Tag Archives: Scott Smith

Failure To Launch

Alert “06880” reader Scott Smith loves many things about Westport. Kayaking is near the top of his list.

However, all is not ducky on the water. Read on…

Why is there a 3-year wait for a permit to store a kayak for the summer near a launch ramp in Westport?

That question came to mind when I stopped by the Parks & Rec office at Longshore to renew my annual handpass and beach sticker. They’re the tickets to many summer pleasures, and a big reason why Westport is such a great place to live.

I love getting out onto, and into, the water along our beaches, tidal creeks and river banks. For years I kept a small motor boat at Longshore.

Then I downshifted to a kayak, schlepping the big yellow sit-on atop my SUV to various ramps around town: Compo Beach, Longshore, the state launch on the Saugatuck under the I-95 bridge, and the Mill Pond, where I took the scenic route past the oyster shack, through the tunnel under the Sherwood Island Connector, and along the tidal creek to Burying Hill Beach.

The tidal creek at Burying Hill Beach. Scott Smith launched kayaks from here.

The past few seasons, following a car change and increasing age and laziness, I’ve been fortunate to keep my kayak for the summer at Longshore’s E.B. Strait Marina, courtesy of a neighbor’s slot, who liked taking his young daughter out on my old 2-seater.

It’s an easy put-in for a saunter up Gray’s Creek, a jaunt out to Cockenoe, or a venture around Longshore Sailing School to the Saugatuck River. For years I’ve harvested golf balls shanked from the practice range, free for the picking at slack tide.

Fun fact: There are nearly as many enthusiasts of paddle sports – kayaks, canoes, paddleboards – as golfers (around 25 million in the US, depending on which trade group does the counting). Tennis trails both pursuits by quite a bit.

There’s no lack of supply for Westport’s golfers or tennis players. That’s great, and I’m among them. But 3 years to wait for a spot to stash your kayak for the summer?

A kayaker at sunset, between Compo Beach and Owenoke. (Photo/Nico Eisenberger)

I’d like to know why the town has not figured out how to accommodate such an expressed demand for an increasingly popular, and very low impact, recreational pastime. Believe me, I’m still kicking myself for telling my neighbor I’d try to get the permit in my name this year.

I can see how adding parking spots for the train station lots, or boat slips at the marina piers, could come up against hard logistical limits. But how difficult would it be to add a few more wooden trestles to the existing lots at Compo Beach or Longshore?

Better yet, I suggest the town consider adding storage spaces and launch sites around town, for residents to use and help fund. I can think of several spots, including Compo Beach marina near the boat ramp and facilities, and Burying Hill Beach, which also has facilities and ample parking along New Creek (and which is chronically overlooked as a town asset).

Compo Beach has kayak racks near South Beach. Scott Smith would like more. (Photo/Patricia McMahon)

A great new place to launch from would be the lower parking lot at Longshore, which occupies precious frontage on the Saugatuck River and is now mostly used to accommodate wedding-goers at the Inn. Pilings from an old pier remain along the shore; it wouldn’t take much to repurpose a part of the lot as a put-in for paddleboards, canoes, and kayaks, with some seasonal storage.

It may require coordination with the state, but as the striving crews of the Saugatuck Rowing Club and the enterprising folks at Downunder can attest, the river is prime territory for today’s waterborne pursuits (at least when the tide’s right).

The town should bolster access to the Saugatuck for recreational fun. I’m pleased to see that the small park on Riverside Avenue near the VFW has been spruced up, though parking remains an issue. That pocket park could, with the Town’s support, be another fun new spot from which to explore a pretty stretch of the river.

Scott Smith suggests the small park on Riverside Avenue as another kayak launch site.

Excuse the rant. But once you’ve enjoyed the views and sport of Westport from the water’s edge, you want more.

And I don’t see why taxpaying town residents should have to wait 3 years to have reasonable access to it.

I asked Westport’s Parks and Recreation Department for a comment. They replied:

As the kayak facility is a popular and relatively inexpensive activity, demand exceeds supply. Therefore, there’s a wait list. It ranges between 1 and 3 years, depending on activity and turnover rate. Last year, 57 kayak positions turned over.

