2015 FARM TOUR

Redding man wins basket full of treats
By Jane Paley, Contributor on August 25, 2015 in Business, Connecticut News, Lead News, News • 0 Comments

To celebrate the seventh annual farm tour, Citizens for Easton raffled a big red basket packed with produce and goodies from local farms, businesses and artists.
Drum roll please! From nearly 100 participants in the first annual Citizens for Easton Farm Tour “Big Red Basket” raffle, the winner is Chris O’Rielly of Redding.
His winnings include donations of goodies from Silverman’s Country Market, the Easton Village Store, Blue Button Farm, Sport Hill Farm, Sherwood Farm and the Aspetuck Valley Apple Barn.
Fair Hill Farm donated one full week of horseback riding camp. Art photographer Jeff Becker contributed a framed photo and Sal Gilbertie donated three gardening books. Fitness trainer Bob Danuzer will give the winner an in-home training session.
Margot Abrams of Floral Designs by Margot contributed a succulent garden arrangement. The winner will be able to get some free gas courtesy of the Old Blue Bird Garage. Greiser’s provided this year’s big red basket.
By every measure, this year’s Farm Tour was a big success. The weather was beautiful and the chance to sample Easton’s bounty drew crowds of happy visitors from near and far.

Join us for the 7th Annual Easton Farm Tour – Saturday, August 22, from 10am to 3pm.

Save the Date! Join us for the 7th Annual Easton Farm Tour – Saturday, August 22, from 10am to 3pm. This celebration of Easton, a local farming community within Fairfield County CT, is a self-guided tour of Easton farms. This event begins at the Easton Firehouse Green, One Center Road, Easton, Connecticut. Meet us here to check in and pick up an event map & pass to events and incentives offered by farmers and community organizations at the different locations throughout day.

We invite you to consider the Easton Firehouse Green as your home base throughout your tour.  On the Green you can enjoy food and family entertainment. Skinny Pines – an Easton-based purveyor of wood-fired pizzas –will be on site with their mobile wood-fired oven selling pizza,  and the Easton Community Center will be on hand with some old time fun and games for the entire family. “This day will capture the essence of days long gone with the simple enjoyment of a small town, a few farms and wholesome family time” said Lori Cochran -Dougall, co-chair of the Easton Farm Tour.

Save the date! Check here for details!

Leaders have responsibility to preserve Easton

By Easton Courier on July 21, 2015

To the Editor:
Can’t remember who said it or when it appeared, but the sentiment that “Easton already has plenty of open space,” was expressed as justification for developing the property on South Park Avenue.  Left me breathless.
Easton’s open spaces, along with our farms, are touted as the town’s defining feature.  Our water bodies serve the drinking water needs of the region; our forests furnish fresh air and wildlife habitat.  It has been a combination of serendipity, vigilance, hard work, and perseverance that have kept those water bodies secure and the forests intact.
There is no question that posterity will struggle with the repercussions of this generation’s undervaluation of the importance of Earth’s natural systems, but over four decades, Easton’s citizens have done their part to protect those systems.
I hope our leaders recognize their responsibility in continuing in that vein.  Thank you to Laura Modlin for her excellent pieces on “Preserving Easton” and her timely reminder of the grassroots effort required to protect the beauty and natural resources so enjoyed, admired, and valued in our town.
Lea Sylvestro

THE STORY OF TROUT BROOK VALLEY

Oh beautiful, for open space
Preserving Easton, part two
By Laura Modlin, Correspondent on July 15, 2015 in Connecticut News, Features, Lead News, News, Town Government · 3 Comments

Bruce LePage in Easton’s portion of the 1,009 acres composing Trout Brook Valley, sometimes refered to as the lungs of Fairfield County. —Photo by Laura Modlin

If bulldozers are South Park Avenue’s fate it won’t just impact sparkling waterways and vast unspoiled stretches of land — it would also crush more than four decades of vigorous work by Easton conservationists.

Preservation of the property might seem like a pipe dream, what with the town’s first selectman, Adam Dunsby, seemingly set on selling the land – but, many of these same people faced a similar scenario two decades ago with a much larger piece of untamed terrain — Trout Brook Valley.

And they won out against all odds back then.

How it happened

The story of Trout Brook Valley began, as many notable Easton stories do, with a reservoir.

