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As a Newtown resident, I’ve been riding horses down dirt roads for decades. This pleasurable act defines my sense of community. I used to ride out on the dirt road behind my house, with sprawling views of Rock Ridge Country Club as I headed toward Huntington State Park via the previously unpaved Jangling Plains Road. Trotting along a country road, taking in the scenic views, adoring the stone walls lining the roads, makes one feel lost in a previous century. I remember the sunny day I rode my horse toward Jangling Plains, anticipating the moment I could walk off Flat Swamp Road’s black pavement and pick up a bold trot, easing into a slow canter along the packed dirt, perfect footing for horseback riding. But this day back in the late 1990s I came to a screeching halt. There before me was a long ribbon of hot asphalt cooling to cover the earth forever. The town had paved the road. Another riding lane vanished before my eyes.
The loss of that section of dirt road began to repeat itself many times over the years. Places I could once count on to have a nice horse ride were gone in favor of paved roads. Some blocking access to parks and easements. Recently, I heard that Beaver Dam Road was slated for paving, a road I once galloped during many NBLA hunter paces, now held hostage in a zoning application.
There are more than 50 unpaved roads in town. The news of Beaver Dam Road prompted me to take a drive this past Sunday to visit the likes of Point O’ Rocks, Deep Brook Road, Ox Hill Road, Old Mill Road, Stone Bridge Trail, and many others still contributing to our rural character. I traveled slowly down Sanford Road, designated a town scenic road, which borders the Upper Paugussett State Forest taking in the deep woods so quiet in winter. I drove down the other scenic road, Zoar Road, with its bucolic landscape and old barns amid orchards and livestock. On this day, a snowy field held horses and hay piles which captured the scene along the road. I wondered what was needed to deem a road scenic, so I investigated the town code for answers.
The last road I drove down was Beaver Dam Road, a strange and beautiful amalgam of dirt and paved sections, like a striped line etched in dirt and tarmac between bogs and ponds, fields and forests. At the beginning of the road, at the iconic Cherry Grove Farm, one looks down a lane that for centuries carried cattle and carriages toward Brushy Hill Road.
This proposed paved section would start at the old farm house and continue past the beautiful vistas of the cedar forests and hay fields and continue through a narrow, winding section with old trees and stone walls surrounded by water on both sides.
There is a movement in town to pave all roads to reduce annual maintenance costs and increase the speed of emergency response vehicles in the name of public safety.
According to the Town Code Chapter 185, “The scenic and rural roads of the Town of Newtown are irreplaceable resources. The natural landscape and visual quality of a community provide it with a sense of pride and individuality, setting it apart from other places. The protection and preservation of these resources is of immeasurable benefit to the people of the Town of Newtown. It is the purpose of this chapter to provide a balance between the need to provide safe and convenient public transportation as well as other public safety needs along with preserving the scenic and rural values.”
Let’s see how Beaver Dam Road holds up to the scenic road designation criteria. Here’s my take on the balance between public safety and preserving scenic and rural values. According to the code, “A road must be free of intensive commercial development or an area with intensive vehicular traffic.” Check, none of the above apply. It also must meet at least one of the next six criteria. First, the road is unpaved. Second. The road is bordered by mature trees and stone walls. Third. The road is no more than 20 feet in width. Fourth. The road offers scenic views. Fifth. The road blends naturally into its surrounding terrain. Sixth. The road parallels or crosses lakes, ponds, rivers, or streams. I believe Beaver Dam Road meets at least five of these six criteria. I’m not sure if the road is wider than 20 feet in all areas still unpaved.
The code goes on to list other criteria to consider such as the length of the dirt road, at least 30 percent of the entire road and if the road fronts areas designated as parks, forests, or conservation areas and/or farmland. The majority of the unpaved Beaver Dam Road will abut the newly created Newtown Forest Association Cherry Grove Farm Preserve.
Way before any scenic designation can occur Beaver Dam Road must not be paved. If you believe those newly preserved Cherry Grove Farm vistas include a lovely dirt road suitable for horseback riding, then make your voice heard. Contact the town’s planning and zoning commission in favor of approving the Cherry Grove Farm subdivision application without the requirement to pave Beaver Dam Road (as of press time, a public hearing was scheduled for Thursday, March 15 at 7:30 pm at Town Hall). Town residents and lovers of open space have spoken with donations of hundreds of thousands of dollars to secure that section of land, as is, not with a newly paved road that cuts into the earth like a gash against preservation.