Short of building more racks (which we did about 8 years ago), the trend will continue with a 1 to 3-year wait. We currently have 58 on the wait list for the 192 kayak positions at Compo and 30 at Longshore.

Parks and Recreation Commission chair Charlie Haberstroh added:

We are putting together a site plan for Longshore, and will look to add kayak spaces there. We can also see if there is a more efficient way to design and stack kayaks at Compo.

I believe that we understand the problem. Unfortunately there is not a solution for this summer. In a way it is a good problem: more demand than supply. We will get on it.

(Has Scott Smith’s story got you intrigued about kayaks? You can rent them at Longshore Sailing School, and Downunder on Riverside Avenue.)

Scott Smith Discovers Westport’s Hidden Gems

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.

Fishing off Ford Road (Photo/Richard Wiese)

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.

Dead creepers line a Wadswworth Arboretum trail.

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.

A path in Baron’s South. (Photo/Judy James)

And just down Compo, off Greenacre Road, is the hidden gem of the Haskins Preserve, my longtime favorite place for a weekend stroll.

Haskins Preserve’s dogwoods and daffodils — a lovely combination.

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.

Smith Richardson Preserve (Photo/Scott Smith)

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.

If A Tree Falls In Baron’s South, Does It Make A Sound?

It’s tough to take down trees here on public land without an uproar.

Westporters howled 3 years ago, when 15 tulip poplars and Norway maples lining the Longshore entrance road were slated for removal. There was a similar brouhaha when a number of Main Street trees were sacrificed for light poles.

But very quietly earlier this month, several dozen trees — not far from the center of downtown — were cut down. We’ve heard hardly a peep.

The key is that those latest trees were on the Baron’s South property. That’s the 22-acre site between Compo Road South and Imperial Avenue. We — well, the town — bought it in 1999. But we’ve never decided exactly how to use the land.

It’s magnificent: hilly, wild and filled with wildlife. It’s been minimally maintained, which suits some people fine. Others think it needs a bit more care.

Deep in the Baron's South property. This image was taken from Judy James' video.

Deep in the Baron’s South property. This image was taken from Judy James’ video.

Most Westporters have no idea it even exists. So the recent Parks & Recreation Department project — to clear overgrown brush, vines, tree branches and other debris, and (oh yeah) chop down a number of trees — hardly registered.

Of course, a few folks noticed.

Cut trees are hauled away from Baron's South.

Cut trees are hauled away from Baron’s South.

One “06880” reader emailed to say that when a friend “came upon such woodland carnage, he became so sick to his stomach he had to leave.” Both were appalled that such “clear-cutting” took place without any notice.

Others hailed the project.

Scott Smith wrote:

The property has fascinated me since moving to this part of town 20 years ago. I’ve hiked, biked and explored the place even before the town bought it.

These photos hardly capture the transformation of the overgrown and long neglected grounds, or the number of trees cleared from the landscape.

The new view at Baron's South, looking west. (Photo/Scott Smith)

The new view at Baron’s South, looking west…

The tree clearing has opened up views of the Baron’s old manor house from nearly every part of the park. I never realized the views it commanded from its hilltop setting. The new vistas from the high ground also reveal glimpses of downtown and the steeples of Assumption Church across the river, and Saugatuck Church on the other side of the Post Road.

The loss of so many (but certainly not all) shows how rugged and steep the site is; there are more than a few slopes and ravines that would make for double-diamond sled runs if the town would ever allow it, which they won’t.

... looking east ...

… looking east …

On the flat land closer to Imperial and near the Senior Center is a small nursery of trees and shrubs packed in deep beds of tree mulch. I suspect tree warden Bruce Lindsay has a well thought-out re-landscaping plan.

Can’t wait to see how this most hidden of the town-owned jewels shapes up this spring. It’s definitely going to be a huge change.

It already is. Whether that change is positive or negative is up for debate.

By the small group of people who even know it happened.

... and looking north. (Photos/Scott Smith)

… and looking north. (Photos/Scott Smith)

 

Longshore Seaplane: The Sequel

This morning’s post about Westport’s seaplane past brought an instant response from Scott Smith.

