Tag Archives: Westport Weston Family YMCA

YMCA Adds Morning Child Care

For many families, a new item has been added to the back-to-school list of pens, notebooks and snacks: child care.

As Westport rolls out its hybrid schedule, working parents — whether outside the home, or in — seek options for new times.

For decades, the Westport Weston Family YMCA has offered a great after-school program. Now it adds morning child care.

Students in the program will be transported to and from Coleytown, Greens Farms, Kings Highway, Long Lots and Saugatuck Elementary School. The newly expanded Y has enough room to keep kids in small, socially distanced groups.

The Y’s Bedford Family Center expansion.

“The Y has served the community for more than 97 years, during which we have made it through many challenging times together. The COVID-19 pandemic will not be any different,” says CEO Pat Riemersma.

“After 10 weeks running Camp Mahackeno and seeing first-hand how essential it was for the campers after the spring closures, we knew we needed to offer a program to help families navigate this difficult time, “says Y camp and family services director Jesse Kanaple.

Safety measures include

  • Daily temperature and health screening for staff and participants.
  • Mandatory mask wearing for staff and children (youngsters will have “mask breaks”).
  • Enhanced cleaning of space and equipment.
  • Enhanced focus on personal hygiene

Lunch and snack must be provided by parents or guardians. Financial assistance for the program is available. For more information and registration, email jkanaple@westporty.org, or call 203-226-8981.

Just as at Camp Mahakeno, youngsters in the Wetport YMCA child care program will wear masks.

Mahackeno: An Old Camp For A New Age

Mahackeno — the Westport Weston Family YMCA camp just south of the Bedford Center — has a long, storied history.

It’s as old as the Merritt Parkway. And as new as the work currently be done there, not far from the Saugatuck River site.

The Y opened its camp in 1938. Six years later they were offered 30 acres of land — including the site of the present camp.

Enjoying the Saugatuck River, at Camp Mahackeno back in the day.

F.T. Bedford — son of the Y’s founder, Edward T. Bedford — said his family’s trust would pay half the price, provided the town ponied up the other half.

Within a few weeks, Westporters pledged their portion:  $10,000.

In March of 1945, the Y took possession of the property. That summer, 72 boys attended “Camp Bedford.” One of the highlights: a rope swing, dangling from the nearby Merritt Parkway.

A year later — at F.T. Bedford’s request — the name was changed to “Mahackeno.” That honored “Mahackemo” (with an “m”), a sachem (chief) of the Norwalke Indian tribe who in 1639 met Roger Ludlowe and traded land between the Saugatuck and Norwalk Rivers — including that very spot — for wampum and other goods.

Over the years, Camp Mahackeno grew. It added girls, a pool and other amenities. It (reluctantly) packed away the rope swing (and an enormous military-style float that it’s a miracle no one ever drowned underneath.

Summer Camp has been part of growing up for decades. In 1953, Westport artist Stevan Dohanos used Camp Mahackeno for this Saturday Evening Post cover.

This year, Mahackeno opened its new, now 34-acre facility. After a year of construction there’s a new amphitheater,  archery range, climbing walls, 2 slides and 5 rainy-day pavilions.

A counselor gives an assist at a new climbing wall.

The basketball court, Beck Lodge and swimming pool have been renovated (with a new splash pad too). Playing fields were leveled.

The refurbished pool. Y members can register to swim for one hour slots on weekends.

Every tree of 8 calipers or more has been replaced by 2 new trees. Oh, yeah: the port-a-potties are shielded too.

Westport Weston Family Y CEO Pat Riemersma checks out one of several new wood chip paths.

250 or so boys and girls attend one or more of 9 week-long sessions. This being a pandemic, they remain in strict groups of 10, with the same (masked) counselor all week.

Scroll down for some photos of Camp Mahackeno, 2020. It’s not 1938 — but then again, what is?

Between canoe sessions, a counselor sanitizes railings.

Gaga is a ground-level form of dodgeball.

Two new slides are a huge hit.

The new amphitheater seats 360 campers and staff members.

No camp is complete without an archery range.