Between 1913 and 1940, Bridgeport Hydraulic Company purchased 730.26 acres in Easton and Weston that were destined to become the majority of the present day 1,009-acre Trout Brook Valley Conservation Area.

The water company obtained the land to have the option to build a dam across the southerly neck of the valley — and then flood the property, increasing storage for the adjacent Saugatuck Reservoir.

Demand for water in the greater Bridgeport area ended up declining, though, and the water company decided holding onto the property was not worth the cost.

“We learned the water company wanted to sell in ’93,” resident Gail Bromer, who was at the forefront of efforts to preserve the property, said.

“It was totally pristine land,” Princie Falkenhagen, then president of Citizens for Easton (CFE), said.

Bromer and Falkenhagen, along with several others, were already working on a special task force doing an inventory of open space land in town.

“We got involved in trying to preserve Trout Brook Valley,” Bromer said.

And they picked up a lot of individuals and groups along the way.

In May 1994, resident Bruce LePage, then executive director of Aspetuck Land Trust, got a call from Jack McGregor, chairman of the water company, to meet for lunch.

At the time, 330 acres of the land was being considered for homes and 400 acres for a golf course. The water company wanted to know if Aspetuck Land Trust would buy the 400-acre portion instead.

At a cost of about $7 million.

“We couldn’t [afford to] do that,” LePage said.

But Aspetuck Land Trust did jump on board with conservation efforts already going on.

“It was a huge, long drawn-out process,” Bromer said.

They went on faith.

“We just assumed it would be preserved,” Bromer said.

Plot twists

In February 1997, the water company announced it had signed a contract to sell the land for development.

The conservationists did not give in to defeat, though.

Members of The Coalition to Preserve Trout Brook Valley, founded by Falkenhagen and Bromer, became even more determined to save the sprawling array of forest, wetlands, fields, pools, brooks, streams and wild life. The Aspetuck Land Trust was right by their side.

“We talked to everyone we could think of who might be able to preserve Trout Brook Valley,” Bromer said.

The development plan had to go through Easton’s Planning & Zoning Commission and Conservation Commission.

“We arranged for lawyers and soil scientists to testify,” LePage said.

But they came to believe that buying the land was the way to go.

Under section 16-50c of the CT General Statutes, the town in which a public utility sells land has a right of first refusal. Land trusts also have a right of first refusal.

So, even though the property was already sold, Easton, Weston and The Aspetuck Land Trust could try and qualify to buy it.

Only Weston and the Aspetuck Land Trust sent letters seeking right of first refusal.

The total purchase price would be $12.1 million.

“I didn’t think we’d have the money, but this first step didn’t commit us,” LePage said.

Then-Governor John Rowland was in the process of setting up an Open Space Land Acquisition Fund, and so 50% of the purchase price could potentially be paid for by the state.

“We had the right governor at the right time in support of it,” Bromer said.

Who’s in?

By October 1997, The Coalition to Preserve Trout Brook Valley, together with the Aspetuck Land Trust, was fund raising — and Aspetuck Land Trust became keeper of the donations for the Easton portion.

Weston committed $845,000 for the 44.56 acres of Trout Brook Valley in their town.

Easton was asked to contribute $2 million toward the 685.70 acres in town.

Tony Colonnese, first selectman of Easton at the time, felt that development at Trout Brook Valley was better for the town than preservation of the land.

Later that year, the reins of the town switched to Bill Kupinse when he was elected as first selectman. He got on board with preservation.

“He said, go ahead, try,” Falkenhagen said.

Not that the group needed much encouragement.

“Our philosophy was, we’re all lucky enough to live in a watershed town,” Falkenhagen said. “But with that comes the obligation to preserve the land. It’s our job.”

Colonnese later became one of the preservationists’ biggest allies.

Serendipity

Things were slowly moving along when one day the group heard from a new voice.

Paul Newman.

He wanted to commit $100,000 a year for five years out of Newman’s Own brand. It turned out his daughters used to ride horses on the property and talked their father into it.

In February 1998, donations were building, but there still wasn’t enough.

Enter the Nature Conservancy.

They had been approached initially but were not interested. Now, with a new head of their Connecticut chapter wanting to get involved, they came through.

Tick tock, tick tock

In the end, the state of Connecticut committed $6 million for the land, and the rest was raised by the Nature Conservancy, Aspetuck Land Trust, the Coalition to Preserve Trout Brook Valley and several individuals and smaller groups.

