Category Archives: South Park

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easton-courier-10-05-2016

Easton’s other housing crisis: wildlife

Easton Courier: By Jane Paley, Special to The Easton Courier on October 5, 2016:

Humans aren’t alone; some of our wildlife species could be losing their habitats. This may give pause to those who moved to Easton for its rural character and commitment to preserving the town’s woods, wetlands, waters, and open spaces.

The Eastern box turtle, wood turtle and sharp-shinned hawk are three examples. Each lives along and in the Mill River in the vicinity of the South Park property where various development proposals are being considered by the Board of Selectmen/woman.

The National Wildlife Federation describes the Eastern box turtle as five to six inches long with a domed shell. The turtles come in various shades of brown, frequently with yellow markings. They have a curved mouth and eat “just about anything they can catch and fit in their mouths.”

In their current Mill River home, they can find cool shelter from the sun and a plentiful diet of insects, berries and roots.

According to the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, this turtle “gets its name from its ability to completely withdraw into its shell, closing itself in with a hinged plastron. Box turtles are the only Connecticut turtle with this ability.”

The DEEP fact sheet offers concerns about this species: “Because of the population decline in Connecticut, the box turtle was added to the state’s List of Endangered, Threatened, and Special Concern Species when it was revised in 1998. It is currently listed as a species of special concern.

“… Loss of habitat is probably the greatest threat to turtles. Some turtles may be killed directly by construction activities, but many more are lost when important habitat areas for shelter, feeding, hibernation, or nesting are destroyed.”

The wood turtle is five to nine inches in length and has an elaborate shell. Those found in New England often have orange markings. According to the DEEP fact sheet, their habitat is ”usually within 1,000 feet of a suitable stream or rivers, where they hibernate in the winter.” This species is also of special concern to DEEP.

“The wood turtle is imperiled throughout a large portion of its range and was placed under international regulatory trade protection through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 1992. Wood turtles have also been included on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List as a vulnerable species in 1996. … They are protected by the Connecticut Endangered Species Act.”

The DEEP placed the sharp-shinned hawk on Connecticut’s Endangered Species list. “It is the smallest North American accipiter. … Many were lost as a result of pesticides in the 1970s. Although pesticides no longer play as large a role in the decline of sharp-shinned populations today, the species is still affected by other factors, like the loss of habitat.

“Collisions with plate glass doors and picture windows are responsible for the deaths of many sharp-shinned hawks annually. The glass reflects the surrounding woods and cannot be readily distinguished by a hawk chasing prey or seeking cover.”

Advice from DEEP is both implicit and explicit: Protect these vulnerable species.

Mill River Park proposed for South Park

Nancy Doniger on August 25, 2016

Citizens for Easton wants to preserve the South Park Avenue tract as a park, which they have named the Mill River Park. — Bryan Haeffele photo

Mill River Park … forever yours or forever gone. That is the title of Citizens for Easton’s proposal to retain the 29.6 acres of town-owned property at 22 South Park Avenue as open space in perpetuity by making it a town park.

Passive recreation at Mill River Park would bring enjoyment that’s appealing to all, according to the proposal. Activities would include catch-and-release fishing, en plein air painting, picnicking, walks, photography, school study groups and bird watching.

Former first Selectman William J. Kupinse Jr. presented the Mill River Park proposal in a slideshow to the Board of Selectmen and residents who packed the community room at the Easton Public Library. — Bryan Haeffele photo

Former first Selectman William J. Kupinse Jr. presented the proposal in a slideshow to the Board of Selectmen and residents who packed the community room at the Easton Public Library, filling every seat and spilling over into standing room in the back.

“Citizens for Easton was founded back in the 70s, and the reason it was founded was to prevent development on this very piece of property,” Kupinse said.

He provided a brief overview of the group’s successful preservation projects over the years and invited anyone who is interested to “join up with us.”

“We are not as some people have suggested a bunch of trouble makers,” he said. “We have tried instead to preserve the Easton we know and love.”

Roughly 67 people, from 20-somethings to senior citizens, turned out for the Aug. 18 meeting to hear Citizens for Easton’s ideas, the latest in a growing list of proposals for the site the selectmen have heard over the past two years.

The town owes $4.6 million for the South Park tract, which it purchased in 2008 from Running Brook Farm. At the time, the site was the subject of a 72-unit high-density affordable housing application scheduled for trial in Superior Court in Litchfield.

Voters agreed at a June 17, 2008, referendum to appropriate $6.15 million “… for preservation, conservation and land use control purposes … ,“ according to the ballot, which is posted on the town website, Eastonct.gov, under South Park Information, along with related documents.