The newly renovated basketball court gets plenty of action.

Rainy day pavilions: shelter from the storm.

The all-new playground.

A classic camp scene.

Roundup: Farmers’ Market; Inspirational Swimmer; Compo Barber Shop; More


Another big step on the road to return:

Starting this Thursday (July 9), the Westport Farmers’ Market is open for regular shopping.

The decision — made “after careful consideration and due diligence through state and local officials” — means that every week from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the Imperial Avenue lot will be will fill once again with “your beloved farmers, bakers, cheese mongers and more.”

A number of adaptations will ensure safety for customers and vendors. Masks must be worn at all times. There is single-direction traffic while shopping (one way in, one way out). There will be hand sanitizer stations, social distancing and “lots of fresh air.”

Just like old times, musicians will play.

Executive director Lori Cochran realizes that not everyone will come. So pre-order, touch-free, selected-time-slot pickups continue.

“We realize that healthy food is one of the best ways to heal your body and keep your immune system strong,” Lori says. “Our immune-compromised shoppers need safe access to our product. We are committed to bringing it to them while allowing others to participate in the day-of model.”

A select number of slots are available for Thursday pickups, from 9 to 10 a.m. For details, click here.


With the goal of opening dialogue and expanding awareness of the realities of racial challenges, the Westport Weston Family YMCA is sponsoring an intriguing conversation.

The guest is Trevor Freeland. A member of the first all-Black team to reach the top ranks of American youth swimming (chronicled in the 2007 movie “Pride”), he went on to a stellar career at the University of Virginia. As the first Black swimmer to compete in the ACC, he helped the Cavaliers win the 1st of 16 league titles.

One of the few Black executives to run a major Wall Street trading desk, he has committed his life to challenging and breaking down barriers. He attributes his success to the work ethic and life skills he learned in the pool.

The event is this Saturday (July 11, Camp Mahackeno outdoor amphitheater). There are 2 sessions: 9: 15 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. A limited number of spots are open to Y members who are not non-Water Rat swimmers, and their families; Y members can click here to register.

Trevor Freeland


Doug Fierro spotted this yesterday, in a dumpster behind Compo Shopping Center.

“Another victim of COVID,” he writes. “A sad day for Westport.”


This morning at the Gillespie Center, Sunrise Rotary donated $5,000 to Homes With Hope.

The funds will purchase farm-to-table meals for homeless shelter residents, from caterer Alison Milwe-Grace. The donation is particularly important now, because Gillespie’s regular volunteers are unable to help personally. (Sunrise Rotary members are some of those regulars: they serve meals on the first Saturday of every month.)


Savannah Bee has added items to its curbside delivery.

Along with their line of immune boosters (saw palmetto and local new England honey, bee pollen, royal jelly and healing anti-bacterial propolis spray), they now offer an elderberry elixir hand-crafted in Atlanta with their famed honey. It’s filled with adaptogenic jerbs and immune-boosting botanicals.

Click here, then call Julie (203-856-5149) or email julie@savannahbee.com.


Yesterday, a reader reported that Panera Bread’s “customer care” team told her the Westport location would reopen today.

#fakenews.

A reader who drove by there today reports, “they remain quite closed. The sign in their window still says ‘Location Temporarily Closed.” The location does not pop up on their website when you search 06880 either.”

If anyone knows what’s cooking, let us know!

The Panera Bread near the Southport line.


And finally … I have no idea who comes up with these things, but supposedly on this date in 1550, chocolate was “thought to have been introduced to Europe.” Today also marks a year and a day since the tribute concert to Westport’s favorite blues/rocker, Charlie Karp.

To celebrate, here’s a link to Charlie Karp’s 1973 album, named after his band at the time: White Chocolate.

Roundup: Y Reopens; SportsPal; More


The Westport Weston Family YMCA reopened today, more than 3 months after it closed.

Members were thrilled to return. And staff — including popular Aquafit instructor Patty Kondub (below) — were thrilled to see them.


When the coronavirus struck, 2018 Staples graduate Zach Feinstein helped create Urlist: a home delivery shopping service.

