Mianus River Park
The Mianus River Park is a beautiful 400-acre recreational treasure in Stamford, Connecticut. The rolling Mianus River threads through the middle of the park; full of wildlife, dense forest, and colonial-era stone walls. In this highly developed area of Connecticut, the Mianus River Park has become a pedestrian refuge and overuse has caused significant damage. Because of increasing ecological strain and degradation of the park, the City of Stamford, in tandem with Trout Unlimited, turned to One Nature for an Ecological Master Plan (conducted in 2012) to restore the environmental health of this valuable natural preserve. After a year of analysis, One Nature designed a long-term Ecological Master Plan that integrates human use of the park with regenerative and sustainable ecological practices.
The popularity of the Mianus River Park has surged over the last decade. With land being used for hiking, fishing, dog walking and mountain biking, heavy visitation has caused soil compaction, eroded shorelines, and damaged hiking trails. One Nature determined there were many redundant and unofficial trails created by hikers and bikers, and that the excessive amount of trail in the lower section of the park could not sustain healthy ecosystems. It was therefore recommended that 50 percent of existing trails be shut down for full restoration of native habitats. In wet areas, especially along river trails, One Nature proposed elevated walkways to protect plant life and reduce erosion.
The Mianus River Park forests are almost entirely deciduous, comprised of trees that fall within the same age range and a limited number of species. Over time, this has created a homogeneous environment in which trees form a dense, single canopy that blocks sunlight and hinders soil regeneration. An ecologically healthy forest needs a mid-level canopy to successfully support native plants and animals. Human and dog traffic, and deer grazing have also added to the severe degradation of forested areas resulting in a lack of plant regeneration. One Nature recommended both tree thinning and new plantings to break up the upper canopy and diversify species, as well as soil regeneration to restore the forests. Native plants are the best solution for creating habitats that help native wildlife thrive. Plants should also be selected based on soil type, shade, and available moisture. One Nature strongly recommended using fences in highly vulnerable areas and around new plantings since the park is so heavily used. Some of the fences, which should be natural in color, may be removed once restoration has firmly taken hold. Those around entryways and along the main trail should remain in place to protect the landscape in the most highly trafficked areas.
The Mianus River is central to the park’s popularity. It serves as both a recreational fishery and a source of municipal water. Explosive visitation growth to the park and its river, especially for fly fishing, has taken a heavy toll on the river’s banks. Erosion along the shoreline has caused deep sections of the river to fill with sediment from the riverbanks. Important ground-level plant life is also absent because of excessive foot traffic. Shoreline stabilization is vital to restoring the riverbanks and will stop the rapid erosion and buildup of sediment in the river channel. In the Mianus River Park Ecological Master Plan, One Nature recommended putting in place a combination of the following river stabilization tools and systems: weirs, j-hooks, conifer revetment, large stones and boulders, bioengineering, fringe wetland, and flood banks. A robust native plant community along the banks would provide important food sources to aquatic species, moderate temperature, and reduce erosion during floods. The river’s edge should be replanted, protected from foot traffic, and visitor access points should be formally established to restore shorelines, which ultimately restores the river and ecosystem as a whole.