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Friends of Oak Hills Park unveils new website in fight to save woods


NORWALK, Conn. – Friends of Oak Hills Park is taking its battle against destruction of the woods at the park to the Internet.

The group’s new website is designed to inform citizens of news pertaining to Oak Hills and the status of efforts to save the woodland area from being clear cut for a proposed driving range. It features photos of the area in question and a video of a winter walk through the woodlands, along with news and information.

The website address is http://www.oakhillsfriends.org/

The Friends of Oak Hills Park was originally formed in 1999 to fight against a plan to build a driving range in the unspoiled woodland area on the southeastern edge of property, according to a press release from the group. That plan was eventually rejected by Mayor Alex Knopp in 2002.

When a new plan was proposed in 2013, the group picked up the fight to preserve the open space, the release said, by attending meetings, writing letters to media outlets and local politicians, and gathering signatures for a “Save Oak Hills Woodlands” petition.

The group also sponsors weekly nature walks led by naturalists every Saturday morning throughout the year.

“If you live in Norwalk or any of the surrounding communities,” the release said, “you can help save these woodlands by visiting our website, emailing us, signing our petition, and writing letters to Nancy on Norwalk, The Hour and local politicians.”

18 comments

Norwalk Lifer August 14, 2013 at 5:55 am

You once could walk in the woods around Norwalk and see princess of pines growing on the ground, now you see urban creep, pacasandra and other lovely cultivated plants.

Darien has done a lot to protect their dwindling woodlands, my goodness, even the Manresa Power plant has an area where a wonderful number of white birch still florish, Do we need this in Norwalk? what’s the issue here? revenue? more money for developers? why is this developer also promoting driving ranges in the deserts of Eypgt? because of money of course.

I think we’d better start concerning ourselves with our dwindling natural preserves, ten, twenty years from now, we will regret the decision to let this one go.

Regards
Norwalk Lifer

M Allen August 14, 2013 at 9:20 am

Have we considered simply charging admission for hiking the trails of the park? If demand is so high, perhaps it could generate additional revenue for the golf course without the need for the driving range. It could even create a new position for someone to become the new Sheriff of the Wood in order to collect the new duty. Just a thought. Golfers pay. Why not the nature seekers?

EDR August 14, 2013 at 9:38 am

That is the best idea that I have heard yet. Golfers pay an annual fee to have the priveledge of making tee times and pay resident rates . Why can’t nature walkers? Why should the golfers pay for it?

Bill Wrenn August 14, 2013 at 12:04 pm

The 92% of Norwalkers who don’t golf have been subsidizing the golf course for years. The city purchased the land with public money, and provided multiple low interest loans of millions of dollars to keep the course solvent. Unlike the golf course, hiking trails require no maintenance, grooming or expensive herbicide or pesticide treatment. Golfers pay for the upkeep of the golf course, not for the land, which belongs to all of us.

M Allen August 14, 2013 at 1:04 pm

We’ve all been subsizing a good many things for a good many people. I’m sure you’re used to that by now. Many (too few) Norwalkers pay for a wide range of things in this city that they get absolutely no benefit from. A good portion of taxpayers in general (again, way too few) pay for a good many things they derive no benefit from. We all (well not all of us, right?) pay for things we neither use nor even agree with fairly regularly. So saying the 92% of Norwalkers who don’t golf, is like saying the 97% of Norwalkers who don’t hike or the 60% of Norwalkers who don’t pay taxes. They are irrelevant numbers amid an irrelevant argument. The only argument that has any bearing on this entire debate is money. Is it economically smart to do any of it? For the city or even the Authority itself. But not about whether 92% of anyone subsidizes this or that in a town where too many people get virtually nothing for their tax dollars.

LWitherspoon August 14, 2013 at 4:20 pm

@MAllen
Can you provide examples of things that taxpayers are paying for but getting absolutely no benefit from?
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What’s the basis for your claim that 60% of Norwalkers don’t pay taxes?

