By Mary Heffernon
I would like very much to present the other side to the story of some of the mountain bikers in Tyler Mill, in hopes that some understanding of what has really been happening in the Preserve can be achieved.
Wallingford has been extremely lucky over the years to have hard-working members on the Conservation Commission. Tyler Mill is not their only concern. There are several open space properties in town which the commission has looked after for decades. This includes quarterly checks on each property to see that trash is removed, that neighbors are not depositing yard waste, that hanging and fallen trees are removed so as not to be a danger, trails that are overgrown are cut back, and the properties are checked for anything of an illegal or dangerous nature being done by those who use them. This takes a tremendous amount of time and hard physical labor. The Department of Parks and Recreation may be the overseers of these parks, but its staff is not out there doing the hard physical labor, and members are not always aware of the environmental issues which need to be taken into account.
The commission spent two years working with foresters Ferrucci & Walicki to create beautiful trails that would not overburden the natural habitats of Tyler Mill. We made certain that they represented all levels of hiking ability and showcased a variety of habitats. This was time consuming, a labor of love, and given much very careful thought.
Tyler Mill is the town’s largest open space property. Tyler Mill has a group of stewards regularly checking on the park, as well as commission members. In 2003, working with the mayor and the town risk manager, the commission wrote up a chain saw usage policy, because it was clear that Public Works was not going to be cleaning up tree dangers following storms because they had other work to do. Many of the commissioners and stewards spent two full days attending chain saw training with a certified trainer so that we could be certified and form work crews to do the necessary work to keep these properties safe while doing it safely. Regulations were agreed to in writing by which the commissioners and stewards must abide.
No untrained, self-appointed people are allowed to do such work in the park for fear the town would be liable for any injuries that might occur.
Three of these mountain bikers have been fortunate enough to buy property that is near or abuts Tyler Mill, and a fourth has fallen in with them. They seem to feel that this entitles them to use all of Tyler Mill as extensions to their own property. Most of the things they have been doing on town property are against the town’s posted regulations. No trail blazing. Stray on blazed trails. Park closes at sunset. And, from the chain saw policy agreed to by commissioners, the mayor, and the risk manager, a Wallingford conservation commissioner will be in attendance when any chainsaw work is taking place. The mountain bikers who ignore these policies and posted regulations on this property are destroying it. They are riding through the vernal pools used by amphibians to reproduce and they are destroying patches of delicate and beautiful wildflowers which will be lost to Tyler Mill forever because they have no understanding of environmental concerns. They are also endangering themselves and others by ignoring the town’s regulations.
Dianne Saunders should not have to defend herself against the accusations of these mountain bikers. She has spent hours cleaning up trash, rescuing animals and being an ambassador for nature and Tyler Mill. She has spent more hours working with Scout groups, and students from Choate Rosemary Hall, Quinnipiac University and the University of Connecticut. She showed up for every work party commissioners were involved in during my nearly two decades as chair of this commission. She has been discredited by numerous posts on Facebook by these bikers, who apparently live by the Trump theory that when you disagree with someone you start calling them names and it will justify whatever you do. And, Dianne has never had a band of vigilantes who harass people.
I lived in Wallingford for 50 years before moving to Mount Desert Island, home of Acadia National Park. I gave a lifetime of volunteer service to Wallingford in many different areas. As these four men began and continued to make the Conservation Commission’s life a nightmare, we could not get help from the town departments that should have intervened. I gave up my home and lifelong friends to move to a place of unparalleled beauty which is respected by those who live here. The sort of behavior these bikers have been engaged in for years would NEVER be tolerated here, and those who work for the Town of Wallingford and regulate what happens within its boundaries should stop winking at each other and looking the other way before Tyler Mill reverts to its long ago history of being an out of control boys’ playground.
Mary Heffernon served on the Wallingford Conservation Commission for more than 20 years, and was chair of the commission for many of those years. She also served on the board of the Wallingford Land Trust.