NORWALK, Conn. – The trees at Oak Hills Park have apparently been spared, pending negotiations between the city of Norwalk and a driving range developer, but activists are pressing on in their efforts.
One member of the Coalition of Norwalk Neighborhood Associations is collecting names on a petition that advocates protecting the trees permanently, while others talk of educating members of the Oak Hills Park Authority about the park’s master plan. Two members are spreading the word about another possible money maker for the park – a zip line.
“Why don’t you put a zip line in the trees, going down the hill, behind the restaurant?” Elsa Peterson Obuchowski said at the Aug. 15 OHPA meeting. “You could charge money for that, keep the trees. People would love it, kids would love it, and it would be a way to make money.”
Members laughed, and Ernie Desrochers said, “I love that idea.”
While Obuchowski made the first public splash with the idea, she credits Heather Dunn, who had mentioned it at the July CNNA meeting.
Obuchowski and other CNNA members are pleased that the Ad Hoc Driving Range Committee, which was considering two bids to put a driving range in the park, has chosen the proposal that would put a range near the first green, not in the woods. But they say they are concerned by committee member Clyde Mount’s comment that the woods might be used in another way.
“Those woods can be developed, maybe in trails, maybe in some other use,” Mount said.
Hence, a petition.
“In response to the comment that it wasn’t about saving the trees, that the options were being kept open, several of us were concerned that we could have to fight this battle again,” Obuchowski said at last week’s CNNA meeting. “I precipitously went ahead and launched an online petition to call upon the mayor, the Common Council, the Oak Hills Park Authority and other governing bodies to set aside the land, and keep it permanently as open space.”
There are 113 signatures on the petition, posted through MoveOn.org. The goal is 200 signatures.
The petition makes the sentiment clear: “While we applaud Oak Hills Park Authority’s decision not to destroy the woodlands at this time, we don’t want to have to fight this fight again.”
Other CNNA members said they are concerned about continuing issues with the authority, including transparency and the environmental impact of leaking oil tanks in the park, which were not mentioned at the OHPA meeting.
Deb Goldstein said she is working with Corporation Counsel Bob Maslan to research the park’s master plan and the legal documents pertaining to the conditions of the state grant that funded the purchase of the park.
She said the OHPA needs to consider the source documents and adhere to the post-grant conditions, specifying public use and open land.
“They just don’t seem to be contacting the mother ship as far as the rules are concerned,” she said. “Now that the contentious issue, that bid that was going to take out the woodlands, is out of the picture we may have time to work with them, as partners, to educate them on this process, to get everybody where we want to go without it being a screaming match.”
That prompted Obuchowski to remind everyone that the zip line was Dunn’s idea.
Dunn said she was inspired by a new zip line in Bridgeport. She’s been pitching the idea.
“I went to Mike Mocciae and explained how much money these things make and how little impact there is to the environment and trees and his eyes lit up,” she said.
Goldstein said there may be other money-making recreational uses at the park.
“The alleged master plan, by the way, calls for winter cross country skiing across the golf course lands, which is also supposed to have minimal impact, would bring in money and make fourth-season use of that park,” she said. “These type of things are just not being looked at.”