So there would be enough money, but some of it was committed over three or four years, according to LePage.

In order to be able to pay for the property, the Nature Conservancy gave a loan for the balance that had not come in yet.

And on Sept. 2, 1999, BHC Company (formerly Bridgeport Hydraulic Company) sold the 685.70 acres in Easton to Aspetuck Land Trust and Weston bought its 44.56 acres.

Ruth Bedford of Easton owned properties to the north and south of that land. She donated them to the Aspetuck Land Trust, bringing the total of Trout Brook Valley up to 1,009 acres.

“It was the perfect storm in the best sense,” Bromer said.

What about Easton?

In order for Easton to vote on committing the $2 million, the board of finance had to officially recommend the vote. But Andy Kachele, finance board chairman at the time, thought it was a bad idea.

Kachele eventually came around, too.

By that time, though, money for the property was raised, and it would be purchased regardless of Easton’s participation.

The town voted no by a slim margin.

“I always felt bad we didn’t pay our share,” Kupinse said.

“We all did,” Bromer said.

Easton purchased some property at the time, though.

The intersection of rt. 136 and rt. 58, considered one of the gateways to Easton and known as The Four Corners. —Photo by Laura Modlin
The intersection of rt. 136 and rt. 58, considered one of the gateways to Easton and known as The Four Corners. —Photo by Laura Modlin
The land at the intersection at Routes 136 and 58, known as The Four Corners, was also in danger of development. Conservationists had been working to raise money to buy those parcels, too.

Easton bought one of the corners, included in the deal with BHC Company, with $160,000 raised by residents. Coming into town from Fairfield on Route 58, it is the near corner on the left.

Two of the other corners are owned by the Aspetuck Land Trust, and one is owned by Aquarion Water Company.

Why bother?

Kupinse has often referred to Easton as “the jewel of Fairfield County.”

“There is no place like Easton,” he said in a recent interview.

He has always felt a need to draw a line in the sand against any development, a sentiment Dunsby appeared to echo in a statement in The Courier during his campaign for first selectman in 2013.

“…the Easton we enjoy requires vigilance,” Dunsby’s Oct. 3, 2013 statement said. He warned of ongoing attempts at commercial and residential development that could break zoning and “take us down a path of inappropriate development.”

Kupinse said that all CFE (he is a board member) had to do was not fight development and the town would look much different.

“I have no doubt,” Kupinse said.

He speculates that if conservationists had not taken a stand all these years, there would be more commercial development around Silverman’s Farm and Greiser’s Store. And pockets of intense residential development, perhaps even townhouses and semi-high rises.

South Park Avenue

In the group’s 2015 annual newsletter, Verne Gay, CFE president, wrote an overview of the South Park Avenue situation. The group was formed in 1972 to protect against development of the same land.

“Any move to sell the property at this time is shortsighted,” he said. “Developers’ assurances are simply instruments of convenience — for them.”

He said those assurances can be “reordered at the stroke of a pen.”

Gay said that any tax dollars recaptured would be modest and not worth it.

“What is permitted on the South Park property won’t necessarily stay on the South Park property,” he said. “Precedence is a dangerous wedge that will be used to open the door to projects which do not comply with our zoning.”

Easton’s three-man Board of Selectmen has the power to sell the property without a town vote.

“CFE urges our town leaders to move forward with care and deliberation,” Gay said.

To learn more about CFE and their preservation efforts, visit citizensforeaston.org.

Learn more about Trout Brook Valley and the Aspetuck Land Trust at Aspetucklandtrust.org

Annual Farm Tour, Saturday, August 22

Citizens For Easton will sponsor a self-guided farm tour on Saturday, August 22, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. This family-friendly event celebrates Easton’s local farming community and showcases the many farming delights that the town has to offer. Participants will learn where their food comes from and why it is important to shop local and support small farms and businesses.
The tour starts at the Easton Firehouse Green at One Center Road where visitors check in and pick up a map of the current year’s participating farms. The Farm Tour is a highlight of the summer and connects customers from Fairfield County and beyond with the Easton farmers who keep our agricultural heritage thriving. The tour includes tastings, educational events, pony rides, old-time fun and games, and live music. IMG_5052

Connecting with native trout

Preserving Easton

The Mill River, home to brook trout — native fish that have been breeding there for tens of thousands of years. —Laura Modlin photo

Some families have made Easton their home for many generations, but none have been in town as long as the brook trout.

