Can a Connecticut Forest be Saved?
Imagine that in the city of Bridgeport there existed a little-known and nearly untouched forest, quietly growing and evolving, naturally pulling the carbon emissions of all the local traffic out of the atmosphere, and pumping clean fresh oxygen back into the air for city residents to breathe. Imagine this forest is a whopping 420-plus acres that includes beautiful scenery like waterfalls and a 23-acre lake, providing natural splendor and New England beauty, all the while helping keep the water and air in the region clean.
Now imagine that city representatives and the private owners want to pave it over and develop it, rather than preserve it for that which it is, a valuable resource for a healthy community and environment.
If you are still reading this you can stop using your imagination now, because this is the stark reality that exists in the city of Bridgeport today. Right in the middle of Bridgeport’s urban sprawl is a pristine forest that few know is there, and it is under imminent threat of being lost before anyone learns of it.
Remington Woods is a beautiful 422-acre forest that is located on the Bridgeport-Stratford border. Within the sylvan boundaries is Lake Success (the 23-acre lake), a vast forest, meadowlands, and wetlands including several vernal pools. The forest has a complete ecosystem, supporting a wide variety of wildlife and plant-life.
In fact, not only does the forest provide a home for a local bald eagle, it was recently featured in “Connecticut Wildlife,” a bimonthly publication produced by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, for its local forest matriarch. The DEEP has been studying bobcats in Connecticut for two years, putting GPS collars on the cats to learn more about their behavior and habits. They actually used the tracking data of a Remington Woods bobcat in their article. The range of the matriarch is really something to behold!
While the Forest is teeming with life, it wasn’t always a natural wild space. The forest’s name originates from its past owners, the Remington Arms Company, who originally used the property for its ammunition plant. After closing the plant in the 1980s, the property was later sold to a subsidiary of the DuPont chemical company.
Unfortunately, when the property served as an ammunition plant, environmental regulation wasn’t what it is today, and a lot of unexploded ordnance was dumped there. Remington Woods has been undergoing an environmental cleanup helmed by DuPont for many years because of this, and this cleanup is expected to be completed in 2020. We anticipate a debate over what to do with this natural space will begin in earnest.
Once cleaned up, the forest could serve as an oasis not just for wildlife, but for the local community as well. Maintaining the land in its natural state would continue to have benefits that would pay dividends to the city in perpetuity. A forest provides real quantifiable benefits to those that live near it, or enjoy time in it. It cleans water and air. Did you know that asthma rates are lower around wooded lands? Or that current science indicates that New England woodlands serve to cool the air, calm winds, provide protection from floods and land erosion, provide oxygen, sequester carbon, and reduce global warming? Are you aware that there is also a small but growing body of evidence that indicates that mental health is tied to increased biodiversity in natural spaces in urban areas?
Preserving the forest could also have a real effect on the wallets of Bridgeport residents as well as the city coffers themselves. Natural spaces like Remington Woods can increase property values and lower electrical rates, not to mention the tourism dollars it could bring in. Bridgeport’s official nickname is “Park City”, due to the many public parks it has. Those parks are the lifeblood of the city - they tie the community together and bring visitors into the city to spend money.
The problem though is that DuPont and some city officials have different ideas for the forest. DuPont wants to develop the space for a business park. Such an undertaking may require the construction of a new highway from I-95 north to the site. Building this new throughway would cost state taxpayers huge amounts of money, and it would take many years to finish.
Not only that, but there simply isn’t a demand in Bridgeport for new business space. Currently, the city is riddled with abandoned commercial space, and building new development when already existing ones are readily available yet vacant makes little sense.
Which leads us to what you can do to help the situation. The answer, for now, is a simple one.
Sign our petition. We are circulating a petition that we intend to submit to the Bridgeport Planning & Zoning Commission, Stratford Zoning Commission, Bridgeport Office of Planning & Economic Development, Bridgeport Department of Land Use Construction Review, Bridgeport Department of Health, Stratford Department of Health, and Stratford Inland Wetland Commission. We need to let the city know that the people want green space and the benefits a forest will bring. We do not want more urban sprawl.
The other thing you can do is share this story and the petition with everyone you know. Most people, even those who live and work right next to the forest, don’t realize it’s there. In fact we really need to amplify the voices of the Bridgeport community and start talking with the local community leaders there. We need to raise awareness of the issue so that when the time comes, we have too many voices for officials to ignore, all advocating for preservation.
Our objective is to preserve Remington Woods in its entirety, as a living community of plants and animals which provides many needed benefits to the larger urban community. Remington Woods can be preserved and conserved in perpetuity as a living forest, an oasis for wildlife and humans alike, with walking trails and protected habitat.
Richard Wrigley is a Sierra Club member.