Mill River Park Collaborative: Connecting People and Nature

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Connecting people and nature Annual Report November 2015–2017 2017


Connecting people and nature


Fourteen years ago, a small group of city and civic officials, business people and citizens banded together to create and sustain a world-class park in the heart of Stamford along the Mill River. The ambition was great, the resources few, but the determination was intense. From this, the Mill River Park Collaborative was born to lead the Park’s design, construction and operations and raise private funds. The results are breathtaking. Today, the swampy, polluted Mill River runs clean for the first time in more than 370 years. Acquired land added meadows and lawns dotted with cherry trees, and greenway trails are on the way. Mill River Park has become the center of our community with fairs, races, celebrations and even demonstrations. Children romp at a playground, adults sweat through Zumba and Yoga on Grand Steps and a gleaming pavilion houses an exquisite carousel.

Next year the Park will boast a cascading fountain in summer and an outdoor skating rink in winter. What’s more, we’ve become environmental educators. We realized that Mill River Park could serve as an extraordinary outdoor classroom and laboratory, leading to an elementary school science program and high school summer internship program introducing experiences and opportunities to kids who may never have walked in a park. Your support makes this possible. Since we set out, the Collaborative has raised more than $22 million in private funds. Our mission to further build and maintain the Park and its programs continues. Knowing that you share our belief in creating something important for this generation and those to come makes the journey truly worthwhile. Thank you.

Arthur Selkowitz, Chairman


The beauty of working together In 2010, when I was the Director of Corporate Citizenship & Diversity at GE Asset Management, I met with Arty for lunch and a tour of the Park. It was clear after that tour that this project would have a transformative impact on the physical beauty, accessibility and the overall quality of life of downtown Stamford, and indeed all of Stamford. There are moments in the life of cities, which people look back on and recognize as turning points in their trajectories. I truly believed that our city came to that crossroad when we formed the vision for Mill River Park. Imagine New York City in the early 1850s, when a group of businessmen and public officials finally 4

decided to move forward with the acquisition of 700 acres in Manhattan for the construction of Central Park. Or 1909, when a business and civic group in Chicago called The Commercial Club approved their “Plan for Chicago,” which stipulated that: “First in importance [to the city] is the shore of Lake Michigan. It should be treated as park space to the greatest possible extent.” This plan led to the creation of Grant Park, Lake Shore Drive and a waterfront park system that is almost unparalleled among major cities worldwide. Both instances are examples of executing on a great vision. Mill River Park is another opportunity to execute on a great vision. To the degree that Central Park and Lake Shore Drive contribute to the character of their cities, I believe Mill River Park can have the same impact on Stamford. I am energized every day by the promise of what we will accomplish over the next few years. In 2018, we will open the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Skating

Center & Fountain, we will renovate the Playground at Mill River Park and we will expand the west side of the Park down to Richmond Hill Ave. By 2020, the Park will have a visitor and environmental education center — The Whittingham Discovery Center — and extend north to Scalzi Park. We’re all now on the ground floor of something really great. It is a rare opportunity to be able to conceive and commence a project of this scope that can so profoundly improve a community. I cannot think of a better moment to have joined this team as President & CEO as we chart our path toward this exciting future.

Dudley N. Williams Jr., President & CEO


Sunday morning Sunrise Yoga with Instructor Aimee Elsner


A breath of fresh air: Mill River Park programs If connecting people and nature is the Mill River Park Collaborative motto, then community engagement is the beating heart. Friends, family and even colleagues have their own “why” to meet at our Park. Whatever the reason, we help them create lasting memories. Each year, we welcome more than 15,000 area residents to join us for free or low-cost Park programs. In fact, these fun and fulfilling events serve as a first introduction to Mill River Park for many visitors.

carriage ride in winter, we’ve got them covered no matter the season. Whether gathering for letterboxing, a fitness class or dance party before a sundown movie, our programs are the reason that Mill River Park is Stamford’s go-to outdoor center for nature, excitement and recreation!

Our many positive, safe and engaging activities for the Stamford community are designed to provide numerous opportunities to interact with nature, the Park and each other. Visitors can enjoy summer weekend movies in the Park, Afro Flow yoga and Zumba classes, family Halloween trick-or-treating in the Park and a wide range of child enrichment activities, all free of charge. From attending Spooktacular, our Halloween-themed festival, when fall rolls around, to settling in for a horse-drawn


Young curators: Mill River Park Stewards You’re never too young (or old!) to chip in to maintain and improve Mill River Park. More than just participating in community service and leadership activities, stewards have a hand in how the Park looks and feels to the benefit of all. Among their tasks, stewards and interns actively removed invasive species and cared for entryway gardens. They also headed to Central Park on a private tour, and took field trips to the New York Botanical Garden, Governors Island, for the Billion Oyster Project, the High Line and Brooklyn Bridge Park. In addition to college and career prep seminars, we offered special workshops through partnerships with People’s United Bank and Vineyard Vines.

