.

Developing an idea is one thing. Then comes the hard part: finding guides, getting permits, figuring out how to reach interior Africa or South America.

Handling horses in snow is one of Richard Wiese's many talents.

Handling horses in snow is one of Richard Wiese’s many talents.

But Wiese and his staff are creative — before and during each shoot. There is no script. “We make on-the-spot decisions, and proceed,” Wiese says with pride.

The approach works. “We see the world in such a different way than if we were tourists,” he explains. “We meet such salt-of-the-earth people.”

They may not speak a common language. But Wiese, his crew and the men, women and children they film communicate through food, music, art and nature. “If you share a meal with someone, you understand them,” he says.

On most exploring shows, Wiese says, “the host is a superhero who survives everything. Well, that person doesn’t exist.” Although Wiese comes close to being superhuman.

So what’s it like — after traveling the world — to come back to Westport?

Wiese — who grew up across the Sound, on Long Island — loves it. “Life is about seeing the world, wherever you are.”

One of his favorite spots — anywhere — is Compo Cove. The other night, he and his son fished in Sherwood Mill Pond.

Sounds as if — like his father and grandfather — the young boy is born to explore.

"Born to Explore," on a Moroccan sand dune.

“Born to Explore,” on a Moroccan sand dune.


New Downtown Plan: No Permits Needed

Pete Romano is a well-known — and much-admired — Westporter.

He’s one of the prime movers behind the redevelopment of Saugatuck Center (and a co-owner of the beloved Saugatuck Sweets shop). For many years he was a leading volunteer with Festival Italiano. Pete knows how important it is to build — and sustain — a community.

He’s also a principal with Saugatuck-based LandTech, one of the area’s leading environmental and engineering firms.

Recently, Pete attended a conference on “Cities of Tomorrow.” In between heavy-duty panels of mayors, economic directors and futurists, there were 10-minute vignettes of imaginative, fun and very cool ideas.

Pete was particularly taken by a guy who took an abandoned city block out west. He developed it fully, placing businesses in abandoned store fronts, painting crosswalks and bike lanes, putting up planters with trees, creating sidewalk cafes and the like.

Creating green space where none existed.

Creating green space where none existed.

Here’s the kicker: He did not have permission to do anything. No permits, no licenses — nothing.

All he had were a few buddies, and a huge pair of you-know-whats.

He told the conference: “You can do anything, as long as you wear a hard hat and fluorescent vest.”

I am not advocating that anyone do this in Westport, mind you.

And if anyone does, please don’t mention where you got the idea.

Parking Day 2