Conservation Commission Advances Native Plants Policy, Stalls on Bradley Park Trail Proposal

Wilton’s Conservation Commission met last evening, Wednesday, March 1, making progress on a number of agenda items but opting to postpone further consideration of a proposal for new trails in Bradley Park. No timetable was offered for when the proposal might be considered in the future.

Native Plants

The Commission first discussed the topic of native plants, as members continued their work on policies that would promote the use of native plants within the Town and reduce the negative impacts of invasive plant species.

Specifically, the Commission has been working on a draft policy statement regarding invasive plant species, modeled after policies set in other towns that the group believed to be successful. It’s meant to encourage the use of native species in order to help protect against “habitat loss and fragmentation from development and the proliferation of non-native/exotic plantings in our town landscapes.”

Holly Kocet, chair of the Newtown Conservation Commission, and Barbara Thomas, chair of the Monroe Conservation Commission, attended Wilton’s meeting and shared their experiences working within their respective towns to advance native plant policies.

Beyond just issuing recommendations or guidance, Wilton’s Commission is considering asking the Planning and Zoning Commission to amend the Town’s regulations and effectively ban the use of invasive species.

draft regulation has been posted on the Commission’s webpage as commissioners continue to explore the issues and edit their work-in-progress. They discussed at length how far the policies and regulations should go, e.g., should they apply to municipal properties only, or also to residential and commercial properties.

Environmental Affairs Director Mike Conklin commented that Town leaders have recognized that non-native, invasive species are a problem in Wilton.

“The Wilton Board of Selectmen and the First Selectwoman [Lynne Vanderslice] are very supportive of the idea of removing invasive species and planting native plants in our community,” Conklin said. “They’ve been funding projects through my department for the last several years, and it’s exciting.”

For more information on invasive species, visit the Conservation Commission’s webpage on the Town website.

Bradley Park

The Commission has been discussing Wilton’s trails, and Bradley Park, in particular, has been an agenda topic for many months in response to ongoing issues of park visitors forging unauthorized trails.

At the suggestion of Town officials, a group called the Friends of Bradley Park was formed last May, led by Wilton resident and former Conservation Commission member Dave Cote. The concept was to organize neighbors and other users of the park who would serve as good stewards, advocate for desirable improvements, and work cooperatively with the Town, following the example of other “friends of” groups such as those for Horseshoe Pond and Kent Pond.

The Friends of Bradley Park sought the expertise of FC/NEMBA, the Fairfield County chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association — an organization highly regarded by Town officials with a strong reputation for expert trail work and volunteer service in other Wilton parks — to develop a proposal for new trails in Bradley Park.

But Town officials weren’t convinced the Friends of Bradley Park were suitably organized to work in partnership with the Town. For that reason, and because of lingering concerns that the so-called “rogue trails” will continue, the Commission declined to vote on whether to approve the new trail proposal at its last meeting.

Since then, Environmental Affairs Director Mike Conklin developed a draft set of guidelines for “friends of” groups, so that expectations are clearer going forward — not just for Friends of Bradley Park, but for all other resident-led groups. Conklin presented the draft guidelines to the Board of Selectmen (BOS) at the board’s Feb. 22 meeting for some preliminary feedback. (Conklin’s presentation can be viewed on the Zoom meeting video recording on the Town website.)

Among other things, the draft guidelines call for:

  • A “documented membership” and a “defined organizational structure”
  • A requirement to hold “regular meetings” at which Town representatives are allowed to attend
  • An acknowledgment by the Friends that they would work “under the direction and leadership of the Town when performing volunteer labor” and when fundraising for a specific project

At the Feb. 22 BOS meeting, Conklin indicated he would be finalizing the guidelines for the approval of the BOS.

On The Agenda, But Not For a Vote

The Bradley Park trails were on the agenda for March 2 meeting, but it quickly became clear there would be no discussion of the new trail proposal for some time.

“We should just leave things as they are,” said Commission chair Jackie Algon. “We’re going to be developing some new ways of looking at ‘friends of’ groups and hope that will give guidance to the volunteers around town who are enthusiastic about working in our parks… For now, I would suggest we take that [proposal] off the docket… until we have a better way of addressing how people can work well in our parks, we need more structure.”

[Note: The Bradley Park proposal was not the only proposal that was tabled. Algon also alluded to a proposal the Commission had recently received to remove invasive plants at Allen’s Meadow. That proposal was submitted by Wilton resident, Matt Brand, a member of Aspetuck Land Trust‘s task force of invasive species, who offered a detailed plan for removing invasives in a roughly 1,600-sq.ft. area, replanting native plants, adding a footbridge over a brook, clearing some blocked paths, and other improvements  — all at minimal cost.]

Cote observed the Conservation Commission meeting and spoke during the public comment period.

“I am disappointed that the topic of the [Bradley Park proposal] has been tabled,” Cote said.

He argued that any forthcoming “friends of” guidelines were irrelevant.

“This was not proposed by a ‘friends of’ organization, this was proposed by a well-respected organization, the [FC/NEMBA],” Cote said. “I think it would be in the Commission’s best interest to proceed with the FC/NEMBA plan and proposal and get those trails in shape.”

Algon responded, “For right now… it’s a better idea to put it off.”

“We’re not saying never,” Algon added, as she emphasized that FC/NEMBA’s expertise was not in question.

“They know what they’re doing, and we respect their work, and we would not like to tell them to go away forever,” Algon said. “They’ve done lots of good things for Wilton and we appreciate them. They’re very generous with their time and their knowledge.”

Town-wide Clean-up Day

The Annual Town-wide Clean-up Day has been scheduled for Saturday, April 23. Conklin noted that the date is fitting as it follows Earth Day on Friday, April 22.

This annual event was interrupted at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, but a modified version of it took place in 2021, thanks to one Cider Mill student and a number of volunteers, who ensured the Town benefited from a little spring clean-up.

The 2022 event will be back to its usual format, coordinated by the Environmental Affairs Department with the support of the commissioners and, ideally, scores of other volunteers.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Conklin said. “I think we could have a good cleanup this year. I’ve seen a lot of litter. I think we can run a really successful event.”

Zero Waste Faire

The Commission also noted that the popular Wilton Go Green Zero Waste Faire will be held on June 5.

This “sustainable living expo” is a community- and family-oriented event, “designed to educate, inspire, entertain, and engage the town of Wilton and neighboring communities about zero waste and sustainable living,” according to the event’s website.

The event will take place rain or shine at Miller-Driscoll School.

The Commission agreed to pursue having a table at the event.  Other interested exhibitors may contact event organizers.