Correction, May 15: Elsa Peterson Obuchowski is not an OHPA member.
NORWALK, Conn. — If everyone followed the lead of the Norwalk Recreation and Parks Department, a new initiative in support of pollinators would take off.
“In the last three years, we all but stopped the use of fertilizers, mass insect control, herbicides, fungicides on properties,” Norwalk Parks Superintendent Ken Hughes said at Monday’s Coalition of Norwalk Neighborhood Associations (CNNA) meeting, drawing applause from up to 40 people who had come to hear about open space in the City.
The conversation touched on the growing Norwalk River Valley Trail, the Oak Hills Park and the golf course and the possibility of buying land to add to open space. Efforts to cut pesticide use and concerns about the city’s dwindling tree canopy were highlights of the panel discussion, with Norwalk River Watershed Association Executive Director Louise Washer and Norwalk Land Trust President Seeley Hubbard promoting the Pollinator Pathway movement.
“Most people might not realize it, but pollinators – particularly bees, butterflies, you hummingbirds, you name it – are important for many, many creatures to survive, particularly many, many plants,” Hubbard said. “Agriculture, it’s important as well, our bees are dying at a dramatic rate. And this is really a crisis and a crisis that many are not aware of. … the pollinator pathways an attempt to put in plants that attract the pollinators.”
“The NLT and the NRWA are encouraging Norwalk residents to support pollinators by ending pesticide use and planting gardens or containers on their properties with native plants,” according to a recent press release.
If you treat your back yard as part of the habitat, “keeping them free of pesticides as much as possible and chemical fertilizers, and putting in native plants,” you’ll be connecting open spaces and helping the native butterflies, bees and birds, she said.
Various environmental groups are working together and the pathway is “in 30 towns and cities from really Yonkers to New Haven,” Washer said.
“It’s just an idea that time is here, people are worried about the monarch butterfly and the colony collapse and the bees,” she said. “So, it is about creating wildlife corridors, pathways so that as climate changes, animals can move, the pollinators can move the bees, the birds, butterflies, but also everything else that follows.”
“I think it’s going to take Norwalk and its citizens by storm,” said NLT Board member Midge Kennedy, from the audience.
She asked Hughes and Director of Recreation and Parks Nick Roberts how they could set an example and reduce the city’s pesticide use, “because we’re going to have to face it, these emerald green lawns are not natural. And it’s going to be a real hard sell for a lot of people in Norwalk,” and the very visible parks department needs to lead by example.
That’s when Hughes revealed that pesticide use has “all but stopped.”
“But it is a challenge though it is a challenge because we maintain a lot of baseball fields for the high schools and for youth leagues,” Hughes said. “So we’re consistently getting complaints on weeds, on grub problems. So it’s a tough balance to strike, being environmentally conscious and keeping the public happy.”
The department just bought a propane torch to use at Fodor Farm and is using fire to kill weeds around the fence instead of Roundup, a pesticide, he said.
“There are some stringent state laws now, in terms of what we can and cannot apply on school properties, specifically K-8,” Hughes said. “We practice IPM, integrated pest management, where we use all the tools available to us, before we even look at any type of herbicide or pesticide.”
A product called Burnout uses clove oil and citric acid to kill weeds, he said.
Elsa Peterson Obuchowski, who was on the panel as a member of the Oak Hills Park Authority Nature Advisory Committee, asked if the city’s open space inventory includes school athletic fields, which may be made of artificial turf.
“We count all school properties as park property,” Hughes replied. “…golf courses and cemeteries are open space as well.”
“How can we ensure that South Norwalk has adequate amounts of green space?” Diane Lauricella asked. “…Is there enough open space based upon the density of population for lack of tree canopy? And are there any plans to purchase any additional parks?”
Every year, $50,000 is put into the capital budget for open space, Hughes said.
The Land Trust got grant funding for the Farm Creek Preserve, Hubbard said.
Isabelle Hargrove also brought up the tree canopy, asking, “What are the checks and balances? Who is really in charge?”
“Well, if you just look at the tree canopy, the average for Connecticut is I think, 61% coverage,” Washer said. “And in Southwest Connecticut, and Norwalk is the lowest in southwest Connecticut, it’s at 39, 38%. But South Norwalk is at 15%.”
That’s due to a “double hit” — Superstorm Sandy taking out trees and then Eversource cut some down, she said, adding a positive note: the tree advisory committee got a grant and put in some trees.
“I think this is an opportunity for Norwalk to come together as a community and restore the tree canopy, it would help with flooding, it would cool the city, it provides habitat, it cleans the water, it solves all the challenges we’ve talked about tonight, if we could just restore the tree canopy and we’re moving in that direction,” Washer said.
Perhaps the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency could be required to consider replacing trees when they’re removed for development, Common Council member Darlene Young (D-District B) said.
The Council does look for properties to acquire, Common Council President Tom Livingston (D-District E) said.
“We don’t have a lot of money. Of course, we have an open space fund, but I think we pledged some of it to the White Barn,” he said. “… I encourage anybody, I make we make no promises, of course, but anybody to come to any of us with ideas, properties or things you want to talk about, because we’re wide open to anything.”
Norwalk Association of Silvermine Homeowners (NASH) President Heather Dunn, who moderated the panel, said CNNA considered “the overall mental health of the residents of Norwalk,” when scheduling the forum. “We know that the more you do get out in nature and walk and bike along trails and things like that, that the happier people are.”