About Us - Norwalk River Watershed Association

NRWA Mission and NRWA Board Bios

NRWA Mission

The Norwalk River Watershed Association, incorporated in 1996, is a nonprofit membership organization whose mission is to improve the water quality and fish and wildlife habitats of the 40,000-acre Norwalk River watershed; to restore the riverbanks, meadows and forests through invasive plant abatement and promotion of native species; to encourage recreational use of the river, the surrounding open space and its trails; and to promote research, legislative advocacy, education, cooperation, and action on the part of the stakeholders in the seven watershed towns in CT (Ridgefield, Redding, Wilton, New Canaan, Weston, and Norwalk) and NY (Lewisboro).

We are working to help implement the Norwalk River Watershed Action Plan. 

To view the NRWA Newsletter, click here.

NRWA 2020 Annual Report

 

 Film of the Norwalk River

Get to know the Norwalk River in this wonderful short film by Jamie Petit, an NRWA volunteer from Wilton. 

Aerial footage recorded by James Bartley from a small airplane he rented in order to capture our river for this film. 

Project Updates 

  • Partnering with Land Trusts and Municipalities to Plant Trees and Shrubs. In Redding, New Canaan, Lewisboro, Ridgefield, Wilton, and Norwalk (and Darien next door) we helped plant native trees and shrubs along hiking trails and in parks and open space—Weston is set to join that list in 2022. We planted 9 acres of vegetated buffer along rivers, streams, and wetlands this year and are poised to maintain those areas and increase total acreage in 2022.
  • Hosting River & Harbor Cleanups. In April and September 2022, we plan to keep the focus on cleaning up the bend in the river along the Harbor Loop trail in Norwalk. Last year we pulled out 6320 pounds of trash from that spot. 
  • Fighting the impacts of development, dams and dewatering that are threatening Comstock Brook in Wilton. Help us continue the fight to protect Comstock Brook, another Norwalk River tributary and one of the last best places for native brook trout in our watershed. We’re waging this battle through action and education. We invite you to learn more by viewing our on-going Comstock Brook webinar series at norwalkriver.org. You can also help by conserving water, avoiding lawn pesticides, and spreading the word to your friends and neighbors.  
  • Building the Pollinator Pathway. NRWA helped create the Pollinator Pathway in 2017 in Wilton and has served as its fiscal sponsor since. We are proud to announce that it now connects 287 towns and is becoming an independent nonprofit! The simple message: plant natives, avoid pesticides, and rethink your lawn is really working. It gives people a way to manage their yards to protect water quality and provide safe habitat for birds, pollinators, and people.
  • Restoring Meadows & Collecting Pollinator Data. Your support has helped restore these meadows:
    •     McKeon Farm in Ridgefield (a wet meadow and a dry one) where a 3-year pollinator count will help provide metrics on what pollinator species return after restoration work. This data will help establish best practices for restoring insect biodiversity. 
    •    Allen’s Meadow in Wilton (behind the community gardens) which is listed as a birding hotspot by the Audubon Society. The new meadow will take the place of a former refuse mound! Join us for spring and fall bird walks there.
    •    Along the Norwalk River Valley Trail (NRVT) (at Sharp Hill in Wilton, at Oyster Shell Park, Woodward Ave Park, and the Deering & Kellogg ponds in Norwalk). As new sections of trail go in, land is disturbed—much of it along the Norwalk River or tributaries. NRWA helps to plant these areas before the invasives take root AND to restore older sections, like the parking area at Sharp Hill in Wilton where we are also collecting data on returning pollinators.
  • On-going Tree Canopy Restoration & Native Garden Planting at Oyster Shell Park in Norwalk. An amazing team of dedicated volunteers meets every Wednesday and Saturday to restore the park’s gardens and riverbank by removing invasive species, planting native trees, shrubs and perennials.  The group has created the new Friends of Oyster Shell Park to support this work. 
  • Ongoing restoration at Woodward Avenue Park in South Norwalk.  Partnering with the city of Norwalk and through grants from FactSet, REI, the Nature Conservancy’s Community Resilience Building program, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, NRWA has put in over 30 trees and is restoring a wetland area overrun with Australian phragmites to it native spartina grasses and shrubs, like groundsel and high tide bush.  Come take a look!
  • Partnering with Libraries for Virtual Webinars. Please check out our recorded webinars with partners at the Norwalk Public Library, the Wilton Library, and the Ridgefield Library. These webinars are on-going!
  • Challenging construction of “five football fields of berms and walls” along the Grupes Reservoir on the Silvermine River in New Canaan. After learning that the First Taxing District Water Department of Norwalk had failed to consider the environmental impacts of proposed dam- related construction at one of the most scenic and ecologically rich areas in New Canaan, we teamed up with the New Canaan Land Trust (NCLT) to become interveners in the hearing process. We hired dam engineering, wetland science, botany, and environmental law experts to study the potential impacts of the proposed plans. These experts presented their findings and our concerns to CT DEEP. The NRWA and NCLT incurred over $40,000 in legal and expert consultant fees in our fight to protect the Grupes Reservoir and the adjacent Browne Wildlife Sanctuary. Unfortunately we lost this fight, but we will continue to work to protect riparian buffers and wetlands in the watershed. 

