An Evergreen Grows In Westport

First, it was natural land: wooded, a bit wet.

Then it was cleared for farming. Eventually, nature took over again.

Stone walls show that this wooded land was used long ago for farming.

In 1959, Lillian Wadsworth sold 12 acres to the town of Westport — for $1. The year before, she’d given 62 acres to the fledgling Mid-Fairfield County Youth Museum. The organization later changed its name — first to the Nature Center, then to Earthplace.

A philanthropist, artist and sculptor, Wadsworth was active in the Westport Garden Club, Westport Library, and various preservation and horticutural organizations. 

The Board of Education considered the site — bordered by Stonybrook Road and Woodside Lane — for a school. Residents of the quiet neighborhood objected.

Eventually, the town designated the 12 acres for passive recreation.

The Lillian Wadsworth Arboretum is called “Stony Brook Rd property” on this Google Maps Earth view. Earthplace is at top.

About 20 years ago, the town explored selling the site to a developer. Nearby resident Dick Fincher and town attorney Stan Atwood helped scuttle that plan.

In 2009, a micro-burst felled hundreds of trees. They sat, rotting, for several years.

In 2014 Fincher and Lou Mall got 1st Selectman Jim Marpe interested in the site. When tree warden Bruce Lindsay saw it, he immediately recognized its potential.

With a $50,000 urban forestry grant — and hundreds of volunteer hours — a few trails were cut. Fincher and neighbor John Howe played key roles, and saved a beautiful Norway maple.

Dick Fincher, at the entrance to the Wadsworth Arboretum (corner of Stoneybrook Road and Woodside Lane).

A Norway maple at the Wadsworth Arboretum. The teepee nearby was built by students.

Since then, volunteer restoration efforts have continued. The land was given an official name: The Lillian Wadsworth Arboretum.

Now Fincher and Stein — both members of Westport’s Tree Board — are kicking the project into high gear. The Board has formed a non-profit — Westport Evergreen — to solicit foundation, corporate, civic group and individual funding to manage, maintain and improve open spaces throughout town.

The start of the Eloise Ray trail, on Stonybrook Road. Eloise Ray was a noted landscape architect.

In addition to the Wadsworth Arboretum, Westport Evergreen has done preliminary work at Baron’s South, the 32-acre wooded site between South Compo and Imperial Avenue.

So far, 40% of the Wadsworth site work has been completed. Dangerous deadfalls and invasives were removed; a trail plan has been established, and several trails added. Specimen vegetation has been planted, signage installed, and benches and tables were made by Stein from salvaged wood.

Dick Stein made this bench from salvaged wood. Lou Mall invited fellow RTM members here for a picnic.

Clearing the massive amount of underbrush is “not a job for amateurs,” says Dick Fincher.

Dick Fincher stands on a bridge built earlier this summer by Lou Mall, Dick Stein and tree warden Bruce Lindsay.

Dead creepers line a Wadswworth Arboretum trail.

Still ahead: a visitors’ information kiosk, 3- or 4-car parking area, and path along the Stonybrook perimeter.

A visitors’ kiosk will be built here. All the wood comes from the Wadsworth Arboretum site.

Westport Evergreen hopes to organize work days with groups like the Boys Scouts, Staples’ Service League of Boys, and Rotary and garden clubs.

One of the trails already cut at the Wadsworth Arboretum. Many have been created by students.

Last year, several Staples senior interns and members of Mike Aitkenhead’s environmental studies classes worked at the Arboretum.

Westport Evergreen seeks contributions to the general fund, or for planting a tree or purchasing a bench. Email blindsay@westportct.gov, or write Lillian Wadsworth Arboretum, c/o Tree Warden, 110 Myrtle Avenue, Westport, CT 06880.

When funding is completed, this rock will bear a plaque saying “Lillian Wadsworth Arboretum.”

In the meantime, wander over to the Lillian Wadsworth Arboretum. It’s open 365 days a year.

And it’s free.

That’s priceless.

6 responses to “An Evergreen Grows In Westport

  1. Julie Shapiro

    Fantastic – we are so lucky to live here. Can’t wait to take a hike. Wouldn’t it be great if some of the less fortunate families in Bridgeport could enjoy a walk, an environmental guided tour and a lovely picnic here.

  2. It is a beautiful space and worthwhile project. I hope that all involved will continue to work hard to maintain the peaceful nature of the activities and related traffic to the arboretum and Earthplace location. I sense there are some big ideas in mind that might cause this to become an event destination which would be out of line with the original purpose and zoning. As example, a party at the site two years ago was so loud late into the night that the police were called. Let’s keep it parklike!

    • Ms. Stahl, glad you like the property. However, regarding your comments about a loud party at the LWA site two years ago, I think you might be confused, since the clearing of deadfalls, etc., did not begin until 2015. And, I live across from LWA, and certainly do not remember hearing a loud party there with police being called. I hope you will become a supporter of Westport Evergreen, Inc., and the Lillian Wadsworth Arboretum – come volunteer or make a contribution, thanks. And Chip Stevens, you are correct, Al and the other Tree Board members have made this start possible.

      • Neighbor Dick Fincher , To clarify, it was an Earthplace party and I did call the police due the excessive noise heard well down the street late into the evening. As you a fellow neighbor you know that Earthplace and the Arboreteum are colocated in our Old Hill neighborhood. My hope is that both the Earthplace and Arboreteum teams will be thoughtful about the neighborhood as they plan their respective and collaborative growth. The Arboreteum brings a beautiful site to our environment and I join in applauding the effort it took to make it happen for everyone to enjoy.

  3. Chip Stephens SHS '73

    Al Gratrix, tree board member, should be called out here for all his efforts in assisting Bruce and company in planning and executing the plans for the arboretum and setting the not for profit to accept designated tax advantaged contributions. Al has worked hard with Bruce to make this happen and all involved deserve our thanks and gratitude.

  4. Bill Boyd (Staples 1966)

    “About tewnty years ago the town explored the idea of selling to a developer.” I hope those people were tarred and feathered and run out of town.