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To Mow or Not to Mow – Selectmen Await Botanist’s Report

To Mow or Not to Mow – Selectmen Await Botanist’s Report

As the plants and grasses are growing and expanding in what used to be a tightly trimmed golf fairway, disagreement has sprouted among some in town whether and how the town should maintain the former Country Club of Woodbridge after golf operations ceased.

The question of best maintenance practices — when to mow and where — will be taken up by the newly constituted Board of Selectmen possibly in late August.  First Selectman Beth Heller said she is waiting for a report by field botanist Bill Morehead who has been retained by the previous administration of then-First Selectman Ellen Scalettar to take a closer look at what’s there in terms of plants and wildlife; and to make recommendations for the maintenance of the 153-acre parcel.

The recommendation to retain Morehead was part of a report by a local committee which looked at Best Organic/Outdoor Maintenance and Management Practices (BOOMMP).  Serving on that committee were naturalists Luisa Cunningham, Dr. Chris Loscalzo, Attorney Peter Cooper, Parks Director Adam Parsons, Community Garden coordinator Andrew Stacks and Judith Moore.

Morehead’s report is scheduled to be delivered mid-August.  Heller said she looking to schedule a special meeting of the selectmen to discuss the issue, possibly on Wednesday, August 30.

The selectmen’s focus will be “to determine what we want for the appearance of this property,” Heller wrote in a statement that she read at the July 12 board meeting.  Selectmen will have the information about the natural environment on the one hand and the financial implications on the other.  It will not be a general discussion about the future use of the 153-acre property, she said.  Consideration of that wider issue may begin as early as September, unless there are unforeseen circumstances.  “That’s a ‘stay-tuned,’ Heller said.

Critics of the status quo:  In the meantime, Public Works employees have been mowing along the sides of the cart paths so as to allow passive recreational use for walker and bikers.  However, some of those who knew the country club in its heyday are frustrated with its unkempt status.  “I would like to be able to walk there and I can’t,” said Phyllis Genel, an avid golfer and long-time member of the Country Club of Woodbridge Commission.  She and Martha German, a neighbor, spoke out at the July 12 selectmen meeting.

Mowing along the cart paths is not sufficient, Genel said.  Meadows harbor ticks bugs and possibly snakes, not to mention poison ivy and invasive plants.  I have relatives with Lyme disease,” she said. “No thank you; I don’t need that.”

Genel has been maintaining a flower garden in back of the putting green as a special thank-you to Marge Horvath, who ran the 9-hole ladies golf group.  “Marge’s Garden” was created two years ago with a mix of annuals and perennials.  But since the golf operation ceased at the end of last season, the garden has been taken over by bittersweet.  When she worked on it a few weeks ago, she came home with a bad case of poison ivy.  “At least mow it,” she said at the Selectmen’s meeting; it’s just wasteful, it’s an eyesore and it’s not safe.  We own it, we should take care of it,” she added.

Some of that poison ivy made its way to the selectmen’s meeting room, when fellow gardener and country-club neighbor Martha German brought a bunch of blooming, but also invasive plants she had picked at the property as show-and-tell.  “The country club looks worse than I have ever seen it,” she said.  “Herbicides will be needed to control these invasives.”  German said the decision to let the property grow unattended was a “default position” brought on by the previous’ board’s decision to end its relationship with the golf course operator, Billy Casper Golf.

Touting volunteerism:  Town Attorney Gerald Weiner took some heat in online forums for sending a written warning to a neighbor of the property, who had taken it upon himself to mow the area around the pool, which opened Memorial Day under the auspices of the Recreation Department.  “It is community spirit which helped Recreation to open the pool,” Graham said in her remarks, saying people of all ages got involved, from scouts to senior citizens.

Weiner defended his action, saying the decision by an individual to act on his own account raises liability issues.  It is “much more than a technicality,” he said.  The Board of Selectmen has the ultimate authority over town-owned property.  When Scouts prepare for Eagle projects, they appear before the board to outline the project and get the board’s nod.  When people plan an event, they come to Town Hall to get the okay.  “I, as an attorney, have to protect this town,” he said.

Selectmen did not want to appear as anti-volunteer.  “We all understand that everyone is acting with good intentions,” said First Selectman Beth Heller.  “However the town cannot allow people to cut grass or conduct similar activities on town property without permission of the Board of Selectmen.  While cutting grass may seem to be a simple matter, without appropriate insurance coverage, the town may incur liability for any injury to the person mowing the lawn or for any injury or property damage caused by that person despite the best of his or her intentions to make the world a better place.  This policy protects the town from financial risk, and more importantly, protects the safety of our citizens.  It is the responsible and caring thing to do.”

So much more than poison ivy:  Luisa Cunningham, a member of the Best Practices Committee, said the committee’s recommendation to the Board of Selectmen was to mow once a season, late in the year, for the sake of wildlife.  Milkweed and black eyed Susan attract butterflies, in particular some monarch butterflies are returning to the area.  An avid birder, Cunningham was happy to report that some orchard orioles were nesting there, a less frequently seen species of the oriole family.

In a phone conversation she said she saw absolutely no reason not to walk along the cart paths, as there are no ticks on the concrete.  The paths are eroded in some areas and they do not form a loop.  But the beauty of the hilly landscape is attracting more and more people who come out and enjoy it.  “I think it will be like the Fitzgerald property,” which became more and more popular as people discovered its beauty, she said.  “The golf course is positively bucolic,” she said.

By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town Correspondent


The story on the mowing of the Country Club of Woodbridge that ran in the July 28 issue of the Woodbridge Town News, misstated the name of the Town Attorney. He is Gerald Weiner. Our apologies for the error.

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