NRWA Board Members

Sarah Breznan, Secretary, grew up in New Canaan and now lives in Norwalk. She joined NRWA after volunteering and getting involved in the restoration of Oyster Shell Park. She is the Director of Education at the Woodcock Nature Center in Wilton, CT where she oversees and teaches field trips, summer camp, afterschool, and family programs. Before joining the Nature Center 11 years ago, Sarah was active in many research and volunteer programs. She studied the invasive Asian shore crab along LIS, volunteered in Croatia helping to reintroduce the endangered Eurasion Griffon vulture along the Adriatic Sea, and volunteered on the northern coast of Scotland researching bottlenose dolphins. She graduated from SUNY Purchase with a BA in Environmental Science.

Elizabeth Craig is a longtime member of NRWA  who joined after volunteering with the Norwalk River Study program at Cider Mill School.  A master gardener and arborist, she works on the Wilton Pollinator Pathway, Northeast Pollinator Pathway steering committee and co-chairs the Wilton Garden Club Conservation Committee. Liz served on the Wilton Inland Wetlands Commission for 10 years, recently as chair. ‘What makes living in Wilton great is the open space, all the greenery. The Norwalk River is a gem with kingfishers flying along it near Merwin Meadows Park in Wilton. The River and the watershed that supports it is well worth preserving and protecting,’ says Liz. An outdoor enthusiast, she enjoys running or walking the dog along Wilton trails, swimming and kayaking in the Sound. Before moving to Wilton, Liz worked as a reference librarian for Merrill Lynch in NYC.

Richard “Rick” Dineen grew up in Stamford and now lives in Wilton.  Even though he has an engineering degree and works in IT security, he loves gardening, a trait he inherited from his mother.  He works on several projects on the NRVT, Oyster Shell Park, Pollinator Pathway and Woodward Ave Park.  He is also part of Wilton’s Our Lady of Fatima garden Growing for Good which grows and distributes vegetables for people in need.

David Havens, Vice President, has been a lifelong resident of Connecticut, splitting his time between Norwalk, Stamford and New Canaan and serves as the Vice President of NRWA.  After growing up along the Norwalk River, Dave spent six years conducting full-time environmental fieldwork from 1971 to 1977, while also working for the Stamford Museum and Nature Center. Since 1977 Dave has worked as a science teacher for Pre-K students to Graduate Studies. He has been an active voice for environmental issues locally and nationally, working with several organizations such as Greenpeace, Earth First!, Audubon, Green Schools Alliance and NRWA. Along the way Dave earned two BS degrees and three graduate degrees in science as he continued to conduct research on a number of issues: Invasive Species, Open Space, Habitat Destruction, Breeding Bird Census and much more. Over the last few years, he designed and built a raised outdoor classroom and boardwalk through his school’s wetlands, developed a plan to eliminate 14 species of invasive plants that gained a strong foot hold on the property and taken his passion of teaching and environmental work to an international level with the Green Schools Alliance. In 2012, David and his students were selected as state finalist in “Siemens We Can Change the World High School Challenge, sponsored by Siemens Foundation, Discovery Education, the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), and the College Board”, for their efforts to selectively and safely exterminate invasive plants along the Norwalk River.

Luis Estrella lives in Norwalk and works with Keep Norwalk Beautiful.  He is also the founder and director of Cleaner CT Coalition, an organization that partners with NRWA on river cleanups, invasive plant abatement and other projects. Luis is the proud father of twin baby girls. 

