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Volunteers clean the Saugatuck

Local volunteers cleaned the Saugatuck River Saturday, Sept. 16 as part of Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup.

Participants in the cleanup, sponsored by the North American Marine Environment Protection Association (NAMEPA), met at Patagonia in Westport (a supporter of Nutmeg TU’s activities) for a pep rally and safety instructions before making the short walk to the river to begin their cleanup.

During the hour of combing the banks of the Saugatuck River, 115 volunteers picked up more than 100 pounds of marine debris. Using the “Clean Swell” app to track the type and amount of debris collected, the volunteers logged more than 500 cigarette butts and 300 pieces of plastic as well as paper, food, food wrappers, cans, and an old street sign.

The husband-and-wife team of Richard and Margaret Hyman of Weston led a group of local high school students.

Click here to read coverage in The Weston Forum.

Mill River planting postponed

Pat Fowler presents a grant from Orvis to Nutmeg TU President Charles Petruccelli and Treasurer Phil Jacques.

Pat Fowler presents a grant from Orvis to Nutmeg TU President Charles Petruccelli and Treasurer Phil Jacques.

The Mill River planting project scheduled for May 22 has been postponed to Saturday, June 4, at 8 a.m.

Thanks to retail grants from Orvis and Patagonia, Nutmeg TU has the funds to proceed with the planting of indigenous plant species along the Congress Street section of the Mill River in Fairfield.

If enough volunteers step up, Nutmeg TU will be able to clean the area as well. Those who can help are asked to email Ed Grzeda at eegrzeda@gmail.com.

Those who attend should dress appropriately — long sleeves, long pants, boots, work gloves, hats, etc. There is poison ivy on the site and biting insects and ticks are possible.

Please be careful while parking and walking on Congress Street. It is an autobahn, lots of German cars traveling at unlimited speeds.

Refreshments will be served.

What makes the Mill River so special and a history of Nutmeg TU’s work and its current status.

Trout fisherman in Eastern Fairfield County are very fortunate to have the Mill River in Easton, and Fairfield, Connecticut. The river is a tail water of the Easton Reservoir. For approximately one and a half miles it runs cool and free to Lake Mohegan in Fairfield. More than half of it is bordered by town property or parks, state forest, or open space. Only a quarter mile is bordered by private property on both sides.  The cold water releases from the dam keep this section below sixty degrees Fahrenheit throughout the year.  Thus the stream supports wild populations of brown and brook trout. It is one of eight Class 1 wild trout streams in Connecticut and one of its most urban.

It is unique amongst the Class 1 streams for it flows into an approximately thirty-acre pond ‘Lake’ Mohegan, an old gravel pit which has a maximum depth of thirty-five feet. Brown trout in the stream over the years have dropped down into the lake and put on weight and size. Lake Mohegan is located completely within a wooded open space owned by the Town of Fairfield, which does not allow boats on the Lake, making for some quite remarkable fishing in the fall, when these large browns make their spawning run.

The Nutmeg Chapter (217) of Trout unlimited members understand how fortunate we are. We have wild trout fishing all year long minutes from our homes, thirty minutes at most for our chapter members. The Mill is the crown jewel of our local streams, however, we know we need to protect, restore, and improve it for it to support the ever increasing fishing pressure. Furthermore, we continual advocate for the river whenever it is threatened. We understand this is our responsibility as a conservation organization.

To help meet this responsibility Spring 2013, our chapter developed, and started acting on a prioritized Mill River Improvement Opportunity list. First on the list was improvement of the ‘Congress Street’ section of the river. Paralleling, then running under, the Merritt Parkway you can see GE World Headquarters from this section. (I did mention it was an urban stream.) The Fairfield Town property was unmanaged open space, frequently used as an illegal dump site. It represented approximately three acres of riverside which has about three eighths of a mile of underutilized fishing access. Two acres of which is a sandbar. The plan is to clean up the site, remove the invasive species, Japanese Knotweed, Flying Euonymus, Japanese Bar Berry (one of the deer tick’s favorite habitat), primrose, and honeysuckle. Then replant the site with native species of bulrush, mountain laurel, rhododendron, dog wood, grasses, and under story trees to hold the sand bar and banks. Thus providing a more diverse environment and more welcoming environment for native fauna.

This project grew from a request in 2013 for permission and support from the Town of Fairfield for a massive cleanup of this section. Besides the illegally dumped rubbish and the usual fisherman trash, there was the litter from the nearby gas station and rest area on the Merritt Parkway. The Conservation Departments Manager of Open Space gladly agreed to haul away the collected rubbish. He also asked if we would be interested in undertaking the removal of invasive plants and replanting the site with native species.  Given the site provided some of the most level access to the river, the less agile or young children could easily access the river here, right from one of the areas main side roads.  We realized it was a great place to start our first major project of the last few years. So in the Spring 2013 we started our improvement project with the major cleanup.

Following the cleanup we formed a Mill River task force which put together a plan to get the invasive species under control.  After researching removal of Japanese Knotweed and reviewing the site the task force realized to be effective we would have to clear all the Knotweed from both sides of the river. The work area grew from three acres to five and a half acres, with the additional acreage on private residential land. This increased the amount of administrative preparatory work to get all the permissions lined up. But we did it.  We started June 2013 with Japanese Knotweed cutting and bagging work sessions every weekend of the month. We successfully cut out all the knotweed.

From our research we also realized we would have to spray the knotweed to get it under control. In discussions with the State DEEP Invasive species experts and the Nature Conservancy in Weston, CT.   we found a licensed environmental engineering firm to do the spraying. We contracted for three sprayings performed Fall 2013, Spring 2014 and Fall 2014. In the Fall of 2014 the Open Space Manager sent me an email telling me the site was ready for planting. Since then we have continued to cut the remnants to keep the knotweed under control. And of course we have continued our annual spring cleanups of the area.

Now that we have the site preparation complete, we have scheduled a planting for Sunday, May 22, 2016.  For those of us involved from the start this planting has been a long time coming.  If you have time available that Sunday, please come, help with this conservation project.  If you are unable to help with the planting but want to support our improvement efforts on the Mill River you may donate to the Nutmeg Chapter (217) of Trout Unlimited by check or through our website. For those interested in donating go to http://www.nutmegtrout.org/get-involved/donate/ and click the Donate Button on the Right side of the page.