Over 200 orders later, there’s a new concern beyond groceries. With camps closed and other activities curtailed, Zach — a former Staples High basketball and lacrosse player, now majoring in communications at the University of Maryland — has developed a new app: SportsPal.

it connects college and high school athletes throughout the tri-state region with younger athletes, for personal sports training or helping achieve an active lifestyle. Zach makes sure to select athletes who can not only teach, but also mentor and support youngsters.

For more information, click here or check out @sportspaltraining on Instagram.

Zach Feinstein


And finally … Teenear refuses to live her life in fear. Hear, hear!

Y Reopens June 22. Very, Very Slowly.

The Westport Weston Family YMCA will reopen Monday, June 22.

But don’t expect to waltz right in, socialize, work out, and hang out. In an email sent this evening to members, CEO Pat Riemersma described a “gradual reopening with modified access to facility amenities.”

Hours of operation are Monday through Friday, 6 a.m. to 7 p.m; Saturday and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. That provides access to the Wellness Center (cardio, strength and free weights); indoor and outdoor pools, plus group fitness classes and personal training (inside and outside). Reservations are required for the entire facility.

During the next phase (date TBA), there will be a limited Kids Club, limited lobby seating, and additional classes.

The Westport Weston Family YMCA has been shut since March 12.

What’s not available? The locker rooms (restroom use only), showers, steam rooms, saunas, water fountains, cafe, as well as yoga mats, stretch bands and other rubberized equipment (though members can bring their own).

All members will be required to sign a waiver before using the facility. They will also have their temperature checked, and be asked screening questions.

Members must bring and wear masks or cloth face coverings, unless precluded by a medical condition. Members do not need to wear a mask while engaged in physical activity — if 12 feet of distance can be maintained. Members much clean all equipment before and after use.

If you’re a glass-half-empty person, you see a lot of restrictions. If you see the glass as half-full — or miss your pool, treadmill, instructor or Y friends, or are worried about an expanding waistline or disappearing muscle tone — you take whatever good news you can get.

(For more information on the Westport Weston Family Y, click here.)

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Despite Shutdown, Y’s Unified Sports Program Thrives

The COVID-induced closure of the Westport Weston Family YMCA is tough on many members who miss their regular gym and swim workouts, spin and yoga classes, and much more.

It’s especially hard on the few dozen young people engaged in the Y’s Unified Program, which pairs special needs athletes with partners. Led by Danette Meigel and staff, they join in weekly basketball, swimming and track practices, and compete in tournaments and meets throughout the year.

The Unified Program brings competition, structure, friendship and joy to all involved. For many special needs youngsters — and their dedicated volunteers — it’s a highlight of their lives.

In late March, as schools, sports and almost everything else — including the Y –shut down, head youth volunteer Oliver Clachko contacted Danette. He wanted to bring the Unified athletes together through Zoom meetings.

Danette loved the idea. Quickly, her staff devised a plan.

Every Saturday since early April, Danette, coaches Marta Taddeo, Christophe Esposito and Shannon Connors, and teen volunteers including Oliver, Max Udell, Ryan Weil, Layne Yacenda, Julian Frucht and Hugh Hutchinson, have led virtual Unified basketball practices for their special needs friends.

Oliver Clachko leading a virtual basketball practice, from home.

They begin by socializing — much needed by all, in these times of isolation. Next come warm-ups and simple basketball drills. None require a hoop; most don’t even use a basketball.

They finish by asking the young athletes what drill or exercise they want to do next week.

From only one attendee the first week, the number has grown steadily. It’s a steady presence — but that’s not all. This Sunday (May 17), the Y Unified Program begins a dry land swim session.

Also in the works: a Unified Sports game night (with pizza!), and “virtual Special Olympics” (a 5K run/walk in your neighborhood or on a treadmill) in June.

The Westport Y Unified Program is very special, for sure.

For more information or to volunteer, email dmeigel@westporty.org.

Screen shot of a Unified Sports Zoom session.

