Planting near Wilton Family Y a memorial to young conservationist

The Norwalk River is getting a different look near the Wilton Family YMCA.

Trees and shrubs were planted along a newly installed bank built over recent weeks, shifting the river to its natural course and protecting both the waterway and the trout that call it home, according to Jeff Yates, conservation chairman, and Tony Hill, president, both of the Mianus Chapter of Trout Unlimited.

Closer to the YMCA, more trees are creating a natural buffer between the parking lot and the river.

It’s the realization of a young man’s vision, being built in his memory.

Over two days, Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 15-16, more than 100 volunteers removed invasive species and planted native species, a project started by Bennett Wood of Darien. Wood was a volunteer and intern with the Mianus Chapter of Trout Unlimited when he died in February at the age of 23.

“Ben spent a lot of time in 2015 walking the site, meeting with some environmental professionals, looking at what needed to be done, putting together the plan and presenting it to the Wilton Inland Wetland Commission.”

Wood, a 2010 graduate of Darien High School, had attended Bucknell University for two years before transferring to Fairfield University. He would have graduated in May with the Class of 2016, and had accepted a job to work with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game as a fisheries biological aide.

“An enthusiastic reader, rock climber and mountain biker, Ben particularly enjoyed fly fishing and had become very skilled at fly casting and fly tying,” according to his obituary.

This weekend’s planting was preceded by meetings with commissions in Wilton to obtain necessary permits.

“Actual feet on the ground, doing the work, we were here five days,” Hill said.

On a newly rebuilt bank, as well as in nearby woods, volunteers planted three different species of willows, oak trees, maple trees, alders, and two different kinds of dogwood, all chosen with input on native plants from arborists.

“We’re looking to help stabilize the bank, prevent runoff. We’re looking to create shade and canopy over the river, which will help keep the river cooler, help protect the fish from predators,” Hill said.

A sign in memory of Wood will be installed, and care of the site will also honor his memory.

“His family set up a stewardship fund in his honor,” Hill said, “and the money from the fund is helping pay for the plants this year and for years going forward for other projects the chapter will do.”

More information about the Mianus Chapter of Trout Unlimited may be found at mianustu.org.