“This was not a proposal to buy the to buy the land for open space,” according to the minutes of a special town meeting June 9, 2008, that preceded the referendum.

“Although the town would purchase the land, it would simultaneously sell a two-year lease/purchase option to the New England Prayer Center for $300,000. This amount would cover the town’s cost during the option period. If the lease/purchase option was not exercised, the town could sell 14 1-acre lots to cover the cost of the purchase and retain the remainder of the land as open space,” the minutes state.

The town lease-and-purchase-option agreement with the nonprofit New England Prayer Center permitted six-month extensions if the town’s approval of the prayer center’s building plan was appealed by a third party, which it was.

The prayer center lost its final option to purchase the property after six years and multiple lawsuits. It has submitted a new proposal, which the selectmen are considering along with the others.

Resident Amy Zima said she and her family chose to live in Easton over neighboring towns because of its open space and pastoral qualities. — Bryan Haeffele photo

A park for southern Easton

Easton is a jewel in Fairfield County that is not replicated anywhere else, Kupinse said.

“It is an amazing town,” he said. “If you want development, there are plenty of towns for you to go to.”

Citizens for Easton has proposed the Mill River Park for South Park, not for themselves but for future generations, he said.

“Some of us are getting older and will perhaps be going somewhere else when we go from here, and it’s not to another town,” he said, generating laughs. “We have a generation coming up that really needs what we have here in Easton, and I would urge everyone to support this.”

He said he could speak about what’s wrong with the other proposals, but instead was taking a positive approach in recommending Mill River Park for the site. He said it makes sense for financial reasons to have a park in southern Easton. It also makes sense from a planning and zoning standpoint, and Citizens for Easton supports what the P&Z has done over these many years; it further makes sense for protection of natural resources, he said.

Easton has a lot of open space, much of it is not conducive to walking on it, and most of it is in the northern part of the town, he said.

“Mill River Park would be an ideal neighborhood park for southern Easton, and it is more accessible than the open space in the northern part of town,” Kupinse said.

The South Park Avenue tract is an iconic gateway to Easton, just off the Merritt Parkway, and one of the main routes into Easton.

“Mill River Park makes sense for financial reasons,” Kupinse said. “Many communities feel they have to develop their land. Actually studies show it’s less expensive if you have open space or anything without buildings on it. Once you start putting buildings on it, it costs more to supply all the benefits homeowners want than the town would get in taxes.”

South Park costs the town less than 1% of its $43 million budget, he said. “If we sell it taxes aren’t going  to go down. It makes good sense that if it’s less than 1% we’re keeping it.”

Right now the property is costing taxpayers $160 a year. If the town bonds the property, it will drop to $120 a year per household. After 20 years the debt would be repaid, and Easton would own the property, he said.

“It’s cheaper to have non-developed property than to develop it and spend taxes on it,” he said. “Controlling the property saves money.”

In the past the town has had some fights over development, and it costs money to defend it. If South Park has a new owner, the owner can promise anything, but that doesn’t mean they’re not going to try to do something else in the future, he said.

“If we own it, we don’t have to defend it,” he said.

If the town sells it to a non profit, it can get payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) for it, but based on the condition of the state there is no guarantee the PILOT funds will continue to provide a positive cash flow. If the town sells it to a for-profit entity, it will have to supply services in return for the taxes it will receive, he said.

P&Z supplied a report on putting senior housing on the site at the request of the selectmen, but “I suppose there’s no harm in looking at things, but I hope people realize it’s not the vision for the property that we should have,” he said.

Mill River Park makes sense from planning point of view because the town can keep the property in conformity with the vision P&Z has for Easton.

If the town has a referendum as the selectmen have suggested, he urges them not to have two choices such as athletics and senior housing. He said they should have open space as one of the choices.

“We have nature’s classroom in our backyard, and we should keep it,” Kupinse said. “Once we sell it, it’s gone.”

Addressing the Board of Selectmen, James Prosek said he supports Citizens for Easton's proposal. He and Laura Modlin created the Mill River Heritage Project, an educational website to educate the public about the Mill River. — Bryan Haeffele photo

Residents at the meeting overwhelmingly favored preservation of the site for open space and urged town officials not to sell it. Many of them delivered impassioned prepared statements to applause and in some cases, a standing ovation. Others gave spontaneous remarks.

Comments from residents and the Board of Selectmen are in a separate article in the Aug. 25 Easton Courier. Watch for our video coming soon at EastonCourier.com

CFE PRESENTATION ON 22 SOUTH PARK AVENUE

mill river from david

View of the Mill River on the 29.6 acre South Park property in Easton. This section of the Mill River is designated by the state of Connecticut as a Class 1 Wild Trout Management Area, one of only nine in the state.