Another Dam Story

Alert “06880” reader Scott Smith is an astute observer of the many wonders of Westport. Today he writes about the dams that “block the migration of fish and otherwise stymie the natural ecology of the 57,264-acre Saugatuck River Watershed — a rich network of 242 miles of waterways that discharge into the Saugatuck River and Long Island Sound.”

The topic came to mind after reading a New York Times story, “It’s Fish vs. Dams, and the Dams Are Winning.” The article noted efforts underway in Connecticut to eliminate obsolete dams from rivers that connect with Long Island Sound,

“Connecticut has about 4,000 dams,” said Stephen Gephard, a supervising fisheries biologist for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, “and the vast majority are obsolete.” The state owns about 100 dams and is reviewing the list to determine which should be removed. Gephard’s team has also identified 20 to 30 privately owned dams it would like to remove to allow fish passage.

That made me wonder if one of those dams under consideration of removal is the one on the Saugatuck that forms Lees Pond. It’s owned by the Westport Weston Family YMCA.

Enjoying the Saugatuck River, at Camp Mahackeno back in the day.

Lees Pond was long an integral part of Camp Mahackeno’s summer activities: swimming, rope swings, canoeing, even a floating pontoon.

In recent years, due to a confluence of factors – insurance, safety, the mythical fear of campers coming home covered by leeches – activities on the pond have greatly diminished.

Judging from the map of current renovations to the property, it doesn’t appear that Lees Pond factors much in that plan.

I wonder if Y leaders’ views of the pond have evolved over the years, and if as stewards of this vital stretch of the Saugatuck, they’d be interested in exploring options to unblock this key local natural resource (whose name literally means “river flowing out”).

I emailed Gephard, writing as a longtime resident of Westport who would like to see our local river rehabilitated as habitat for migratory fish. Of all our town’s jewels, especially natural ones, the Saugatuck seems the most underappreciated.

The river was once renowned for legendary runs of sea lamprey, alewife, blueback herring and American shad. In 1828 the Saugatuck Journal described as “the river of little fishes” because of the many smelt. Over time though, it’s been used and abused.

The Saugatuck River — shown here behind the Willows medical complex, near the Lees Pond dam — has been “used and abused,” says Scott Smith. (Photo/Danny Cohen)

Gephard’s response was impressively detailed, describing the status of dams on the Saugatuck from the head of the tide, just north of downtown, to the natural barrier at Devil’s Den.

He called the Saugatuck “a challenge….Dam 1 (at the head of tide) is the Wood Dam, owned by Aquarion. There is a steep-pass fishway, and we believe it is passing river herring.

“Dam 2 is Lees Pond. Removing this would be challenging. It is owned by the YMCA. Traditionally the Y has used the pond for recreational opportunities, though that may no longer be the case. Twice in the last 20 years, the Y has spent large amounts of money to repair the dam. Additional repairs may be needed. It is expensive to maintain such a tall dam in a heavily developed area.

One view of the Lees Pond dam …

“We own a fishway at the dam—or more accurately—in the dam.  In fact, it is the oldest fishway in Connecticut.  Back in the 1960s, the owner of the pond and dam drained the pond, created a large opening in the middle of the dam and began to mine gravel from the pond bed — without any permits.

“The state and town went after him. He divested himself of the dam, and the YMCA ended up as the owner. But the state got the right to build a fishway in the hole in the dam to close the dam, restore the pond and provide fish passage.

“The fishway is accessed by us via a catwalk through private property, and is not accessible to the public. As originally designed and built circa 1963, the fishway never worked and fell into disrepair.

“In the 1990s, I inherited the care of the facility. I used a grant to gut it and install a newer style fishway (steep-pass). It is still a little steeper than we would prefer (we had to use the space provided in 1963), but we feel it works for river herring and probably sea lamprey.

… and another.

“Dam 3 is Dorr’s Mill Pond at Glendenning. There are 2 fishways there, one at the spillway and one on a stream branch that weaves through Bridgewater’s office complex.

