Wilton’s Conservation Commission met Wednesday evening (Feb. 9) to deliberate on a proposal to create a new trail in Bradley Park. (A video recording of the Zoom meeting can be found on the Town website.)
The proposal was presented to the commission in early January, following many months of discord between Town officials and some users of the park who had been forging unauthorized trails, often for mountain-biking. (Despite warnings from the Town, some residents continued to use the so-called rogue trails, even interfering with the Town’s efforts to restore the environmental damage that resulted.)
The proposal was solicited by a group called the Friends of Bradley Park, which was formed last May to represent park enthusiasts and neighbors around the 82-acre park. The group, led by former Conservation Commission member Dave Cote and resident Andy Cox, was intended to consolidate and advocate for park users’ interests while working cooperatively with the Town.
To come up with a solution to the Bradley Park trail issues that would also be acceptable to the Town, the Friends sought the expertise of FC/NEMBA, the Fairfield County chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association, an organization that is also well regarded by Environmental Affairs Director Mike Conklin.
More specifically, the proposal was crafted by Dave Francefort, a longtime FCNEMBA member who Conklin has called a “volunteer extraordinaire” for his hundreds of hours of work on Wilton’s trails, notably inside the Wilton Town Forest, for more than a decade.
The plan called for replacing a key rogue trail in Bradley Park with a new trail that Francefort indicated would be properly routed, constructed and maintained.
Though commissioners’ reaction to the proposal at the Jan. 5 meeting seemed generally favorable, the commission agreed to hold its deliberations until the Feb. 9 meeting.
Conservation Commission Chair Jackie Algon began the most recent discussion with praise for Francefort as “tried and true.”
“The work he does is excellent,” Algon said.
However, Algon was less certain about the makeup and intentions of the Friends of Bradley Park group.
“One of the issues we’ve got is that we don’t know who [the Friends of Bradley Park] are,” other than Cote, Algon said. “We have not seen any indication that [a group] exists.”
Algon drew comparisons to more established groups, including Friends of Horseshoe Park and Friends of Kent Pond, with longer track records for undertaking projects, demonstrating their priorities and fundraising ability.
Algon raised the concern that approving the new trail won’t be enough to solve the problem of the rogue trails.
“If NEMBA comes in and does this work, is that going to do it?” she asked. “How do we know [Friends of Bradley Park] will maintain the trail and not continue to put in rogue trails?”
Before voting to approve the project, Algon wants some assurance from the Friends that they will stick to the authorized trails going forward.
“The rogue trails are still there,” said Algon. “They always reappear.”
“We want to make sure these people are going to agree, yes, this is the trail we want and we’re done making rogue trails in Bradley Park.”
“We need to be in touch with Friends of Bradley Park and make that clear,” Algon said.
Commissioner Colleen O’Brien challenged the premise that the Friends of Bradley Park could speak for the rogue trail users.
“I think that’s an incorrect assumption,” O’Brien said. “We don’t know who’s making the changes [to the trails].”
Nonetheless, from a procedural standpoint, Algon said she wants to have a discussion and reach “an understanding” with the Friends before the commission takes a vote on whether to approve the proposal.
Commissioner Frank Simone disagreed, and felt the proposal could be approved immediately, while still taking steps to help ensure rogue trail use ceases.
“We have enough information [from] Francefort,” Simone said. “I don’t like this thing to keep dragging and dragging.”
After deliberating, the commissioners agreed three to one (with Simone in opposition) to invite the Friends of Bradley Park to appear once more before voting on the proposal.
GOOD Morning Wilton reached out to Cote, who did not attend the commission’s meeting but saw the recorded video.
Cote said he was “surprised” and “disappointed” with the discussion, hoping to dispel the presumption that the Friends of Bradley Park are the rogue trail offenders.
He noted that the group has more than a few members, numbering about two dozen, including some who contacted him as a result of GMW‘s earlier news coverage about the Bradley Park trails.
Cote also pointed out that FC/NEMBA has assumed responsibility for the costs of the proposed new trail — neither the Town nor the Friends of Bradley would need to raise funds. Cote said the Friends have volunteered to assist in the efforts under the management of FCNEMBA.
Cote also emphasized that the Friends group is doing its best to work with the Town, seeking advice from Conklin, partnering with FC/NEMBA, walking the park with commissioners, and attending the Jan. 5 meeting in large numbers (Cote estimated at least a dozen members attended.)
“It’s now February and we’re still talking about it,” Cote said.
Cote indicated the Friends group would be open to attending any commission meetings as needed.
Cote said, “We’d love to see Dave Francefort’s proposal go forward, and would love to enjoy the trails that it creates in Bradley Park.”