M. Murray's August 14, 2013 at 5:07 pm

I doubt that much money would be raised by charging the hikers. I doubt there are more than a dozen or two who actually use the trails. If They aren’t going to put in a driving range, lets make motorcycle trails through the woods so all these kids riding dirt bikes and scooters have a place to ride. Or build a teen center there so kids have a place to go at night instead of the streets. Maybe some soccer, baseball or football fields. There would certainly be more teens making use of it than hikers

Osgood Schlater August 14, 2013 at 5:16 pm

Why don’t hikers pay? Because the OHPA has put zero dollars into maintaining the trails, which are basically game trails. In the mean time, the OHPA has spent a fortune on maintaining the course. I can’t believe that two grown men can’t see the difference. If they spent more time looking into why OHPA is running at a deficit, perhaps they would see the difference.

Suzanne August 14, 2013 at 5:33 pm

Wait a minute now. Everyone take a breath. Nature is, has been and should be free especially in an area where it is so seldom seen. But, in fact, as pointed out by many on this thread about subsidies, nothing is free. We are all indirectly paying fees anyway – the fact that golfers are charged a fee has to do with the huge overhead in maintaining a golf course. Walking in the woods costs nothing. Keeping the woods for generations to come takes this argument out of the money realm and into the legacy realm – what do we want to leave our kids? Our grand kids (assuming they can still afford to live here?) If nature in and of itself was not valuable, Yosemite would be Disneyland, the Grand Canyon a theme park and Yellowstone a tribute to Yogi Bear. In other words, there is inherent value in preserving that which has been largely untouched for many years. It is something that kids need to know exists and adults need to experience just for the sake of it. If none of this makes sense to you, check out Thoreau and Emerson, two fine New England writers who understood why saving woodlands was so important.

Suzanne August 14, 2013 at 5:40 pm

L. Witherspoon, we pay taxes and have no children. Therefore, the amount of taxes we pay that goes towards education is what we pay but has nothing to do with us. We do not get garbage collection nor sewage service paying for these services privately. In town people, I am told anyway, get these services provided to them via our taxes. If the latter two examples are incorrect, that’s o.k. but our taxes going toward education is the price we pay for being citizens with a civic responsibility. In other words, kids and teenagers are everyone’s responsibility whether we have them or not and, therefore, like other people who have no children, we pay for their education. I think this is correct. I also think, however, that we pay enough into the coffers to expect a woodland of 10 acres or less to be “free” to us for hiking.

Debora August 14, 2013 at 5:50 pm

Actually M.Murray, a report done for the master plan for OHPA did call for additional uses of the park, skiing in the winter, for example. Such uses don’t require the kind of wholesale destruction and massive capital expenditures that must be fueled by loans.
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The question to ask is why an organization that has repeatedly failed to meet its obligations to the city since 1998 including defaulting on a debt payment and an inability to operate without a loan from the city as recently as last winter is being permitted to entertain this project at all.
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Any projections for profitability from the range are suspect and should be vetted carefully. Remember, this range is now being asked to carry it’s own expenses AND that of the deficit for the golf course.

Debora August 14, 2013 at 6:12 pm

Suzanne,

This actually isn’t about subsidizing any of these activities with current tax dollars. The OHPA is an independent authority operating under the charter and a lease with the city. The park is required to pay its own debt through revenues such as greens fees, cart rentals etc.

They are also prohibited making private use of the land or operating anything on that land that is inconsistent with the obligations of a state grant used partly to purchase the land. These restrictions may preclude even the operation of a restaurant.
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The charter specifies golf, tennis and other uses. It’s hard to see how any other use can be made of the park if the remaining acreage is turned over to golf.
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This is as much about the process as it is about the trees and the golf. OHPA promised to obey the law, and to meet its obligations under their lease. There is evidence that they have failed to do either. Is it really so unreasonable to ask that they not be allowed to borrow millions more that we taxpayers will be on the hook for if they put yet another business in the park that they will not be able to operate profitably?.

