BEACON FALLS — The steward of Toby’s Pond has issued a “desperate call for assistance” to maintain the town-owned pond and area around downtown streetscape.
A dwindling number of volunteers and a staff shortage in the street department have led to those areas of town becoming overgrown, Richard Minnick, Toby’s Pond steward, said. He’s searching for more volunteers to help in the effort.
“Basically, what it is, is down at Toby’s Pond and along the streetscape is where it became very visible that we’re not getting the job done, volunteers and the street department,” Minnick said.
Minnick said when the streetscape, which runs from the Depot Street Bridge south to the intersection of Route 42 and South Main Street, was first completed two years ago the town had a large turnout of volunteers to help beautify it.
“When we first took this over, when it was first completed, the fire department and other volunteers started from [the bridge] down. You could not see the river it was so grown over down here,” Minnick said.
Since the majority of the work along the streetscape was done at that time, Minnick said, the main thing that needs to be done now is the upkeep.
Minnick said he and the town usually spray to keep invasive plants in control. The spraying needs to be done at least three times a year, but has not been done that often, he said.
According to Minnick one of the reasons some of the work is not being done as often as it should is that the town has not hired a replacement for a street department employee who retired two fiscal years ago.
The town used to hire part-time seasonal help when the department was fully staffed. Seasonal help can’t be hired without filling the full-time, union position first.
“There is fear the union will say something if we bring in some outside part-time hires,” Minnick said.
First Selectman Christopher Bielik said the town is working with the union to see if there is a way to hire seasonal help.
“I’m working with the town’s labor attorney to see if there is a way of us obtaining seasonal help without stepping over the line of the union and their issues with non-union people doing union work. We’re sensitive to that. We’re trying to find a way through the contractual system to make it happen,” Bielik said.
Aside from the staff shortage, the number of volunteers has also dropped.
Minnick said the amount of volunteers has fallen from more than 20 on any given day a few years ago to only a few constant ones now. He is concerned that the volunteers continue to drop off since the town’s street department is not able to put as much time into the maintenance of the parks as it did previously.
The effects of the lack of attention can be seen at the entrance of Toby’s Pond.
During a recent visit to Toby’s Pond, Minnick pointed out a field between the Naugatuck River and the pond that was overgrown with brush and vines.
“This here is part of the spillway. The way this whole thing is designed, when the river’s water flow gets to a certain height, rather than having it channel along Old Turnpike Road, it’s supposed to come in here and flood this area,” Minnick said.
After flooding the field the water is supposed to run into Toby’s Pond, which ultimately drains back into the Naugatuck River.
“This area is supposed to be maintained to keep the brush off it,” Minnick said.
Minnick says the area can be kept neat by spraying herbicide. However, spraying uses heavy equipment and is a two-man job.
“I do still use the sprayer from the town garage but it’s not something I wanted to invite every volunteer to come and help me with. You’ve got to use a little bit of caution,” Minnick said. “I want somebody around with me that knows what they’re doing so we can kind of use each other’s heads for check and balance.”
Minnick pointed out how the rocks that create the spillway on both sides of the pond were also overgrown, which could diminish their effectiveness.
“If you’re clearing it once or twice a year, that’s nothing to go down there with a weed whacker and do it. You don’t need heavy equipment. But this is a full year’s growth so right now you’d have to use a little heavier machine or you’re going to use up a lot of string on the heavy-duty string trimmer,” Minnick said.
It is not just Minnick who has noticed a change in the pond’s maintenance over the years.
Beacon Falls resident Ray Binkowski, who was walking his dog along the pond, is happy to see the work that has gone into the area over the years.
“Rich and the volunteers, they do a great job,” Binkowski said.
Binkowski said he noticed within the last month it is more difficult to get to the far side of the pond.
“It just grew in so fast. That’s why you need more volunteers,” Binkowski said.
While the volunteers are down from what they had been a few years ago and there is no seasonal help, one of the bright spots Minnick sees it that the people who use Toby’s Pond are very good at keeping the area clean.
“Look at all the trash here,” Minnick said, laughing and hopping out of his truck to pick up a solitary soda can caught in the weeds.
The can was the only piece of trash Minnick found between the entrance of the park and the back gate.