And a photo:

Last seaplane - Longshore - from John Kantor

Click on photo to enlarge.

The former chair of Longshore’s 50th anniversary as a town park got the image from John Kantor, longtime owner of Longshore Sailing School.

Scott writes:

John gave me this photo of a seaplane taxiing away from the sailing school dock. He described it as “the last seaplane” that took off from that area. Note the police vessel standing by.

Scott adds that Lucia White — a well-known artist, now in her 90s — told Scott that her brother was a seaplane pilot in the 1930s and ’40s. He once flew one of the Bedford family’s planes to Florida. When he was a few days late reporting back, Lucia’s mother raised a fit with Mrs. Bedford.

A Heap O’ Scott Smith

Westporters blog about many things: Work. Kids. “06880.”

Scott Smith blogs about his piles.

Okay, his compost pile. Still, it’s an interesting topic. It’s called “My Pile: A Year in the Life of a Backyard Compost Heap.” He covers fertilizer, leaves and lots of other, um, stuff. Like the compost pile itself, it’s a work in progress.

The other day, Scott sent this story along. He hopes it’s of interest to “06880” readers. Whether or not you compost, I think it will be:

Autumn is my favorite time of year to be a Westporter — especially when the weather gives us such a pleasant run of bright, shiny days to prepare for the dark, cold winter to come.

It’s harvest time. For a backyard gardener like me, that means dealing with our most abundant crop – leaves. Driving along our roads, I’m always gobsmacked to see so many tall brown paper bags stuffed full of leaves stacked along the way. What a lot of fuss!

An autumn sight: bags of leaves awaiting pickup.

An autumn sight: bags of leaves awaiting pickup.

All those leaves – 2 tons per acre, I’ve heard – add up to a hefty load for our town (and our tax dollars). Westport’s Public Works Department doesn’t break down the costs of the annual pickup, but similar towns spend upwards of $370 per mile of road to collect leaves each fall.

Add to that the noisy efforts of squadrons of leaf-blowing crews that suck up and haul away the season’s leaves from many other local yards, and that’s an awful lot of green going to waste (or brown).

My neighbors and I have another, less costly and more sustainable way to dispatch our yearly bounty of leaves — and get something worthwhile in return. We rake, mulch and scooch most of the leaves that fall each season over to the compost pile I keep in the back corner of my yard.

My compost pile is a community in every sense: both in and of itself, and because of how it brings neighbors together. I still have the thank-you card the lady across the street sent after a buddy and I swept her leaves onto an old sheet and dragged them over to my pile.

Topping off a compost pile.

Topping off a compost pile.

My pile is awesome. Beyond generating nice neighborly feelings, the compost heap now takes in the bulk of leaves from nearly 3 acres of suburbia. That’s 4 homes that have largely gone “off the grid” of the town’s fall leaf cleanup.

Abiding by the old saw that a good compost heap is 80 percent dead brown organic material and 20 percent fresh green stuff, my goal each fall is to add a layer of something “green” to every load of leaves I put in my pile.

Easy pickings are grass clippings from the lawn, until they peter out with the waning autumn sun. Filtered coffee grounds from a local shop are loaded with nutrients and often free for the asking, as are bags of shredded paper brought home from the office. My pile also absorbs all the food scraps from my kitchen, and the family next door.

A certain amount of scavenging suits me and my pile. We live near the beach, where I bulk up with the greenest of green for my pile: seaweed.

Searching for seaweed on the shore.

Searching for seaweed on the shore.

I got the idea from a Westport Historical Society exhibit a while ago. “A Bunch of Farmers” detailed the area’s agricultural roots, beginning in the 1830s, which over generations developed richly with the maritime exportation of fish and produce to New York, Boston and beyond. By the Civil War, Westport was the leading onion supplier to the Union army. Onion farmers used nutrient-rich seaweed as fertilizer. There’s a certain symmetry to that, as my neighborhood was once an onion field.

Depending on the season, the weather and the wind, high tide usually leaves a long scraggly line of flotsam, most of it a musty salad of seaweed and raggedy reeds of salt marsh grass. Both are high in nutrients and the trace elements garden plants love.

