Last June, Westporters thrilled to the sudden appearance of a palm tree at — of all places — Compo Beach.
It was all a big — and very cool — mystery.
The next day, “06880” uncovered the story. Butch Izzo — whose Izzo’s Landscaping has a contract to plant trees around Westport — donated the palm. It replaced a different species that had died on South Beach, between the kayak launch and Ned Dimes Marina.
Parks and Recreation was not amused. But the public was. Quickly, Parks and Rec embraced — metaphorically, anyway — the unusual tree. It remained there, loved and admired and frequently photographed, until it was removed for the winter.
Wednesday’s decision to raise annual beach sticker and daily parking fees at Westport’s 3 beaches — Compo, Old Mill and Burying Hill — drew plenty of praise. It rankled others — particularly Westonites. (Click here; then scroll down for comments.)
But — as alert “06880” reader and Weston resident Mary McGee notes — a 4th “Westport beach” becomes entirely free this summer.
It’s Sherwood Island State Park.
Last fall, state officials eliminated the parking fee for Connecticut residents at most state parks. (Sherwood Island’s was $9 on weekdays, $13 on weekends.) It’s been replaced by a $10 charge, added to the Department of Motor Vehicles registrations we pay every 2 years.
Shewood Island State Park: 232 acres of prime real estate, right here in Westport. And admission is free!
It sounds like a dumb move, for a state reeling from a budget crisis. But officials estimate the change will raise $16 million more annually for our state parks.
Out-of-state residents will still pay a daily fee at Sherwood Island. Last year it was $15 on weekdays, $22 on weekends.
So why did so many out-of-staters pay more for Compo Beach last summer — and will probably do so again this year?
It’s permitted on South Beach — but banned throughout Sherwood Island.
Maybe we should be thankful, after all, for the huge increase in Uber dropoffs and pickups.
Many Westporters know them only if there’s a problem.
Compo overcrowded? Call the Parks and Recreation Commission.
Issue with your new deck? Call the Zoning Board of Appeals.
Aquarion building a huge water tower nearby? Call your RTM member.
“They” are the men and women who volunteer for our town boards and commissions. In addition to the above, there’s the Board of Finance, Board of Education, Planning and Zoning Commission and more.
(Photo by Cathy Zuraw/Connecticut Post)
They spend countless hours reading reports, fielding emails and phone calls, and attending meetings (and meetings and meetings).
They get criticized for taking stands, taking votes, and not taking votes.
They even put up (and take down) their own road signs.
And they do it for no pay.
That’s why they’re called volunteers.
They seldom get thanked. Even during election season, we seldom think of the enormous sacrifices our volunteer town officials make to make Westport the wonderful place it is.
That’s why everyone who runs for public office — Democrats, Republicans and independents; men and women; lawyers, business executives, stay-at-home parents and retirees; winners and losers — are this week’s Unsung Heroes.
You’ve got our “vote” of thanks!
(Want to nominate your own Unsung Hero? Email firstname.lastname@example.org)
As a member of the Parks and Recreation Commission, Steve Axthelm helps oversee our beaches, marinas, athletic facilities, pocket parks — and of course, Longshore. He’s justly proud of the many active and passive recreational opportunities Westport offers.
Yesterday he wandered over to a different facility. Sherwood Island is owned by the state — in fact, it’s Connecticut’s 1st state park — but it encompasses 232 acres of prime Westport beachfront, grasses, hills and trees.
It’s a gem many Westporters never think about. Yet it’s a wondrous spot, every day of the year.
Then again — except for when plans are announced for a project like elderly housing — most Westporters tend to overlook Baron’s South.
But advocates for keeping the 23-acre hilly and heavily wooded property just a few steps from downtown Westport in its natural state got a big boost last week.
Since her appointment last summer, Parks and Recreation director Jen Fava has been quietly analyzing and assessing land her department oversees.
Now, Parks and Rec hopes to upgrade the trails crisscrossing Baron’s South. They’re accessible from Imperial Avenue and South Compo Road, from dawn to dusk — though few Westporters know they’re there, let alone open.
A path in Baron’s South. (Photo/Judy James)
The Parks and Rec Commission unanimously approved $75,000, to pay for upgrades suggested by Fava. However, she noted, the cost could be as low as $25,000. Most of the work will involve trees.
A private group — Friends of Baron’s South — has played a key role in cleaning up the property.
It’s a true town gem. And — very quietly, and unobtrusively — it’s about to get even more attractive.
The Compo Beach Site Improvement Committee is fading away, in our rear view mirrors.
Up ahead: renovating Longshore.