Donna Merrill, Treasurer, is also president of the Pollinator Pathway Northeast, former Executive Director and current Trustee of the Wilton Land Conservation Trust and a Trustee of the Aspetuck Land Trust. Donna coordinated the Fairfield County Regional Conservation Partnership at the time of its expansion into the Hudson to Housatonic Regional Conservation Partnership (H2H). She is a graduate of the Wharton School of Finance, holds a Certificate of Landscape Design from the NY Botanical Gardens, and has had formal conservation training from Columbia Business School in Sustainability Practices.

Laurie Mirra teaches yoga and works to restore wildlife habitat and protect water quality in South Norwalk. Laurie moved to the Village Creek neighborhood ten years ago and has been advocating since then for environmental protections in that community, encouraging homeowners to stop using pesticides on lawns, to use nontoxic mosquito/tick treatments, to plant for pollinators, to help her start a tree planting program, and to protect healthy trees.  Much of her energy in the last five years has focused on restoring Woodward Avenue Park in South Norwalk which lost most of its trees during hurricane Sandy. As neighborhood liaison to the city of Norwalk’s Tree Advisory, she has long advocated for restoring the tree canopy in South Norwalk. She helped organize a collaborative effort by NRWA, Village Creek, Recreation and Parks, and the Department of Public Works to remove invasives and plant native shrubs and trees, transforming Woodward Park.  In addition, the park’s new garden is now part of the pollinator pathway. Plans to connect Woodward and Oyster Shell Parks through a corridor of pollinators-friendly trees is one of the NRWA projects she is helping spearhead. As a yogi, Laurie says she lives by the practice of ahimsa or non-harming, which is an important part of an ancient philosophy that includes the practice of compassion for all living things. Ahimsa means not harming the complex web of nature that connects us all, including plants and trees, water and air, and our pollinators. She also is inspired by Doug Tallamy’s ideas around enriching biodiversity and protecting our environment, starting in our very own backyard.

Kristin Quell-Garguilo grew up in Westchester County to a family of tree nurserymen and has always been fascinated with the balance of nature and environmental systems. She has a Master’s of Science in Sustainable Systems, a Bachelors of Science  in Geology and one in Environmental Science, and Certifications in Ecosystems Services, Plant Based Nutrition, and Hazardous Waste Material. She has been teaching as Professor of Energy Systems since 2008. After moving to Ridgefield, she began volunteering for environmental causes in and around the area.  This led her to joining the Board of the Norwalk River Watershed Association where she is excited to combine her scientific expertise and her passion for environmental conservation.  “I enjoy spending time in the outdoors with my husband and two daughters. With my background and understanding of the integral nature of water as a key abiotic factor, I want to help preserve and improve the natural ecosystem of southwestern Connecticut.”

Kitsey Snow has served on the Board for more than a decade and organizes the Ridgefield Pollinator Pathway. She also serves on the Ridgefield Conservation Commission Board  where she helps to oversee the many miles of hiking trails for the RCC.  A resident of Ridgefield for over 25 years, she raised three sons and there, and was an active member of the PTA, serving in several positions.  She is a member of the Board of Directors for the Ridgefield Garden Club and enjoys hiking and kayaking.  She graduated from Wheaton College with a BA in psychology and worked in operations for Bankers Trust Co. in New York for seven years before moving to Connecticut.

Cathy Smith has lived in Wilton since 2002. She and her husband were initially attracted to Wilton and continue to reside there because of the enormous natural and historic beauty of the area. She joined NRWA in 2017 after volunteering to help clear invasives and plant native wildflowers and shrubs along the NRVT. She graduated with an MA from the University of Toronto and worked in advertising and financial services for many years. She now teaches yoga, gardens, and takes frequent hikes and walks in the woods throughout the Norwalk River watershed area.

Louise Washer, president, has lived in the Silvermine area, both in Wilton and Norwalk, for over 25 years and has been a member of the NRWA board since 2010, served as president since 2016, and has helped create, and serves on the steering committee of, the Pollinator Pathway which now connects over 235 towns across the region. Louise also serves on the Norwalk Mayor’s Water Quality Committee and the steering committee for the Hudson to Housatonic Conservation Partnership (H2H). Louise got involved in NRWA after volunteering for the river study program at Cider Mill School in Wilton when her children were students there. She graduated from Smith College and has worked in magazine editing in New York.