File This Under “Shit You Don’t Think About”

My pseudo-celebrity status earned me a VIP tour of the Scalzi Riverwalk Nature Preserve. Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “What the heck is that?” Well, let me tell you, it’s one of the coolest things in Stamford!

Sue Sweeny, the Volunteer Head Steward and Master Gardener, gave me a two-hour tour of this little stretch of land alongside the Rippowam River in Scalzi Park. Two hours. Yes. And let me tell you, I was absolutely fascinated the entire time. We met on the footbridge next to the firehouse on Washington Boulevard. There were a few people there, enjoying the scenery. She informed me that barn swallows lived under the bridge. I wanted to make a joke about bridge swallows, but I didn’t want to make an ass out of myself right away, so I kept my mouth shut.

Scalzi RiverwalkStanding on the bridge it’s easy to see the rewards of the volunteer’s hard work. North of the bridge is the Preserve where Sue and her crew work.  The riverbank south of the bridge doesn’t get this same “hands on” expert care. Even an untrained eye, such as mine, can see the difference. The Preserve’s side is rich with biodiversity. The other side? Not so much.  As we walked down the path, Sue pointed out every plant; most are naturally occurring but they are interspersed with plants grown from seed by Sue’s group at the Bartlett Arboretum and some that were exchanged with the Brooklyn Botanical Garden.

It seems that, all those years ago, when Scalzi Park and Washington Boulevard were first landscaped, the folks really didn’t know what they were doing in terms of native plantings and natural habitat. In simple terms, a tree from Japan may look nice but there ain’t nothing it can offer the wildlife in the way of housing or food.

Sue and her crew have a 15 year plan to whip the area back into shape, and quite a lot has already been done to make life livable for the creatures that call the Rippowam River and its banks home. Turtles, fish, frogs, birds of every size and even a mink call this little plot of land home. And you know what? Quite a few folks passed us on the path, each one of them commenting on the natural beauty. Sue knows most of them. That’s part of her job. Just by being present at the preserve she brings awareness to the work that she does. People see the work first hand and form an appreciation for the result. And when people appreciate and understand what Sue and her crew are trying to do the impact can go far beyond Scalzi Park.

barn swallows -- Scalzi RiverwalkOnce or twice a year Sue’s group offers their excess native plants for sale (watch for announcements on the groups Facebook page). Yes, you can bring native plants into your own yard – providing food, shelter and places to attach pupa babies for all kinds of wildlife. Yes, this is important. You know why? Because in a balanced eco-system everything is in check. Go to Scalzi Riverwalk and get bit by a mosquito. You can’t do it. The mosquito population is kept under control by the dragonflies and the barn swallows…the ones that live under the bridge and aren’t called bridge swallows.


So, like I said, file this under “shit you don’t think about.” And the next time you’re looking to impress a date, or you’re looking for a place to sit and reflect, consider checking out the Scalzi Riverwalk. Dogs are welcome but they have to stay on leash and on the pavement, no swimming allowed. You can park in Scalzi (no sticker needed) or you could even park at Ridgeway or anywhere along Summer Street and enjoy the brief walk there.  Or take the 31 bus or 32 bus. A number of restaurants are within walking distance including Bridge Street Wienery, Little Buddha, Casey’s Tavern, and Nonna’s Brick Oven Pizzeria & Restaurant. And if you see Sue (and you’ll just know through osmosis that it’s Sue- also she’ll be wearing a City Of Stamford Parks Volunteer ID) tell her the Headbanging Hostess sent you, and then get ready for an education.

Turtle -- Scalzi Riverwalk***Special bonus for Alternative Control readers. Although volunteering for the preserve usually involves skills such as knowing what plants you can’t step on, we (unskilled folks) have an opportunity to volunteer this winter. Sue is looking for a few fine folks to volunteer to pick up garbage for about an hour a week. I think it could be a grand old time, and I’ll give every reader who participates an Alternative Control sticker AND a homemade something-or-other from the baked good family. Sound like a plan? E-mail [email protected] if you’re interested.

For more information, check the Scalzi Riverwalk Facebook page and Sue’s blog, Restoring Native CT.