Please join us at 7:30, Thursday, August 18, 2016 at the Library Community Room where CFE will present to the BOS a proposal to retain the 29.6 acres of property located at 22 South Park Avenue as open space in perpetuity.

 

Your presence at the presentation will send a strong message to the selectmen that the majority of the townspeople feel very strongly about preserving this unique piece of Easton’s character and heritage for current and future generations.

 

Please pass this email to anyone you know who is interested in preserving Easton’s future and character.

 

Also,  sign up to receive important information as we post it to our website. Simply, mouse over the bottom right corner, click the “follow” tab and enter your email address.

 

Thank you for your support!

Citizens for Easton

 

SOUTH PARK PRESENTATION-SAVE THE DATE!

Forever Yours or Forever Gone: On Thursday, August 18, 2016 (location and time to be determined by Board of Selectmen) Citizens for Easton will present to the Selectmen a proposal to retain the unique 29.6 South Park Avenue property as open space in perpetuity. This pastoral landscape is part of Easton’s rural character and abuts the Mill River, one of only nine Class A Wild Trout streams left in Connecticut. Your presence will send a strong message to the Selectmen that townspeople feel very strongly about preserving this important part of Easton’s character and heritage for current and future generations.

Please also pass this information to others interested in preserving part of what makes Easton special and safeguarding the sensitive Mill River.

Email cfe@citizensforeaston.org to signup for important updates.

Thank you for your support!

Important meeting regarding South Park: Thursday, June 16, 2016

http://www.eastoncourier.com/2016/06/14/sacred-heart-to-pitch-updated-south-park-proposal/

CFE applies for program to save South Park

The Mill River is one of only nine Class A Wild Trout Streams left in Connecticut out of over 300 streams. The Mill River is unique in that it is pure enough and cold enough to sustain wild trout despite being on the edge of a suburban area. — Archive photo

“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”

That line from Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi song sums up what Citizens for Easton doesn’t want to see happen to the town-owned South Park property.

Rather, the local group’s goal is “to preserve something the town already owns,” according to CFE President Verne Gay.

William Kupinse, former first selectman and CFE member, has said it many times at Board of Selectmen meetings, as have other members.

Now CFE has taken action to bring the goal to fruition by applying to the state’s Recreation and Natural Heritage Trust program.

“The application is representative of our interest and passion for this property,” Gay said. “The organization started with South Park. It’s inspired CFE for 40 or 50 years and been the rallying part of the organization for years.”

That said, he is circumspect about the group’s chances of winning the competitive grant due to the high price the town still owes for the land and the work First Selectman Adam Dunsby and the Board of Selectmen is doing to try to sell it to make good on the investment and help the taxpayers.

“It’s not a criticism of Adam or the Board of Selectmen,” he said. “It allows us to have a say on another alternative, rather than selling it wholesale. It’s a little effort to say, Here is another idea consistent with Citizens for Easton and the town’s goals.”

The selectmen in December referred South Park to the Planning and Zoning Commission to assess whether the site might be appropriate for senior housing. They also cited protection of the Mill River and preservation of open space surrounding the river as a high priority.

CFE is among 16 entities vying for the state program. Gay presumes that all of the applications contain compelling reasons why they should be selected, as CFE’s does.

“One of our board members said, Why don’t we file an application and see what comes of it?” he said. “There is no guarantee it will come through. It’s one of a number of ideas CFE has had to preserve South Park that may or may not turn out into something. We hope it does.”

The Recreation and Natural Heritage Trust program was created by the legislature in 1986 to help preserve Connecticut’s natural heritage and is the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s primary program for acquiring land to expand the state’s system of parks, forests, wildlife, and open spaces.

Through the program, the DEEP manages the acquisition of land that represents the ecological and cultural diversity of Connecticut, with a focus on unique features such as rivers, mountains, rare natural communities, scenic qualities, historic significance, connections to other protected land, and access to water.

To qualify, each potential acquisition should possess one or more of the following attributes:

• Provide high-quality recreation opportunities, either active or passive.

• Conserve a unique, natural area or protect a species considered threatened, endangered or of special concern.

• Represent a prime, natural feature of the Connecticut landscape.

The CFE application satisfies all of the attributes, Gay said.

High-quality recreation

CFE’s application cites the property as the beginning point for a potential green belt in this part of the state for trails that would run north through the Easton Reservoir into the Easton or Trumbull side.

Or it could go out through the Hattertown area as a contiguous trail north to Danbury, extending for as much as 20 or 25 miles. Bikers, hikers and runners could use it as a recreational resource, Gay said.

Preservation of rare wild trout and brown trout would be a boon to fishermen as well as protecting threatened species.

