First, it was natural land: wooded, a bit wet.
Then it was cleared for farming. Eventually, nature took over again.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Still ahead: a visitors’ information kiosk, 3- or 4-car parking area, and path along the Stonybrook perimeter.
Westport Evergreen hopes to organize work days with groups like the Boys Scouts, Staples’ Service League of Boys, and Rotary and garden clubs.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or write Lillian Wadsworth Arboretum, c/o Tree Warden, 110 Myrtle Avenue, Westport, CT 06880.
In the meantime, wander over to the Lillian Wadsworth Arboretum. It’s open 365 days a year.
And it’s free.