New Milford moves toward creation of new Hidden Treasures Park
NEW MILFORD — Over the last few months, a crew of volunteers removed weeds and invasive plants from a 16-acre piece of town-owned property that has been unused for decades, opening up views of the Housatonic River.
The work is the latest step in adding another park to the town’s growing list of recreational resources, but town officials said more work needs to be done before Hidden Treasures Park can open.
“There’s a nice open field now,” said Lisa Arasim, a member of the Hidden Treasures committee.
Town Council unanimously approved $45,000 from the Waste Management Fund to cover the next phase, which includes removing debris from the property, seeding to stabilize the earth and completing environmental studies on the soil and stagnant water.
The scope is different from the committee’s initial $75,000 request, which did not include the studies but included money to add topsoil, repair the kayak launches, drain an abandoned water tower and install amenities such as benches, signs, parking and decorative fencing.
Several council members urged testing be done to ensure the park is safe.
“I’m 100 percent in favor of this. I just want to minimize our risk going forward,” Councilman Tom Esposito said. “The more parks the better, as long as they’re safe.”
Esposito said a large concentration of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, behind the nearby dam on the Housatonic River could have seeped into the soil during floods. Other contaminants from the dilapidated structures on the property could have entered the ground.
Mayor David Gronbach doubted studies were required but said he will ask the environmental consultants at Milone and MacBroom, a firm designing the river trail project for the town, to perform any necessary study of Hidden Treasures.
“I don’t want to pump the brakes on this and stop the work,” he said.
Council and committee members have other safety concerns, including the water tower and an old pump house. These structures will be fenced off while the committee decides whether to rehabilitate or remove them.
Councilwoman Katy Francis said Gronbach should not have asked the council to allocate funding for a project before acquiring the necessary zoning permits, noting the project has not been put on zoning agenda for a change of use.
“Little by little, we’re eroding our processes,” she said.
Gronbach said the money needed to be assured before the town sought bids for the project.
The town has owned the land since 1977, and considered turning it into a park in 1999 and a dog park in 2008.
“We understand there’s a lot more we can do with the property,” Arasim said. “Our initial plan was to get this up and running and make it safe so people can use it.”
Several people at last week’s meeting said the park along the river fits nicely into the town’s plans to revitalize the riverfront.
Before it was cleaned up, residents would launch kayaks and canoes from the property, which is adjacent to an inlet that holds West Cove Marina and has nature trails.
“You can see the beautiful Housatonic River again,” Arasim said.