Friday, December 10, 2004

Suburban Sprawl, Cultural Landscapes

There are parts of the Sound’s watershed in Connecticut that are so hideously ugly that it’s hard to imagine how the state got a reputation for being bucolic and "New England-y" (which in any case is a tourist-bureau myth, given the state's industrial history). These places are the epitome of the “there is no there there” nature of sprawl-type strip development. Route 7 north of Danbury. Someplace near New Britain where I got off the interstate to get gas and was pulled over by a cop for running a red light (I did in fact run the red light but he let me off the hook). East of New Haven along I-95 and somewhere else in the eastern part of New Haven along a state highway. Route 1 in most of Fairfield County. These places were so awful that I didn't bother to note what town or city I was actually in because it didn’t matter.

And yet somehow beautiful places survive. The New London Day reports on a “cultural landscape study” of the Eightmile River watershed just east of the Connecticut River. The cultural landscape study is part of a larger projectcalled the Eightmile River Wild & Scenic Study. A Day reporter named Patricia Daddona writes:

“The Eightmile River watershed has more general stores and rural businesses than convenience stores, more forest cover than 60 years ago, and a virtually intact colonial road system tying it all together.

“Those are the findings of a cultural landscape study authorized by Congress three years ago that makes the 62-square-mile, unspoiled watershed an ‘outstanding’ ecosystem and a cultural resource that may be worthy of federal ‘wild and scenic’ designation. The designation would permit long-term protection and management of natural resources here.”

The Eightmile River Wild & Scenic Study website says this:

“Cultural landscapes are special places created by human interaction with the environment. They are comprised of the cultural and natural resources associated with historic events, activities, or persons, and serve to both define the current character of a community and reflect its past.

”Quantifiable features of a cultural landscape include structures such as houses, churches, and public buildings as well as cemeteries, stone walls, views and vistas, vegetation and topography, and the distribution of transportation systems and land uses. Also considered is the spatial organization of features across the landscape, for example the location of
hamlets such as the Eightmile's Millington Green or Hamburg.”

Who knows why this little watershed near the mouth of the Connecticut has avoided the plague of suburban sprawl? There must be other places in the lower part of the Sound's watershed that have been similarly spared but it's hard to think of too many. Perhaps the west branch of the Farmington River in Connecticut qualifies. It's the only river in the area that has the formal "Wild & Scenic" designation that the Eightmile River advocates are seeking.

I haven't spent much time in the Eightmile River watershed. But my guess is that, as the Michelin people say, it merits a detour.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You should check out Sleeping Giant State Park in Hamden. It's one of the most beautiful places to hike in Connecticut--and it makes all the bad feelings about Route 1 go away...

9:08 AM  

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