Wilton residents discuss Wilson Lake retaining wall

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Town officials visit the foot of Wilson Lake in 2014.

WILTON – On Wednesday evening, the town of Wilton held a meeting at the Public Safety building on Maine Street as well as virtually over Zoom to discuss the upcoming project for Wilson Lake.

The goal of the meeting was “to gather input from people on ideas for the replacement of the older part of the wall at the foot of Wilson Lake, and any improvements to the parking area, walkway, green-space area, boating launch and suggestions for Bass Park,” according to Wilton Town Manager, Rhonda Irish. Since construction on the project is not slated to begin until 2022, Sevee and Mahar Engineers, the company heading the project for the town of Wilton, is taking this time to develop a cohesive plan based on community feedback.

Jeff Read, of Sevee and Mahar, and Jessica Kimball, a landscaper working directly with the engineering company, led the presentation. Three concepts were proposed for the public’s consideration. All three involve some construction, new landscaping, and the elimination of 2 or 3 parking spots. The pair, along with the town of Wilton, presented the plans to the Select board in the spring and received positive responses, but were looking for feedback from community members to “consolidate the plans into a single design concept,” said Read.

“Our goal is to create a more defined, safe pedestrian space. We want everyone to be able to enjoy this lake,” said Read. “Increasing and enhancing the visibility,” is the top priority no matter the concept decided on.

The first concept most closely resembled what is already in place at Wilson Lake. A retaining wall structure would be maintained, allowing people to view the lake from the closest point to the water. Concept 2 involved the addition of a cantilever boardwalk, angled parking and an overlook on the side of the lake with amphitheater seating. The cantilever boardwalk, as opposed to an extended boardwalk into the water, would eliminate some of the permits needed to build out into the water.

“There are real impacts, depending on which option you choose,” said Read.

The committee will be taking into account the possible effects on the biodiversity of the area, no matter the concept chosen. Both concept 1 and 2 involve a “hard edge” up to the water as well as a reinforced wall, creating a defined space for people to walk and enjoy the lake. For both of these concepts, the obstacle in addressing the parking is a power line that would ideally be taken underground, removing a view obstruction and allowing the construction team to move the walking path for viewers closer to the water.

Concept 3 also includes an expanded, paved overlook, the amphitheater seating and the cantilever boardwalk, but differs from the first two in that it embraces the “concept of a living shoreline,” between the walkway and the waterfront, in Kimball’s words. It’s believed that this will help to “capitalize on the dramatic view of the lake.” This plan involves the most landscaping, planting vegetation along the shoreline to create a softer border between the lake viewers and the water level.

Once the concepts were presented, the floor was opened to questions from those in attendance. One community member was interested in hearing which of the three plans would be easiest for the town to maintain. Plan 3, with the living shoreline is “typically a lower maintenance option,” said Read. One of the largest concerns was keeping the renovations natural. The concrete retaining wall there currently detracts from some of the natural beauty of the lake, and attending community members hoped that, regardless of the final design plan, some of that natural aesthetic will be reinstated. Read and Kimball agreed that this was a priority in the end design.

The cost for the project remains undetermined. “We can’t pull together an estimate until we define the scope more closely,” said Read. “The scope and funding was initially just for the wall,” but they are actively looking for additional funding in the form of grants so that they can include more of the facets the community deems a priority.

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