Member has plans for river
Commission eyes sprucing up Wilton site
WILTON – The town has a lot of possibilities and many assets, but no real plan in place to take advantage of them, so the Conservation Commission and the Economic Development Committee have undertaken the job of not only developing such a plan, but implementing it.
"Every other town with a river has taken advantage of it," Jennifer Beck said recently.
Beck, a member of the development committee
and the newest member of the Conservation Commission, has undertaken to combine the two into an outreach and educational program.
A river walk and developing the scenic area behind Main Street, which has been discussed off and on for 20 years, is one of several projects she envisions.
But before any projects can be tackled, she said, "We need an aggressive plan to go after businesses for the downtown. We need a leadership team of five or six people. We need a vision for Wilton."
Beck recently retired from a long career as an industry analyst.
"I needed something to do," she said, and she at first volunteered for the Economic Development Committee.
With a leadership team in place, she said, "We can decide how to exploit our assets."
However, people and agencies have to work together, Beck said. There are conflicts among existing groups, she said.
"Between Main Street Association and the development committee," Beck said.
High Mowing School has long kept itself apart, "but now they are getting interested," she said, with "some younger people" now involved.
The Conservation Commission is divided between conserving land and keeping it pristine, and still letting the public in to enjoy it.
The Wild Wilton Photo Contest is the first step, Beck he said.
"Get people outdoors," she said.
Beck said what is needed "is an inventory of all the public places, places where people can go. Nobody knows."
Those places include the Sheldrick Forest and the Heald Tract, and now the Frye Fields, but there are others. She sees the mapping of all the trails as perhaps an Eagle Scout project.
"And marking trails with signs with mileage so people will know how far to walk," Beck said.
Almost 70 percent of Wilton is in current use, she noted, and a lot of that land is unposted and open for walking.
"That needs to be known," Beck said.
Preservation of wildlife habitat is a stated goal of the Conservation Commission "but, a majority of our natural habitats are in the hands of private citizens," Beck said. "It’s imperative they become advocates for wildlife and land stewardship."
Habitats need to be kept unfragmented, she said.
"Those landowners need education," Beck said. "A walkthrough with the county forester is free" and can provide a lot of information.
"We need to educate the next generation of land stewards," she said.
But developing the downtown area is a priority, Beck said. There is no place on Main Street to get a cup of coffee before 11 a.m.
"Wilton is becoming more and more a retirement community," she said. "School population is going down. I see us based on arts, recreation and entertainment. We need a balance."
But all agencies – the Planning Board, selectmen and Heritage Commission – have to work together to achieve this, Beck said.
"A river walk would let people see the annual Lions Club duck race," she said.
All of the Main street stores have lover levels that could be utilized.
"People could build balconies out over the river," Beck said. "There could be a footbridge across the river from the Riverview Mills."
Such a bridge once existed for mill workers.
Beck envisioned handicapped accessibility, lights and a gazebo for music performances.
"Too many people look at the negatives and don’t do something," she said. "There is always a way around the negatives. Bringing back the (scenic railroad) would be nice."
On an easier and more attainable note, Beck spoke of the community garden on Carnival Hill, leading hikes and holding public lectures, the Wild Rose program being developed at Four Corners Farm in their quest to buy the property.
But first, people have to realize downtown Wilton is there. There is little on the bypass to inform passersby.
And, Beck added, "Parking isn’t all that big a problem. There is plenty within a few minutes’ walk. Wilton is a wonderful place."