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Restoring a park

The Lakeville Journal Editorial

Last  year at this time the outcry following the tree-cutting at Housatonic Meadows State Park in Sharon was heard all the way in Hartford. The call for oversight on the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), which had cut more than 100 trees in the popular riverside park, evolved into proposed legislation. While legislation was passed in May, it never quite met with the full satisfaction of citizen groups that had come together to not only put the focus on the problem of hazardous-tree management by the agency, but also to do something about the damage done.

Over the summer,  the Housatonic Meadows Preservation Action (HMPA), a citizen group, pressed on. Its volunteer members started with a clean-up session at the park to remove rotting wood chips from the bases of pine trees and to plan next steps. The goal was to do something about remediating the damage at the park in time for the fall 2022 planting season.

In the process, the group also hatched an unusual collaboration with DEEP and other state agency workers to restore the park. The collaborative effort resulted in real action. By mid-October, after many design sessions, state workers arrived with heavy equipment to plant 21 trees along a stretch in front of the parking lot. The Northwest Conservation District also provided engineering work to determine water runoff  needs.

Now, as HMPA prepares for more restoration work over the 2023 summer, plans are being made to again enlist volunteers to restore the riverbank and prepare for more new plantings.

Volunteers will be needed to help with weeding, watering, replanting plugs that are dislodged and other small tasks that may come up.  The riverbank will undergo an herbicidal program and more trees and shrubs are scheduled to be planted there as well as in areas excavated for rain gardens.

HMPA members Katherine Freygang and Bruce Bennett, both  of Cornwall, are working with DEEP. Bennett, who also is the tree warden in Kent, has developed a planting list with the idea that early ordering might ensure availability of plants.

Freygang said HMPA is anticipating as many as 15 volunteer work sessions at the park starting in May and running through October.

HMPA was joined by other groups, including the Housatonic Valley Association, the National Audubon Society and Trout Unlimited. The Connecticut Council on Environmental Quality also supported the groups’ testimony at hearings about DEEP’s hazardous tree approach and the need to remediate damage at Housatonic Meadows. Others at HMPA and many other citizens testified at hearings and kept the questions coming about the tree cutting at the park.

Ultimately the state’s involvement in the restoration included many departments: parks, forestry, wildlife, fisheries and park services.

These concerned citizens and the state workers who helped in the process should be saluted for their dedication to Housatonic Meadows State Park, a destination retreat just like Macedonia Brook State Park and Kent Falls State Park.   

The restoration work includes creating a swale to carry water from the parking area to a rain garden to prevent erosion of the riverbank.  Native wildflowers will be planted in the rain gardens. The project features shrubs and plants to support birds, fish and other wildlife and discourage invasive species, and a safety barrier at the river bank with berms and boulders.

Signage will inform visitors about trails and amenities at the park, making it clear where there is access to fishing, boating and picnic areas. In addition, signs will tell the story of the restoration project and also provide an ecology lesson in native plants and biodiversity.

The image of protestors stomping through the snow a year ago in January has transformed into one of citizens working with DEEP and other state agencies to restore the park — thanks to the dedication of HMPA volunteers.

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