Discussions have begun on the future of Long Lots Elementary School. Renovate on its present location? Construct a new building on the athletic fields north of the current site?
Debate will likely be loud and long.
A few yards south though, peace and quiet prevail.
The Community Gardens — 2-plus acres with 100 plots where people of all ages grow fruit, vegetables, flowers, herbs and grasses; gather in a common space with a pergola, picnic table, grape vines, bocce court and Adirondack chairs, and enjoy birds, butterflies and pollinating bees — are one of Westport’s hidden-in-plain-sight jewels.
Now, they’re getting even more gorgeous.
And more environmentally sustainable.
A 4-phase project just beyond the gardens will create a new preserve. It will turn unmaintained, forested open space — once the Jaeger family greenhouses, now inundated with aggressive invasive plants and shrubs, and tree-destroying vines — into a haven for native species.
Work began in April. Robbie Guimond bulldozed — at no charge — an area filled with mugwort.
Also at no cost, A.J. Penna & Son dug holes for 11 new trees.
Doug Williams of Bartlett Tree Experts took out 4 tree of heavens, a particularly invasive species with “absolutely no wildlife value,” according to Lou Weinberg.
He’s dedicated 18 years to the Community Gardens. Now its chair, Weinberg is the driving force behind the Long Lots Preserve. He’s getting help from environmentalists like Charlie Stebbins of the Smith Richardson Preserve, and Community Gardener Frank Rosen.
A 15-person team is overseeing the project. Many contribute countless hours of volunteer labor.
Phase 1 will involve planting native trees like river birch, pin oak, serviceberry, white pine, tupelo, white spruce and tulip poplar. Then come shrubs like viburnum, elderberry and northern bayberry.
Phase 2, set for this fall, consists of a 180 by 50-yard area on the south side, where mugwort, Japanese stiltgrass and wineberry have taken over. As with Phase 1, native species like oak and sycamore will replace invasives. Aspetuck Land Trust and the Audubon Society will help guide the effort.
Next spring’s Phase 3 — way back, in the wet southwest corner — will involve swamp oaks. Phase 4 follows in the fall of 2023, along the western side of the gardens.
Click here for more details on each phase.
Long Lots Preserve will be a rich ecological oasis, providing food and habitat for pollinators, local and migrating birds, and other wildlife. Along the way, it will become a model for suburban open space rehabilitation.
Like the invasive plants that have taken over the garden’s perimeter, the benefits keep growing. They include: adding to the Aspetuck Land Trust’s Green Corridor; contributing to the national Pollinator Pathway; providing educational opportunities to students; raising property values; supporting the Westport Tree Board and Sustainable Westport’s missions — and of course enhancing the beauty of the area.
“This is a legacy project,” Weinberg says with pride. “It will benefit the town for generations to come.”
Long Lots Preserve is a 501(c)(3) non-profit. Click here for more information, and to contribute.
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