Caught up in the tidal ebb and flow are dismembered crab legs and carapaces of baby horseshoe crabs. Shells of mussels, clams and oysters dot the mix, and in they go too. I love bringing this bit of the beach back home with me. The bucket smells like part wet swimsuit, part low tide, and all pure summer.

Scott Smith

Scott Smith

The more green I can contribute to my pile in the fall, the hotter it will cook through the winter months. With some turning with a pitchfork, the sooner the mass of leaves and compostable whatnot will boil down into a finished batch of loamy new compost. Last summer I spread 50 wheelbarrows full of fresh compost across my garden beds and lawn. My neighbors always know where they can go to fill up a flower pot or top-dress their tomato garden.

I know that in the greater scheme of things my backyard compost pile doesn’t amount to much more than a hill of beans. But it’s a fun, low-tech hobby that provides me plenty of good ol’-fashioned outdoor exercise, costs next to nothing, and in a modest way allows me to act locally while musing about bigger issues like food waste, sustainability, carbon footprints and global warming.

I highly recommend it to anyone with the time and inclination. Lord knows there’s always plenty of leaves to go around!

Hey, DOT: Move Your Asphalt!

It’s been there so long — and we’re so intent on finding an illegal parking spot at Starbucks — that most Westporters seldom notice the asphalt mountain at the state Department of Transportation maintenance facility just behind Walgreen’s and the bank, across from the diner.

But alert “06880” reader Scott Smith spotted it 2 years ago. Yesterday morning, he looked again. The only thing that’s changed: It’s 2 years older. 

Scott writes:

I know that much of the old asphalt scraped off our roadways is recycled into new material to resurface roads. In fact, old asphalt is the most recycled material in the US. Maybe that’s the state’s plan for all this stuff – surely thousands of cubic yards of ground-up asphalt. If so, they’re taking their sweet time to use it.

One view of the asphalt, from Hillandale Road...

One view of the asphalt, from Hillandale Road…

So here’s my question for CT DOT, as well as our local and state elected officials: Is this the best use of such prime Westport real estate?

Seems to me this area could be better utilized for, say, parking school buses and getting them out of their current cramped lot downtown. Or maybe we could work out a deal to move our Parks & Rec maintenance facility from the center of Longshore to this area. (The vehicles and equipment at that rundown facility are used not at Longshore but other Parks & Rec properties around town.) With some screening, perhaps there’s enough room here for affordable housing, which is as much a state issue as a local one.

Our local tax dollars sent to Hartford far out-measure what Westporters get back in terms of state services. You’d think we would have a good case to make for a land swap or lease that would allow Westport to make better use of this property. And there doesn’t seem to be much of a NIMBY issue involved, as most any re-development of the site would be preferable to a mountain of asphalt sitting almost in the middle of town.

...and another. (Photos/Scott Smith)

…and another. (Photos/Scott Smith)

Scott Smith’s New Pet Interest

Alert “06880” reader Scott Smith has spent this snowy winter feeding birds in his back yard. In between setting out seed, he shared these insights:

I’m currently in recovery from the news that my beloved mutt Miller will not be crowned Westport’s Top Dog 2015. He did not even have the chops to make it into the finals of this year’s competition, which concluded last Friday.

I’m not giving up on man’s best friend. But I’ve recently become infatuated with a new pet interest: All the birds that flock to my backyard feeder.

A typical winter scene.

A typical winter scene.

Especially since the snow has been on the ground this new year, my feeder attracts dozens of birds at a time throughout the day.

Most are little brown birds — sparrows and such — but there are many other kinds, including gentle doves, flicky finches, belligerent blue jays, the occasional red-headed woodpecker and more. Some feed only at the hanging tubular feeding station, while others peck through the snow-covered ground below for their meals.

After I purchased a new bag of bird feed advertised especially for cardinals at Pet Supplies Plus, I’ve been rewarded by frequent visits from 3 bright red males and 2 dusky females. Being from St. Louis — and a week away from pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training — this particularly excites me.