Wild breeding grounds for these native fish have come up against threats of development since the early 1970s on unspoiled open and feral expanses of land known as Trout Brook Valley and South Park Avenue.

One of these parcels has already been preserved.

Back in the mid-90s, a group of town conservationists came together to protect Trout Brook Valley — and its namesake fish — imperiled due to the prospect of a golf course and condominiums.

Thanks to the band of determined locals, the Trout Brook Valley property, and the wild trout breeding ground in its streams — called class 1 wild trout management area — is safe from development.

However, across town the South Park Avenue property — and its share of the town’s class 1 wild trout management area — still faces an uncertain fate.

This piece is much more impressive, according to James Prosek, author of several books on trout and a lifelong Easton resident who caught his first trout there.

“The Mill River is a much more robust wild trout fishery. It’s a larger stream with larger fish and more friendly to anglers than the brook in Trout Brook Valley,” Prosek said.

The uniqueness of having two such pristine streams in one town is due to the legacy of Easton and its residents, who have a tradition of protecting wild places.

Class 1 wild trout management area is a designation where trout reproduce enough to keep it stocked all on their own. Only 10 such places remain in the state of Connecticut.

Other rivers have trout that is farmed by the state and put into the waterways.

They’re just fish

That the brook trout are able to survive — and reproduce naturally — on these properties is a testament to something really special in today’s increasingly polluted world.

“The fact that they are there reproducing tells us it’s a remarkably clean resource,” Prosek said.

And that’s not all.

“It’s not just any stream,” Prosek said of the Mill River, “and therefore the land that embraces it is not just any piece of land.”

James Prosek’s recent painting of a male brook trout from the Mill River in fall when they are in their spawning colors.

Prosek has fished streams around the world, from Spain to Japan, from Iceland to Arctic Russia, to document trout diversity for his books. The Mill River on the South Park Avenue property, he says, is one of the best he has seen for brook trout.

“My fear is that once we hand over the property to development we lose control,” he said.

In order for the brook trout to survive they need cold water. The Easton Reservoir releases cold water from its depths, which then feeds into the Mill River.

It’s cold enough for trout even through the summer.

Which will become more crucial to the survival of trout as the climate warms, according to Tim Barry, supervising fisheries biologist for the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection western headquarters.

If developed, asphalt on parking lots in South Park Avenue will heat up in summer, and when it rains the warm runoff will make its way into the water, raising temperatures and becoming inhospitable to brook trout.

Brook trout lay their eggs in specific-sized gravel, and they have to stay buried and oxygenated from fall through to spring. There needs to be spaces between the gravel for the water to run through and provide the oxygenation.

When development happens, heavy rain on the exposed ground causes sand and other deposits to run off into the water, where it plugs up and buries the gravel. The eggs then suffocate.

“Any number of known and predictable… or unknown effects of development and human overuse will lead to the end of this fishery,” Prosek said. “In two or three years, the trout will be gone.”

He has seen it happen time and time again, from development and from excessive sanding of roads and parking lots in winter when the eggs are in the brooks.

Barry said that it would be very hard to prevent the loss.

“Based on past track records everywhere else, it would be a challenge,” Barry said. He has spent 28 years working as a field biologist, several years as an environmental consultant and time in the Peace Corps in Central America as a fisheries biologist.

It’s our ecosystem

Barry pointed out that there are all kinds of cascading effects accompanying losing one piece of the environmental puzzle that sometimes are not seen until many years later.

“How far down that road do you want to go before you put everything into a tailspin?” Barry said.

He said that when we lose these things, we see it has much more of a ripple effect than we knew when they were here.

“Everything in nature has a role,” Barry said.

Some insects on the river have the same requirements as the brook trout. And those insects feed frogs, salamanders, turtles and more. Birds, otters, mink, raccoons, ducks and fish are among the other creatures that feed off the river.

Altering one part shifts everything.

“A lot of people that don’t fish are oblivious to changes that occur,” Barry said.

Awe and wonder

Prosek would also like to see trout specifically and nature in general preserved for the next generation to help light their hearts and imaginations.

“The more of nature we cover with asphalt, the less we have to feed our awe and wonder,” Prosek said.

