Off the Beaten Path: Imagining Wilton in 2030

GMW.com‘s columnist Dan Berg imagines what Wilton will be like in 2030, looking back at today.

One Last Look Around, Part I: Georgetown on Down

Wilton, September 2030

The boxes are packed, and the truck comes tomorrow. The home we’ve lived in since 1992 – 38 years! –is now just an echoey house with nowhere for the dust bunnies to hide. The nest has been empty for a while now, and next week the keys get handed over to a nice young family who will refeather it no time, create their own wonderful memories, and continue the cycle of small-town community life that has defined Wilton for decades.

It’s been a great run for us. The kids were born and raised here. We put down roots here. We, like so many before us, played our small part to make Wilton what it is today. We participated. We volunteered. We started businesses. We contributed our time and money. We made friends. We fostered community. We helped fix what was broken. We helped make what was good better. We created what didn’t exist. Simply, we didn’t just reside here; we lived here. But, time passes and the torch passes. I have waxed poetically over the years about my love of all four seasons and my wonder at the change of scenery with each equinox and solstice. But truth be told:  I’ve finally fallen out of love with the chilly charms of winter. It’s time for us to fly this coop for warmer climes.

With one final afternoon to go and nothing left on the to-do list, I grab my bike from the garage and decide to take one last melancholy look around our hometown. My knees and calves remind me that I’m no spring chicken, but today I’m feeling pretty good. Tucked into the northeast corner of town as we are, I figure I’ll start in Georgetown and work my way south.

The Norwalk River Valley Trail was a picturesque stroke of genius. I’ve only ridden the full length from Norwalk to Danbury a few times, but the active biking and running clubs do it all time. I’m out on the Wilton sections constantly, and they were thoughtfully routed to connect one worthwhile destination to another. One of my recent favorites has been the Wire Mill Commons, just a mile from our house.

Wilton, Redding, Ridgefield and Weston’s ramped-up partnership on the Georgetown Business Improvement District finally created the right financial conditions for a developer with vision to turn the old Gilbert and Bennett site into the retail, residential and park setting that many of us had envisioned and hoped for since the early 90s. It’s amazing what can happen when town governments and chambers of commerce all work together.

This afternoon, doors and windows are thrown open, and there are plenty of people strolling the river promenade, having lunch outside and wandering in and out of the stores. The mixed office, artisan and retail space creates a great balance and a built-in lunchtime crowd. Tonight, as usual, the art-house theatre will be showing something great, the 10 or so restaurants in the Commons and on Main Street in Georgetown will be busy, and there will be at least 2-3 places to go see live music. This weekend, we’ll be unpacking boxes far away from here, but everyone else will be flocking to Gilbert Square in the center of the Commons for what is now the largest year-round indoor-outdoor farmers’ market in the area.

If I was feeling lazy or sore, I would hop on the train at the re-opened Georgetown station next to the Commons and ride down to Wilton Center. The re-electrification of the line was a long time coming, but the faster trains, along with Metro-North’s creation of the hourly local shuttle between SoNo and Danbury have created a really convenient way to bring people to and from the quaint shopping and dining areas in Branchville, Georgetown, Cannondale, and of course Wilton Center. But today, I’m two-wheeling it the whole way.

I pedal back onto the NRVT in Georgetown and wind my way south through the sun-dappled hollow that meanders roughly parallel between Mountain Rd. and Rte. 7. I pass some fellow bikers, joggers, and two women on horseback. Even after 10-15 years, the trail continues to look brand new, with a gorgeous canopy of forest overhead, smooth gravel underfoot, and some beautiful places to stop and enjoy some tranquility.

A few rolling miles later, I pop out into Allen’s Meadow. The community gardens have doubled in size in the last decade, and the partnership between Parks & Rec, the Wilton Garden Club, Ambler Farm and the schools has been instrumental in teaching young families how to tend their plots and grow an incredible variety of veggies, greens, flowers and berries. Dedicating an area on the edge of the meadow for the Wilton Beekeepers Club to establish some hives has really been a win-win. The meadows and the flowering plants in the gardens keep the bees busy all day, and Wilton’s Own Honey is one of the prized purchases every year at the farmers’ markets and in the local grocery stores. I eavesdrop for a few minutes while a volunteer gardener teaches a dozen or so children and their parents about tilling, fertilization and pollination. Go forth and grow, junior farmers!

Onward and briefly eastward, I bike over to Cannondale Village for an iced coffee at Station House Sweets. There are half a dozen cyclists sitting outside, taking a break from their trail ride and enjoying some gelato. We chat briefly and I learn they’re from Brookfield. They started their ride in Tarrywile Park up in Danbury and are riding the trail down to SoNo for a picnic on the sound. They’ll hop a train back to Danbury later tonight. As I’m leaving, a northbound train pulls in and a few antique hunters from the city amble down to wander through the village shops. If we weren’t moving away, I’d spend a little time looking for the next knick-knack to stick in the front hall. But we have decluttered and packed it all up, so no wind-up Victrola or old map shopping for me today.

Back through Allen’s, and down the path to the high school. It seems like yesterday when the old high school was right across from the BoE offices and the Clune Center. But kudos to the siting team who realized the new school could be built where Lilly Field used to be, the Field House could stay where it is, and the new Lilly Field could go where the old high school used to be.

It’s amazing how little disruption there was when it was built. No trailer classrooms, and only the temporary loss of a field and a parking lot. The realignment of paths, driveways, and sidewalks now makes it easy and safe for walkers, drivers, bikers and bussers to get to and from the school, and through consultation and partnership with the Wilton Tree Committee, we now have beautifully tree-lined approaches from all directions.

The coup de grace was the state funding, grants and donations for the pedestrian flyover from the high school to the Wilton Y, across Rte. 7. Students can now easily get to and from the pools and the Y programs, and everyone can enjoy the east-west connector on the NRVT that bypasses four busy lanes of traffic. The synergies that have been created by directly connecting the Y, the schools, the Wilton loop trail and the main north-south trail have been astonishing, and particularly for the Y, whose access and profile as a fitness and community center has been raised considerably. I have never seen so many people walking, jogging and biking from the Y and the school complex into town as I do now.

Speaking of biking, south I go again. I always enjoy seeing what’s become of the pond by Cider Mill School. The habitat restoration and the little dock have created a go-to outdoor learning center for the younger kids, but even us old folk love watching the turtles, frogs, salamanders and ducks do their thing. As I continue on, I’m a little choked up knowing this will be my last ride along the river towards Wilton Center. I reflect on how much the Center has changed for the better since my first ride down this way in the early 90’s. Next stop, the Merwin Meadows Community Recreational Park, aka “Merwin Rec.”

Next time…Part II: Wilton Center of the Universe