“The DEEP and Nature Conservancy built both, and they appear to be effective.  Dam 4 is privately owned just upstream of Route 57. The owner did not allow us to build a fishway at the dam, but a natural channel bypasses the eastern side of the dam through someone else’s property. Many fish find it and circumvent the dam.

“Dam 5 is River Road Dam, immediately upstream of the River Road Bridge. It has a pool-and-weir fishway on private property, but it can be seen from the bridge.

“Dam 6 is the former Bradley Axe mill dam halfway up to Devil’s Glen and Trout Brook Valley. We had an agreement with the dam owner and spent considerable money designing a cool fishway for that dam. But the owner sold the house before it could be built, and the new owner did not want the fishway.

“The plans remain if the ownership ever changes. If fish get past that dam, they can reach Devil’s Glen, a natural chasm that historically stopped all fish.

Devil’s Glen, in Weston.

“Also, we worked with the Aspetuck Land Trust to have a fishway built on Trout Brook, on the Trout Brook Preserve.  It does not pass anadromous fish, but helps brook trout move around and reach spawning habitat.” (NOTE: This is the only fishway accessible to the public.)

“Furthermore, the Aspetuck River joins the Saugatuck River just upstream of Dorr’s Mill Dam and Route 57. The North Avenue Dam, the first on it, has a simple pool and weir fishway. on private property.

“The second one, the Newman Dam, has a pool-and-weir fishway. It too, is on private property.

“The third dam, the Frankel Dam, was removed by a joint work team of DEEP crew and The Nature Conservancy. That allows anadromous fish to ascend as far as the next dam, a bit upstream of Bayberry.

“After that, there is a dam almost every 300 feet. We would entertain dam removals, but there are so many dams that the cost/benefit is low. We have not made it a priority.

“Farther upstream, we have worked with Aquarion to install a new gate at the Aspetuck Reservoir Dam in Easton. It allows mature silver-phase American eels to pass downstream, avoiding the entrance to the Hemlock Reservoir, which is a dead end for migrating eels. They all die in the treatment plant. These are the females heading out to sea to spawn, so diverting them down the Aspetuck where there are only small dams and no intakes is important.

Aspetuck Reservoir Dam.

“We have done a lot in this watershed, all in partnership with the Nature Conservancy. Fishways are not as good as a dam removal. With a good fishway, you get fish passage of the targeted species. With a dam removal, you get passage of all species plus many other ecological benefits that were outlined in the article, including lower water temperatures, natural stream habitat, natural sediment transport, etc.

“But in Connecticut, many dams are valued, often as aesthetic features in people’s backyards. We cannot force them to remove their dams. All of the work described above was voluntary (except for the Wood Dam, where the fishway was a condition of a permit that Aquarion needed from the DEEP to repair the dam).

“Our first choice is always dam removal. If owners don’t go for that, we fall back on fishways. Often, that works (we get grants and the fishways don’t cost dam owners anything) and sometimes it doesn’t (like in the case of dam 4).

“We do the best we can. When we first began on the Saugatuck, sea-run brown trout were a main targeted species, along with alewife and blueback herring. Since then we have added sea lamprey and American eel (separate passes). Sadly, the reports of sea-run brown trout are on the decline, likely a victim of climate change and the warming of Long Island Sound, and the Saugatuck River no longer hosts a significant run of brown trout.”

Pic Of The Day #1015

Working out at the Y (Photo/Kathie Motes Bennewitz)

Pic Of The Day #1011

Removing snow from the YMCA addition (Photo/Ed Simek)

Pics Of The Day #854

Yesterday, Patty Kondub held her last outdoor Aqua Fitness class ever at the old Camp Mahackeno pool.

It will be open for only a few more days.  Then camp is over, the Y closes for cleaning, a groundbreaking ceremony will be held, bulldozers move in, and a big new complex will be built.

Kathie Motes Bennewitz says she’ll miss it. The pool reminds her of when she first moved here in the late 1970s.

In honor of the last session, she and her Aqua Fitness classmates tried to spell “YMCA” with their noodles (front).

Meanwhile, she wonders if “no chicken fights” will make it onto the new rule board next summer.

(Photos/Kathie Motes Bennewitz)