Scott Smith is an alert “06880” reader, a longtime Westporter and an ardent outdoorsman. He writes:
If you ask Westporters to comment on our community’s natural charms, chances are most would cite the dazzling string of beaches and coastal places: Compo Beach, Sherwood Mill Pond, Gray’s Creek and Burying Hill. If pressed, they might claims Sherwood Island too.
Others would tout the Saugatuck River, from the fly fishing shallows along Ford Road to the impoundment of Lees Pond, and the tidal stretch through town leading to the mouth at Longshore and Cedar Point. Cockenoe Island gets a shout-out, too, especially from those with the nautical means to visit it.
But plenty of other places across Westport beguile with bucolic beauty. Many of these underappreciated open spaces are in the midst of a welcome renaissance, sparked by renovation efforts from those who love and tend them.
I’m talking about the town parks, preserves, land trusts and wildlife sanctuaries that constitute our remaining inland open spaces. Over the past year or two, I’ve visited quite a few. I always come away thinking how fortunate we are to be able to trod upon them.
“06880” has covered these developments over time, noting singular efforts and improvements. But if you step back and tally them all up, it’s quite an impressive list, covering virtually every part of town.
Over in Old Hill there’s the Lillian Wadsworth Arboretum. I toured it a couple of seasons ago with its caretakers, including Lou Mall and tree warden Bruce Lindsay. They’re spearheading its transformation from an untended patch of blow-downs and invasive vines to a fetching enhancement to the adjacent Earthplace facility.
Coleytown has the Newman Poses Preserve, which affords a wonderful walk through meadows along the Saugatuck stream and through upland woods. Having the memory of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward and their family as you traipse along is a nice bonus. Their neighbors — and the Aspetuck Land Trust — get credit for giving us that open space.
Right near downtown there’s the blossoming of long-neglected Baron’s South, another town-led reclamation project with even brighter prospects in store as a nature-driven arts campus.
And just down Compo, off Greenacre Road, is the hidden gem of the Haskins Preserve, my longtime favorite place for a weekend stroll.
I have “06680” to thank for cluing me in to my newest place to take a hike: the Smith Richardson Preserve in Greens Farms. I’ve long known about the 2 parcels north of I-95. The Christmas tree farm off Sasco Creek Road is where I chop down a tree every year. I consider it in part my annual donation to the Connecticut Audubon Society, which manages the farm and the open space across the road.
But I had no idea of the separate property just across 95, a 36-acre parcel stretching from Sasco Creek all the way to the playing fields behind Greens Farms Academy off Beachside Avenue.
I walked it the other day, taking advantage of frozen ground to course through fields that are in the midst of being cleared of smothering vines and other invasive species.
It’s an impressive project, even if the space is hard by the highway and Metro-North rails. Hemmed in by neighboring houses big and small, and what looks to be a refuse depot managed by the railroad or state, the area has the look of a pocket-size Central Park in the making, with Olmstedian trails that wind through woods, and alongside meadows and ponds. I can’t wait to see how the property develops, with its ambitious new plantings and clearings, and whether the caretaking crews can keep the tick-haven invasives at bay.
These public/private corners of our community are all discovered places, at least for me. When I visit them, either with my dog or solo, I’m often the only one around. I like the solitude, and question why I’d even want to spread the word about them. Parking is often a pinch, and I’m not even sure about the proper access to the new Smith Richardson preserve behind GFA’s sprawling athletic fields.
But these largely hidden local natural spaces deserve recognition, and our support for the groups that manage them — the town, Aspetuck Land Trust, and the Connecticut Audubon Society — whether by check or volunteer hand.
Separately and together, they all make Westport a wonderful place to live and to explore.