Open space manager starts job this week

The city has named resident Steve Johnson as open space manager to monitor the city’s undeveloped land.

He is scheduled to start his post Jan. 7.

Earlier this year, the Board of Aldermen voted to use the Open Space Fund Account funded by builders and developers to hire a manager to help preserve and maintain Milford’s 2,500 acres of open space.

A selection committee formed, made up of representatives from the Open Space Committee, Conservation Commission and Milford public schools, looking for applicants with the ability to assess Milford’s open space inventory and develop plans for the acquisition, maintenance and preservation of the city’s resources.

Local environmentalists came out strongly in support of the new city position.

“As concerned citizens of Milford, we strongly support the proposal for the city to hire an open space agent, who will create and execute a plan to fully restore Milford’s passive open spaces, such as Eisenhower Park and Mondo Ponds,” William Poutray, conservation commissioner, and Letitia Malone, open space adviser, said in a letter supporting the post.

Malone and Poutray said the individual will develop an overall prioritized plan to restore woodlands, wetlands, trails, and wildlife habitats in an environmentally sound and sustainable manner.

“More importantly,” they added, “the agent will locate and coordinate available resources to accomplish the plan, seeking free assistance from the State of Connecticut Foresters, Yale and UConn’s forestry programs, the Southwest Conservation District, students, scouts, civic groups, and open space neighbors.”

Advocates for creating the job have argued that open spaces in Eisenhower Park, the Solomon property and other city-owned parcels have deteriorated because of erosion, invasive plants, vandalism, ATV abuse, and regular use. They believe having an open space manager will help prevent some of the abuse.

The Planning and Zoning Board voted to spend $45,000 from its Open Space Funds account “for the purpose of retaining the service of an open space and natural resource agent to maintain, preserve, and monitor usage of the city’s open space.”

Mayor Ben Blake said the money is intended as a one-time use of the open space funds, as he hopes the position will become self-supporting. The intent is for the open space agent to apply for grant funds that would continue to pay for the position.

Environmentalist Barbara Milton and others came out strongly in support of Johnson to fill the new post.

“I met him over 20 years ago when he became a member of the Environmental Concerns Coalition and was an incredibly active volunteer, going door-to-door on a composting campaign, and even keeping track of responses, which made me aware of his gift for communication and record keeping,” Milton said.

“We lost him for a while as he set out to raise and support a wonderful family until I ran into him at Xpect and lured him back into the fold,” she continued. “And what he’s been able to accomplish in the 15 months is phenomenal.”

She said the most impressive thing Johnson did was work to eliminate the ATV traffic in the Solomon property, while establishing a network of support for the effort among state and city agencies.

“And then there’s the beach cleanups after Hurricane Sandy, the trail maintenance, including removing large fallen trees, the map making, and all the environmental workshops he’s attended to educate himself to do the best possible job,” Milton said. “I’m quite sure the work he’s doing will become a model for other communities in Connecticut.”

The Southwest Conservation District recently honored Johnson at its 66th Annual Awards Meeting for his outstanding work in conservation and related fields.

Johnson received the Natural Resource Conservationist Award for initiating a program to monitor and protect isolated vernal pools in Milford. The preservation program focused on erosion control and providing animal habitat with brush piles.