Gunntown park a work in progress

The Parks and Recreation department finished the Gunntown Passive Park and Land Preserve parking lot last month. - Photo by LARAINE WESCHLER

NAUGATUCK –After 15 years of planning, Gunntown Passive Park and Land Preserve is open for business.

The Parks and Recreation Department, in collaboration with various community organizations, hopes to host a full schedule of activities at the 40-acre park off of Gunntown Road.

The Parks Department is working with the Army Corps of Engineers to start a winter animal print tracking program for early February, according to Kim Eyre, who is coordinating the programs for the department.

Some ideas include art programs, tai chi, tree identification, science and nature programs, history programs, ecology programs, star gazing, bird watching, Native American programs, story telling, and performances.

“The list is endless,” Eyre said.

Eyre said many organizations have already stepped forward with program ideas.

“There are a lot of people out there willing to give their time to projects,” she said.

Eyre said there are a lot of opportunities for scouts looking to earn badges or complete Eagle Scout or Silver and Gold projects to help out in the new park by building and maintaining trails, getting rid of invasive species, or building informational signs.

“It’s going to be very, very fun,” said Eyre.

She said the Parks and Recreation Department will be sending out a survey to the schools to determine what programs would be appropriate.

“We’re hoping to get an idea of what the teachers in town want and then take it from there,” Eyre said.

She hoped the Naugatuck Historical Society might want to offer talks about the history of Chauncey Judd, who was kidnapped by English Tories during the Revolutionary war and brought to a house adjacent to Gunntown Park.

The park and its environs, including the Gunntown cemetery, which dates back to 1790, offer a lot of history Public Works Superintendent Bob Roland said.

“If we can tie in a lot of [the historical] theme with the park, we’ll have a home run,” Roland said. “It’s a natural fit.”

Gunntown Park is finally becoming a reality, after about 15 years of planning and controversy over whether the park should be active or passive.

The plan for the park, approved by the Board of Mayor and Burgesses in April, calls for passive developments, including a small, gravel parking lot, a storytelling area with stone seating, and a system of walking trails.

One-third of a large meadow will be mowed by the Parks Department for low-impact recreational activities. The remaining portion of the meadow will be split, with one half remaining preserved for wildlife, and the other part will become a butterfly garden.

A second, smaller meadow will remain untouched, with a trail circling it, according to Pat Wagner, chair of the Parks and Recreation Commission.

The park will include four different ecosystems; wetland, meadow, woodland and brook.

A deed restriction ensures the park cannot be repurposed for the next 10 years, according to Wagner.

The park will give residents a chance to observe wildlife, including coyotes, deer, and bobcats, Wagner said. Visitors can also walk the trails, fly kites, go for a picnic, and just enjoy the outdoors.

“There are so many possibilities,” Eyre said.

The park will continue to be a work in progress as new programs develop, Wagner said.

“Come spring, we’re just going to have at it,” he said.

Wagner said there is very little open space left in Naugatuck.

“That’s why having this piece in Gunntown is so important,” he said.