The Parks and Recreation Commission — and plenty of Longshore users — have talked for a while about improving the 169-acre park. The crowded area around the 1st tee — with its ramshackle golf pro shop, landfill driving range, helter-skelter parking and dumpster near the Inn — is one area ripe for improvement.
Marina parking, and the maintenance shed sitting smack in the center of things, are other places worthy of examination.
Longshore — one of Westport’s crown jewels — includes a golf course, tennis courts, marina, pools, and much, much more.
Then there are usage questions. Do we need more paddle courts? Do the pool and skating rink work well? You get the idea.
The 2015-16 town budget includes money for a study of Longshore — something similar to what the town did with Compo, says Parks and Recreation Commission chair Charlie Haberstroh.
He hopes to organize a committee later this year. “It probably won’t be quite as comprehensive as Compo,” he says. “We’re not talking about building a clubhouse in the middle of the golf course. But we should start the planning process now.”
Several constituent groups are already gearing up to be heard. In an email to current and former members, the Longshore Men’s Golf Association board floated the idea of a small new clubhouse — with locker rooms, a pro shop, and an upstairs grill room — taking advantage of water views.
There will be plenty more discussion ahead. That’s a given — this is Westport.
The Inn at Longshore is a major attraction at the park. It sublets space to a restaurant — but right now that space is empty.
Meanwhile, a more pressing Parks and Rec concern — as well as for many diners and drinkers — is the status of Longshore’s restaurant/bar.
Splash closed several months ago. Though Inn at Longshore lessee Rory Tagert’s lease requires him to run a restaurant, time is running out for this summer. The Inn is reported to be close to an agreement with a new sub-tenant. But permits — including liquor licenses — take time to obtain. A new operator would most likely want to make renovations too.
Bottom line: You may be bringing your own food and drinks to Longshore for a while.
And when you do, you’ll have time to chew over the Next Big Issue in town: Longshore 2.0.
With 2 major planning projects underway — for downtown and the beach — town officials are urging Westporters to make their wishes known.
Sure, you can click on the “Comments” section of “06880.” But nothing beats showing up in public, and opening your mouth.
The Downtown Steering Committee holds a “charrette” this weekend (September 20-21) at Town Hall. Satellite events are set for other downtown locations too.
Charrettes are collaborative work sessions in which design professionals, residents, merchants, municipal experts and others discuss and draft solutions to address specific opportunities and challenges.
This weekend’s charrettes follow a kickoff event on Monday. A couple dozen people heard about, and saw visuals of:
A park-like walkway along Parker Harding Plaza, with a footbridge leading to the former Save the Children property on Wilton Road.
A new 2-story retail shopping center between the relocated Kemper-Gunn House on Elm Street, and Brooks Corner — effectively hiding the Baldwin parking lot.
A redesign that cuts Jesup Green in half. All parking would face Matsu Sushi; half of the current lot becomes an expanded green from the river to the police lot (with gazebo and paths). At the top of the green is a new “community arts space.”
An area in front of the current Y will force Church Lane traffic heading to Main Street to turn onto the Post Road first.
New buildings on the Imperial Avenue upper parking lot.
Possible relocation of the police department, and construction of — yes — a new retail shopping complex.
The west side of the Saugatuck River is also part of the new downtown plan. (Photo/Larry Untermeyer for DowntownWestportCT.com)
The charrette begins this Saturday at 8:30 a.m., at Town Hall. A “walking tour” of downtown follows at 9 a.m. From 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m. back at Town Hall, there are work sessions, panels and discussions. From 3:30-6 p.m., “open studio workstations” allow discussions with experts about specific ideas and plans.
Sunday features more open studio exhibits and workstations (9:30 a.m.-1 p.m.), followed by a closing presentation (1:30-3 p.m.).
JP Vellotti — a longtime Westporter who attended Monday’s kickoff — says, “This is our chance to define how we want our downtown to look, and how we interact with that space.”
The charrette will also include a special aerial video of downtown, produced by Staples freshman Rick Eason. For more information on the charrette, click on www.downtownwestportct.com.
Rick Eason’s video shows downtown from an angle never before seen.
Then, on Monday, September 29 (7:30 p.m., Town Hall auditorium), the Compo Beach Site Improvement Committee presents its recommended draft master plan to the Parks and Recreation Commission. Public comment is invited.
The Commission will make formal recommendations to the committee at a future public meeting. “It is important that the commissioners have sufficient time to digest the recommendations of the committee and the public input,” says Parks & Rec Commission chair Charlie Haberstroh.
Click here to help support “06880” via credit card or PayPal. Any amount is welcome — and appreciated! Reader contributions keep this blog going. (Alternate methods: Please send a check to: Dan Woog, 301 Post Road East, Westport, CT 06880. Or use Venmo: @DanWoog06880. Thanks!)