Suzanne August 14, 2013 at 10:13 pm

Debora, I too have read the Charter and a lot of other “official” paperwork re: the formation of the Authority and the establishment of Oak Hills. To be clear, I was responding to other comments on this thread and not to your clarifications re: OHPA’s mismanagement. I am very familiar with it and do not believe one more cent should be extended to them in back loan payments nor new revenues in the form of loans. “Subsidizing” is at play when the OHPA is granted yet another “loan” at incredibly favorable rates from the City of Norwalk. The Golf Course is supposed to be self-supporting through fees and that isn’t happening. Thus, the discussion over whether these additional loans which the OHPA has inconsistently repaid represents subsidies from the City which is supported by taxpayer dollars.

Piberman August 15, 2013 at 12:35 am

What’s strange is that none of elected officials have asked for detailed financial and environmental impact studies. Is the OH Authority exempt from providing such details ? Do Council members, the Mayor or BET have any public comments here ? Is the Authority a governing body not subject to any formal review ? Are elected officials keeping quiet because an election is near ? And why is the City attorney so quiet ? Is it because of BJs ? Looks like another example of indifferent governance about an issue regarded as important to many residents. Time for the OH Friends to secure legal advise on their options. Talking or complaining isn’t helping here.

M Allen August 15, 2013 at 9:35 am

@ LWitherspoon, the 60% figure was a random number. Kind of like the 93% of non-golfers statistic that preceded it. But I will bet that the number of people in this town who pay far more in taxes than the value they derive from city services is no more than 40%. The rest? That 60%? Riding to one degree or another on the taxes of others. Getting more benefit than whatever taxes they pay. But nothing new there, right? Some of us pay more and use less. Some of us pay less and use more. It’s the American way. All of these things so many people like to use are subsidized by the taxpayer. The beaches, the parks, the playing fields, etc. I wonder how things would look if we had a Beach Authority that had to justify its income statement. But lucky for all those beach goers, its just free.

M Allen August 15, 2013 at 9:38 am

and by the way, the charging hikers part was a joke. I’m quite certain it wouldn’t generate much revenue anyway given I’m pretty doubtful more than a couple dozen people make their way into Oak Hills Forest very often.

Piberman August 15, 2013 at 12:15 pm

I have lunch at Oak Hills several times a week. Tennis Courts typically quiet, not many hikers and the parking lot which holds roughly space for a 100 visitor cars is rarely full. All in all Oak Hills may be the underutilized major City Park in CT. We often wonder why this astonishingly superb facility, especially the restaurant isn’t used more often. Maybe City officials should come for lunch. Ditto or golfers. Maybe every one is shopping at the Big Boxes – the “real Norwalk”. How anyone could seriously propose destroying the mature forest here to build a driving range is just astonishing as is the studied silence of our elected leaders and candidates. How can anyone be proud of a City’s leadership that remains silent ? It’s just shameful.

M Allen August 15, 2013 at 12:43 pm

yes, we’re all having a $1.25 hot dog and $0.85 soda at Costco. Can’t beat that deal.
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As to the the park’s utilization – how many people are using Taylor Farm or Cranbury Park on any given weekday? I’d have to say that Taylor Farm may be the most underutilized major city park, if you can call it that. I’m not even sure what its purpose is other than a dog walk and overflow parking area. The restaurant at Oak Hills has never been a bustling hub of activity. I’m sure half of Norwalkers don’t even know its there.

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NancyOnNorwwalk.com was conceived as the place to go for Norwalk residents to get the real, unvarnished story about what is going on in and around their city. NancyOnNorwalk does not intend to be a print newspaper online; rather, it exists to pull the curtain back and shine a spotlight on how Norwalk is run and what is happening regarding issues that have an impact on taxpayers’ pocketbooks and safety. As an independent site, NancyOnNorwalk’s first and only allegiance is to the reader.

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Nancy came to Norwalk in September 2010 and, after reporting on Norwalk for two years for another company, resigned to begin Nancy On Norwalk so she engage in journalism the way it was meant to be done. She is married to career journalist Mark Chapman, has a son, Eric (the artist and web designer who built this website), and two cats – a middle-aged lady and a young hottie who are learning how to peacefully co-exist.