Protection of threatened species

Preserving the site as open space would protect the wild trout and brown trout that live in the Mill River.

“Here’s one thing we included from Trout Unlimited,” Gay said.

The Nutmeg Chapter of Trout Unlimited’s Mill River Improvement Project stated on its website: “Our most important current stream restoration work is the Mill River Improvement Project which consists of restoring and protecting the Mill River, one of only nine Class A Wild Trout Streams left in our state out of over 300 streams. The Mill is unique in that it is pure enough and cold enough to sustain wild trout despite being on the edge of an extremely suburban area.”

Prime landscape feature

The scenic river views from the South Park property lend themselves to environmental field study by school groups, day trippers and hikers, Gay said.

The CFE application included a statement from Catherine Labadia, deputy state historic preservation officer and staff archaeologist in the State Historic Preservation Office, Department of Economic and Community Development.

Labadia described some prime natural landscape features that further quality for the site for the state preservation program.

“This type of environment setting is frequently associated with Native American settlement,” Labadia wrote. “Based on the known archeological resources in the vicinity, it is the opinion of this office that the property has the potential to contain significant archeological resources.”

Site history

The town purchased the South Park property in 2008 from Running Brook Farm to protect the land that borders the Mill River from high-density housing.

Easton paid $6,150,000 for 29 acres and entered into a lease/option agreement with the New England Prayer Center. The prayer center paid $300,000 up front and $75,000 each year in lease and option payments.

Plan B was to rezone the property into 14 one-acre building lots. Many residents favored this option, but no developer has shown an interest to date.

The agreement with the Prayer Center was supposed to end in 2010, but clauses in the contract permitted six-month extensions for $37,500 each if a third party were to appeal the town’s approval of the prayer center’s building plan, as was the case.

Gina and Dan Blaze, prayer center founders, lost the option to purchase the property when their final lease renewal extension expired. They continue to pay rent to occupy the house on the site.

Petition seeks to save Mill River in Easton On town-owned South Park site

The Mill River in Easton runs through the town-owned South Park property. — Archive photo

A New England fishing club is seeking signatures on a petition to help save the Mill River in Easton. Scott Garland of fishingnortheast.net started the petition with a single signature, and now has 94 supporters and is seeking more.

The Mill River in Easton flows through the 29-acre town-owned South Park property. The Board of Selectmen is seeking a return on its $6.1 million investment in the site after the would-be buyer, the New England Prayer Center lost its final option to purchase the property. The selectmen have set preservation of the Mill River and open space around it as a high priority as they seek possible development options for the site.

The Fishing Northeast club encompasses Connecticut, New York, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

The petition cites the upper Mill River in Easton “as one of the most significant wild trout streams in all of New England. It is exceptionally unique in its characteristic. There is nowhere else in all of New England where you can find a tailwater release Class 1 WTMA (Wild Trout Management Area, containing abundant wild trout and not stocked) that runs for a few short miles and empties into a 60 ft. deep thermal refuge.”

The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has realized the stream’s significance and is in the process of changing the regulations from Route 59 down to Lake Mohegan to catch and release only, making the entire upper stretch of the stream from the Easton Reservoir all the way to Lake Mohegan one continuous wild trout management area, according to the petition.

The South Park property is just below the reservoir and has been the subject of much debate over the years. CLICK HERE to read about the site. Easton bought the parcel in 2008 to save it from high-density housing and is now looking to recoup the money and allow a smaller scale development.

“The problem is that there is no city sewer in that area and all of the waste, run-off etc. from any development would need to go into the ground, which will eventually pollute the river and kill off a population of brook trout that have thrived in that river since the last glacier,” the petition states.

Garland asks fishermen and members of the public to show their support in helping keep the Mill River and the natural habitat that thrive in its waters by signing this petition and not allowing any type of development by the State of Connecticut or the Town of Easton.

People can CLICK HERE to sign the online petition and leave a comment.

Garland advises interested parties to send an email Citizens for Easton,cfe@citizensforeaston.org, to receive updates. Citizens for Easton has applied for a program to save South Park as open space through the Connecticut Recreation and Natural Heritage Trust program. CLICK HERE to read about the application.

The public is encouraged to attend Easton Board of Selectmen meetings (bi-monthly; agendas posted on Town of Easton website. CLICK HERE for Board of Selectmen agendas).

The petition to save the Mill River lists the names of Easton;s selectmen and urges people to contact them.

They are First Selectman Adam Dunsby, adunsby@eastonct.gov; Selectman Carrie Colangelo, carriecolangelo@optonline.net; and Selectman Robert Lessler, rlessler@eastonct.gov and BCC cfe@citizensforeaston.org.

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

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