Woog’s World: The greening of Westport still a work in progress
Published 11:29 am, Friday, August 7, 2015
Back in the day, Long Island Sound was less than sound. Algae bloomed, gross stuff washed up on shore. Not many Compo Beach swimmers took their lives in their hands.
Nearby, the Mill Pond was dying. The natural flushing cycle had stopped. The results could be seen — and smelled.
Our roadsides were littered with garbage. Empty soda and beer cans, plastic bags — they were everywhere. We even had a Great Race, whose main purpose (besides having fun) was to clean up trash-filled Cockenoe Island.
I don’t think we planned to turn things around. There was no great consensus to make a grand environmental shift. But over the past two or three decades, Westport has become much cleaner. A lot greener.
In fact, we’re a leader. Other towns look at our many organizations, programs and projects with envy.
In just five years, for example, Wakeman Town Farm has become the linchpin of Westport’s sustainable movement. Saved from development thanks to the generosity of Ike and Pearl Wakeman, and the foresight and persistence of politicians and townspeople, the Cross Highway property became a multi-use facility that educates and inspires thousands of Westporters (especially children and teenagers).
Educational workshops, student internships, summer programs, a farm stand and CSA pickup location — all at a working farm —give Westporters a real-life model of what it means to live sustainably. Out-of-towners are astonished to see what goes on there. (You might say they have a “WTF” moment at WTF.) We just take it for granted.
Around the corner, Staples High School offers a robust environmental studies curriculum (including a very popular Advanced Placement course). They often tend a garden behind the school (with produce going to the culinary classes).
Our one-acre, 100-member Community Garden may be the largest of any Fairfield County town. It’s open to any Westport resident or town employee. They grow vegetables, herbs and flowers, and share tools, tips and bounty.
Most farmers markets fail within 10 years. Westport’s is entering its second decade. Held every Thursday from late May to early November, it’s bloomed to nearly 50 vendors. Its mission is to offer fresh, local, healthy and seasonal food, in a fun community atmosphere. (Each week, chefs demonstrate creative recipes using ingredients at hand.)
Don’t let the “farmers market” name fool you. Besides fruits and vegetables, you can buy jams, honey, local seafood, pickles, pies, pizza, cheese, meats, yogurt, quiche and more. But vendors follow the strictest guidelines in the state. It’s a true (and flavorful) community event.
Westport boasts a pair of established farm-to-market restaurants — Le Farm and The Whelk — with more to come. Our dining scene overall is pretty healthful, all things considered. And our consciousness about what we put in our bodies is higher than it’s ever been.
Meanwhile, down at the beach, there’s been even more change. Long Island Sound is as swimmable as it was back when the British sailed in. Decades of work by dedicated organizations — Harbor Watch at Earthplace (local) and Save the Sound (regional) have done yeoman’s work in drawing attention to, and getting action around, the importance of healthy waters — have finally paid off.
Sherwood Mill Pond is a fantastic example of what years of effort can do. Time and tides have indeed been reversed, thanks to modern tide gates, dredging and constant surveillance. Kids are jumping into the water just as they did years ago. And oysters grow once again in a pond that at one point looked like it might die.
When Westport’s RTM voted to ban plastic bags in 2008 — becoming the first municipality east of the Mississippi River to do so — skeptics abounded. They were concerned about enforcement, businesses leaving, and the cost of litigation if the town were sued.
Today when we shopping in other towns, it feels odd getting a plastic bag. We use our reusable cloth bags without thinking (though we may chuckle at hauling one with a Stop & Shop logo into Trader Joe’s). Most importantly, our streets are much cleaner. For some reason, no one tosses paper bags on the side of the road.
Nearly forgotten in all this is the Greening of the Post Road. Thanks to that 1970s-80s initiative, shade trees line our main artery, from the Southport line to Norwalk. In fact, you see the difference the moment you drive over the border.
Sadly though, some of those trees are already gone. They were sacrificed to new development, or killed by too much winter sand and salt.
Gone too are many mature trees on residential property. They’ve been killed in the name of McMansions.
So as environmentally conscious as Westport has become, we’ve still got a ways to go. It’s not easy being green.
Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his “Woog's World” appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His personal blog is www.danwoog06880.com