I asked the clerk how much bird feed the store sold a week. He calculated the bags by weight and said, “600 pounds, at least.” Figuring all the other local pet stores, and Super Stop & Shop, that must add up to a ton or more of seed each week for our community of wintering song birds and other feathered friends.

Dogs rule the roost and the news in Westport. Most attention to birds in these parts focuses on problems with geese, the singular beauty of swans or the wonder of ospreys nesting along our shoreline. It takes a long white winter to notice just how many other winged creatures also call Westport home, and enliven it throughout the year.

I don’t have the camera to nicely capture the birds in my backyard, but I imagine other alert readers and local birders have their own tales and photos to share.

Scott Smith's Miller is a “bird dog.” – He loves chasing away squirrels poaching seeds scattered across the snow.

Scott Smith’s Miller is a “bird dog.” He loves chasing away squirrels poaching seeds scattered across the snow.

 

Sand And Silt In The Saugatuck River

Last week, alert — and environmentally conscious — “06880” reader Scott Smith stood at Parker Harding Plaza and looked at the Saugatuck River.

It was low tide. Very low tide.

(Photo/Scott Smith)

(Photo/Scott Smith)

He was amazed at how much gravel and fill has been deposited on the upstream side of the bridge, and how shallow this section of the tidal river has become. He knows the muck continues all the way further downstream.

Scott says:

I wonder what would happen if, instead of the 2-3 inches of rain we got a couple of days earlier, we received the 13 inches that fell on Long Island. I’m no marine engineer, but it seems we’re at risk of some serious wash-outs, starting with our Post Road bridge and no doubt possibly affecting our waterway through Saugatuck, out to the Sound. The river today is nothing like it was when barges and other vessels docked all the way to downtown.

I’ve heard that Norwalk is undertaking a dredging project for its river and harbor. Is this something to add to our already lengthy list of Westport capital improvement projects?

What do you think? Is the state of our river dire enough to spend money on it? What would we gain? Are there unintended consequences — positive or negative?

Click “Comments” below. And please use your full, real name.

That Beach At Longshore? Don’t Laugh.

Yesterday’s post — about some mis-captioned photos at Joey’s, one of which refers to Compo as “Longshore Beach” — sent Scott Smith scurrying to his files.

Four years ago, he chaired Longshore’s 50th anniversary celebration. (That’s 50 years as a town-owned facility. For 30 years before that, it was a private club.)

Scott dug up some interesting memorabilia. It shows that — once upon a time — there reaally was a “Longshore beach.”

Here’s a marketing piece from its country club days:

Longshore Beach and Country Club

Sure, any artist could draw a nice beach. (And add tons of watercraft.)

But photos don’t lie. (At least not in the pre-Photoshop days.) Here’s one from 1934:

Longshore aerial view - 1934

Longshore is at the left. Note how much beach there was — and not only near the pool but all the way west, near what is now Hendricks Point.

In the mid-1960s, after the town bought the club (for the best $1.9 million ever spent — if we hadn’t acted fast, it would have sold as 184 building lots), Longshore looked like this:

Longshore aerial view - 1960s

There was still plenty of beach (and moss-covered rocks). Longshore Sailing School was quite a bit smaller then.

But no trip down Longshore’s memory lane is complete without this:

Longshore tower

Referred to as both a “tower” and “lighthouse,” it sat near the present pavilion entrance to the pool area. It was torn down in the 1960s.

All that remain today are memories — of that very cool structure, and the sandy “Longshore beach.”

 

Down Upon The Swan-ee River

Yesterday — while watching the Memorial Day parade on Riverside Avenue — alert “06880” reader Scott Smith decided to explore the “secret” boardwalk along the Saugatuck River behind the offices near Rive Bistro.

He was surprised to find a mother swan sitting on her nest, protecting a just-hatched cygnet. The father swan stood guard, a few feet away.

Swan 2

Scott and the new dad watched as the mama tended to her 1st-born, and turned the rest of the eggs. They were a cool shade of green, Scott says, and larger than he expected.

(Photos/Scott Smith)

(Photos/Scott Smith)

“I never thought I’d get so close to a swan nest without causing a ruckus,” he says. “Or have the chance to use the word ‘cygnet’ outside of a Scrabble board.”