The Conservation Commission meets again in three weeks, on Wednesday, March 2.
UPDATE — 7:30 a.m.: Friday morning, Cote forwarded GMW a letter he sent to the Conservation Commission, FC/NEMBA, and several members of the Friends of Bradley Park, adding, “I welcome any questions, comments, or productive discussions. Thanks!” The letter reads:
Dear Wilton Conservation Commission,
Greetings! I hope this note finds everyone healthy and happy. Thank you for your invitation to reach out and meet with you regarding Bradley Park trail improvements. Happy to do so!
However, to clarify and address a few points that came up during last evening’s WCC meeting:
No, the Friends of Bradley Park is not yet an official organization – not in the same sense that you consider Friends of Kent Pond nor Friends of Horseshoe Pond official organizations. However, we are ready to mobilize should the need arise. In that spirit, here is an excerpt from a well-received email I sent to dozens of fellow Bradley Park users, back in May 2021:
Dear Friends of Bradley Park:
In an effort to meet the needs and growing concerns of increased trail usage in our favorite town park, I am forming an advocacy group called “Friends of Bradley Park.”
Will you join us?
The purpose of the group is to raise funds for trail maintenance and improvements while promoting Bradley Park as one of Wilton’s hidden gems. Hikers, mountain bikers, dog walkers, and outdoor enthusiasts alike will all benefit. Your advocacy and ambassadorship will help!
In cooperation with Mike Conklin and Wilton’s Department of Environmental Affairs, and the Wilton Conservation Commission, the Friends of Bradley Park hope to raise $5000 to help offset the town’s efforts to maintain and improve the park. Similar groups have successfully formed in town, such as Friends of Kent Pond and Friends of Horseshoe Pond.
Wilton Conservation Commission also has a long-standing relationship with the Fairfield County chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association. FC/NEMBA has a team of expert trail builders who will work to suggest, improve, and re-route new and existing trails. Trails, bridges, boardwalks, and more!
As it turned out, we did not need to be an official organization, because there was no need to fundraise — the primary objective of any organization, correct?
The reason that there was no need for the Friends of Bradley Park to raise funds, is because FC/NEMBA is a volunteer organization, and we were told there will be no expenses incurred in order to address the trail extensions and improvements proposed in Bradley Park — just man/woman hours. Should the need arise FOR expenditures for trail maintenance and improvements, there are dozens of Bradley Park users who have stated they would gladly donate funds, labor, and/or materials.
Jackie repeatedly said during last night’s meeting, “The Friends of Bradley Park need to get their act together.” Respectfully, Jackie, we got our act together — back in May of 2021. We [sought] Mike Conklin’s advice on how to proceed, and we partnered with FC/NEMBA at his recommendation. Together, FC/NEMBA and The Friends of Bradley Park walked the park and developed a proposal to address the issue of rogue trails, as well as several worn and widened sections. With the full support of The Friends of Bradley Park, Dave Francefort presented FC/NEMBA’s proposal to the WCC in October 2021.
Although presented in October, the proposal was not discussed until the WCC’s January 2022 meeting — January! — at which point, when Dave Francefort concluded his presentation, the WCC stated they needed time to review and discuss the proposal — a proposal they had in hand for four months. To state we were disappointed that the proposal was not even reviewed by WCC prior to the December or January meetings is an understatement.
It is now February 10th, 2022, and we are still just talking about it. Bureaucracy at its finest.
Jackie — I was surprised, disheartened, and disappointed by your tone taken while discussing “The Friends of Bradley Park.” Frankly, your insinuations and accusations were inappropriate, unfounded, and baseless. Colleen, thank you for being the only commissioner to attempt to address and correct Jackie’s comments.
Contrary to comments made during the meeting, the Friends of Bradley Park is not a group of crazy mountain bikers. Of the dozens of “Friends”, there are probably five mountain bikers total. The majority of people are walkers, trail runners, hikers, and dog walkers – people whom my family and I have met over the past 17 years while living on Oak Ledge and enjoying Bradley Park.
Lastly, to clarify, I was invited to join the WCC in 2020 because of my well-known love for the outdoors and our town parks. I enjoy walking, hiking, and biking in several town parks, not just Bradley, with my family and our friends, both two- and four-legged. I resigned my position in part because I was told I was not allowed to be an advocate for Bradley Park — only an unbiased board member. This seemed contrary to my desire to join the board in the first place, and work for the betterment of our beautiful parks — hence my resignation.
I wish the Commission well, and together with FC/NEMBA, hope to partner for the betterment of our town parks. Thanks for your time.
Editor’s note: After Cote’s letter was published, he asked GMW to delete what he’d written regarding donated material from the Friends to the town, as the material was used in other town parks.