On youtube.com there are many interviews with Prosek educating and inspiring others — a lifelong mission first sparked by his time enmeshed in the beauty of the Mill River.

You can also find his film, “The Complete Angler,” on youtube.com and below.  It chronicles Prosek’s journey to Europe, following in the footsteps of the author Izaak Walton, who wrote a book of the same name.

The film speaks of a connection to the natural world and one’s place in it through fishing, and won a prestigious Peabody Award. Part of it was filmed on the Mill River, and the ethos of the piece was inspired by it.

“If [the Mill River] hadn’t been there for me as a kid in its pristine state, none of those videos or interviews or my books would exist,” Prosek said.

Barry said a connection to nature is really central to this whole discussion.

“When people don’t have that connection it’s easy to make short-sighted decisions,” he said.

Barry is thinking long term, the next generation.

“We’re at a really critical juncture,” Barry said.

The state’s involvement

The state usually does not get involved in discussions with towns about preserving resources like the Mill River on Easton’s South Park Avenue property, Barry said.

“It’s up to the town,” he said.

All the state can do is provide data and information if municipalities ask why it is a class 1 wild trout management area, he said.

“Some towns are very progressive and forward thinking,” Barry said.

Right now, DEEP is in the process of recommending a change to regulations. It would like to get the entire area from the outflow of the Easton Reservoir dam all the way down to Fairfield designated as class 1 wild trout management area.

It’s a slow process to get the state to make this designation, and if trout start dying in Easton due to development, they will be rethinking it.

Class 1 wild trout management areas are considered so special that they are catch-and-release areas for fishermen. There is no bait allowed, only barbless, single-hook artificial lures and flies, “to reduce hooking mortality,” Barry said.

And everything else that comes after.

“We consider the Mill River a gem because we have so few other places like it,” Barry said. “We would like to see it continue to be operated in a natural state.”

NEXT WEEK: How residents banded together and saved Trout Brook Valley and The Four Corners in Easton in the 1990s.

Link to The Complete Angler below

https://youtu.be/1r2nRfnpWxw

EDITORIAL BY EASTON COURIER-LET VOTERS DECIDE ON SOUTH PARK

Let voters decide on South Park

EditorialWhen the New England Prayer Center’s lease/purchase option for the 29-acre South Park property expired in October, intense debate ensued over what to do with the property.

Under the terms of the lease option, South Park became the property of Easton taxpayers. The Board of Selectmen and the bipartisan South Park Action Group want sell the property to a developer who will put it to desirable and responsible use and pay taxes — or payment in lieu of taxes in the case of a nonprofit — to generate revenue and pay off the remaining $4.9 million debt.

Citizens for Easton and individual preservationists want the town to retain ownership of the site, lease the land for organic farming as is done at Samuel Staples Elementary School and continue to lease the existing house to help pay down the debt.

Six potential buyers have stepped forward, including Sacred Heart University, with a campus nearby and the need for an aquatic center that would be open for town use and athletic facilities.

Another potential developer under serious consideration is Jewish Senior Services, which wants to build housing for elderly people. Easton has no such housing, and elderly residents who no longer want to or are unable to maintain a single-family house must move out of town. The New England Prayer Center has presented a new proposal.

The town has 6,859.4 acres of open space, about 11 square miles, or just over 37% of the town, according to the 2006 Plan of Conservation and Development. That’s more than the neighboring, affluent, rural towns of Redding and Weston.

It was interesting to learn that Citizens for Easton was formed in 1972 to protect the same property that today commands center stage. South Park, as the property has come to be known, is a flat plain bounded on one side by the Mill River and on the other by the road that bears its name, according to the Citizens for Easton website.

The Board of Selectmen, as the executive branch, has the power to decide South Park’s fate. The selectmen have been holding meetings and information sessions and seeking proposals. Should they decide to sell the property, they would hold a public hearing, as required by town ordinance.

The selectmen are not required to hold a referendum on the future of South Park but would be well served to do so, even though the result would be for advisory purposes only.

The referendum could pose the question, Should Easton retain or sell the South Park property? In addition to the advisory question, the referendum could ask voters their first, second and third choice among the six proposed development projects.

Easton residents revere open space on a par with family, faith and freedom. The choice to develop South Park or leave it be will have long-term consequences. A vote cast in the privacy of the polls would give the selectmen important guidance on how to best serve the will of the taxpayers.