Norwalk River restoration set to begin

More than two years in the making, a major habitat restoration project along the Norwalk River in Wilton Center is set to begin Aug. 19, according to Jeff Yates of Trout Unlimited. The project will last about 10 days and a portion of Schenck’s Island Park will be closed to the public. People will still be able to enter from the parking lot and the footbridge, and areas will be marked to indicate closures during construction.

The environmental affairs department encourages residents to explore Wilton’s other parks. Some nearby include Bradley Park and Cherry Lane Park.

The $96,000-price tag for the river project is being paid for by the Mianus chapter of Trout Unlimited, which has shepherded the project through fundraising and approvals from the Wilton Inland Wetlands Commission, state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The chapter has received grants from Patagonia in Westport, Orvis in Darien, Trout Unlimited, and some private sources.

According to Yates, the majority of the work will involve excavating part of the river’s bottom and positioning boulders and tree trunks along the river’s banks. These efforts will encourage the river to become more narrow and curvy as a wild river is. The work will help create deep pools where fish can hide and spawn. Public-access areas will also be improved.

Parts of the river as it makes its way through Schenck’s Island are wide and shallow, and when a team of volunteers from Trout Unlimited and employees of DEEP conducted a fish count last month, it found primarily small fish, such as minnows, sunfish, and eels in the shallow areas. Where there were deep pools, however, where the water was up to team members’ knees and hips, they found much larger fish including about two dozen brown trout and a few rainbow trout.

The July 12 fish count was an important step because the results will be compared with another fish count taken next year and in the years that follow.

Work to be done

The engineering work for the project was prepared by Trout Scapes of Bozeman, Mont., which will also comes to do the actual excavation work.

A large excavator will be brought in to dismantle a decaying dam and create 16 deep pools in the river. Such a large piece of equipment is necessary, Yates said, because sediment buildup over the years has hardened the riverbed like concrete.

At certain points along the river, large boulders — two to three feet in diameter and weighing hundreds of pounds — will be put in place as will large tree trunks with their “root wads” attached. The trees, Yates said, will stabilize the banks and prevent sediment from building up in the river. Similar work with root wads done in 2003 has resulted in areas of deep pools along the river.

The boulders, about 200 of them, were excavated in Wilton during a number of development and road-building projects and have been at the transfer station for years. There are dozens of dead or dying ash trees — victims of the emerald ash borer — in Schenck’s Island that will be used as well. They will be cut down beginning next week.

After the heavy work is done, disturbed areas along the banks will be stabilized and in the fall native plantings such as willows and oaks will be put in.

The work is being done in August to avoid the fall spawning season.