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Thursday, October 23, 2014

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Out of the Woods / With tides of change at Compo Beach, less may be more

Published 6:42 am, Wednesday, March 26, 2014
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Every now and then when I drive to Compo Beach, especially in the summer, I look around at all the people relaxing and enjoying themselves at a beautiful oasis where they find freedom from daily routines.

From a distance, it always looks the same: young parents with their toddlers under a splendid blue sky, kids straddling the colonial cannons. Everyone is delighted to spend some time away from chores at home or the hustle and bustle of downtown Westport.

Like the waves washing up on the beach, residents and summer visitors return to a place to which they have become so attached.

One thought always comes to my mind: Although the individual faces in the crowd change from year to year, new people keep coming to this beach for the same reasons as those who came before. With the passing of each generation, different adults replace the former ones, and a fresh sprinkling of children replace their predecessors.

After 46 years of taking in this mental picture, I inevitably think of time passing and the fact that generation after generation goes through the same rituals every year for the same reasons. Compo Beach is the crown jewel of our town. Folks depend on it to remain the same old reliable beach and 29-acre park ever since Westport was founded in 1835. It is a fundamental part of our DNA -- and one good reason many people move here.

The full realization of the decades going by so rapidly is sobering, It is for me a "wake-up" call. The tide may come in and out forever, the beach, likewise, will be there forever, barring a disaster brought about by climate change or some other unpredictable natural or man-made crisis.

But those of us living in the present need to think of future generations. This is why, it seems to me, that news of the Compo Beach master plan should be approached with considerable thought -- and some skepticism. What is the legacy of Compo Beach that we want to leave behind for future generations?

First Selectman Jim Marpe was quoted as saying in last Friday's Westport News: "I am pleased and excited by the progress that the Compo Beach Site Planning Committee has made. They are doing their best to strike a balance between the old and familiar aspects of Compo Beach that Westporters love, while introducing new and upgraded concepts."

He added: "There are still many steps and approvals to complete before we can begin to make the proposed changes,"

The plan to modernize the beach is being created by the design firm, AKRF of White Plains, N.Y. Why were they selected? Stuart McCarthy, director of the Parks and Recreation Department, said the beach redesign should focus on encouraging people to get out of their cars and make maximum use of the recreation facilities. The veteran town official and his team have kept up a great tradition at Compo. They know its needs.

My own view is that less is more. I tend to agree with my old friend, Michael Calise, who was quoted in this newspaper saying: "What I don't understand is, it's a popular facility. It's so successful. Why do we have to change it?" Good question, Mike.

In recent years, the rebuilding of the children's playground at the beach caused a major brouhaha. This is a litigious town filled with people known for their preference for confrontation over compromise -- especially at numerous meetings of public agencies where they have an opportunity to sound off. Putting a positive spin on this trait, one could argue we practice old-fashioned, New England Yankee " grass roots" democracy.

Compo might need some improvements, but in this case, we should be careful what we ask for. A giant model should go on display in Town Hall for everyone to examine and express their opinions in writing. There are still many basic questions unanswered: How much is this whole project expected to cost Westport taxpayers? Where do we find the money in these difficult economic times? How can additional littering be curtailed? How do we maintain the sense of peace and serenity? What are our priorities?

Woody Klein is a Westport writer, and his "Out of the Woods" appears every other Friday. He can be reached at wklein11@aol.com