“Thank you for this internship program. It was a great experience for my son.” ANDREA MCCABE, MICHAEL’S MOTHER 8

“Asli really likes her job and talks about it a lot. She is learning a lot of new things.” KAREN FOSTER, ASLI’S MOTHER

OUR KIDS 2016 15 Stewards & 2 college interns 2017 11 Stewards & 1 college intern

OUR MAJOR PROJECTS 2016 • Meadow restoration and erosion prevention •B uilding garden boxes and cultivating native species • Native plant journal of 80 species 2017 • Collecting data for a comprehensive tree map •M odel United Nations climate summit • Native plant journal of 80 species


Lessons from nature: Mill River Park programs for public school students Who knew learning could be so fun and rewarding? These kids do! Our programs for public school students become a stepping stone for children from all over to form a lasting love and appreciation of nature. 2016 – 2017 Number of students: 552 Participating schools: Hart, Stillmeadow, Roxbury, Davenport, Westover


Plethodon cinereus by Brian Gratwicke -, CC BY 2.0,

Capturing nature: Leaf pack activity highlights In nature, as leaves fall into streams and rivers, they get caught on rocks and other obstructions as they flow with the current. This accumulation of leaves creates vital habitat for aquatic insects and other small critters and are an important food source for fish and wildlife. In the spring, Collaborative staff create leaf packs by filling mesh bags with leaves and placing them in the river at various locations for 3–5 weeks to mimic this natural process. During the final visit to the Park for our 4th grade program participants, we retrieve the leaf packs and students explore the aquatic life that is living in them.

This year, we found: •

red-backed salamander

American eels (so many!)


mayfly and dragonfly larvae


fish eggs




“I have organized volunteering events for many years at Mill River Park and each opportunity has been a wonderfully gratifying experience. The responsibilities assigned to us provide an atmosphere which requires teamwork and an opportunity to spend quality time with our colleagues outside of the office. There is no greater reward than seeing others enjoy the Park and knowing that you had a hand in helping to transform this community gathering place into something so beautiful.� MELISSA A. MENTUCK, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, UBS INVESTMENT BANK 12

Partners with a purpose: Mill River Park’s volunteers Whether working behind the scenes or taking an active role in beautifying the environment, our volunteers are Mill River Park’s greatest natural resource. We couldn’t do what we do without the incredible people and groups giving their time, energy and passion to the Park. 2015–16 2016–17







Groups Aircastle, Boston University Alumni Association, Castleton Commodities, Clearview Capital, EY, Future 5, Half Full Brewery, Indeed, JCC, KPMG, Morgan Stanley, Nestlé, Pepsi, PwC, Stamford High School, Stamford Mentoring Collaborative, Starfish Connection, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Synchrony Financial, The Harvey School, Thomson Reuters, UBS, UConn, United Way, Viacom

Springing to action: Mill River Park individual volunteer program For our experienced and trained volunteer corps, we’ve launched a weekly individual volunteer program. All experienced gardeners, these volunteers have been invaluable to our land care staff in keeping Mill River Park’s gardens and entryways looking their best for all to enjoy. We also have a dedicated crew of special event volunteers supporting large public gatherings including our Horse Carriage Rides, Gala in the Park, Spooktacular and Kite Festival events.


The Brownstein | Selkowitz Carousel Pavilion is the winner of a 2017 Honor Award from the Connecticut chapter of the American Institute of Architects.


The Brownstein | Selkowitz Carousel Pavilion and The David & Marian Nissen Carousel In all great parks, few things transform the panorama like a gorgeous carousel. And the David & Marian Nissen Carousel at Mill River Park is truly a work of art. Hand-carved and painted by master craftsmen from the Ohio-based Carousel Works, half of the carousel’s 30 figures are horses and the rest are animals chosen

by the children of Stamford. Design features such as a handicap-accessible chariot, a “bird’s nest” spinning cup, a custom mosaic of the river on the “drum” and rounding boards that showcase paintings of birds and flowers that reside in the Park give it a uniquely beautiful ambiance.


Round and round: Mill River Park’s carousel The carousel’s story began when Gray Organschi Architecture was awarded the commission to design a threshold between the restored riparian wetland of the Mill River and the surrounding city. The first building to be completed was the Brownstein | Selkowitz Carousel Pavilion, a translucent polycarbonate and engineered timber structure that houses the David and Marian Nissen Carousel. Standing at the Park’s northwest entrance, the pavilion’s deep entry porch offers visitors an incredible view of the carousel. The interior space is lined by a series of canted timber columns whose geometry gives both its architectural character and structural rigidity. Large awning doors open south to views of the Park, the Jaffe Legacy Cherry Tree Grove and the river. As well as housing the carousel, the interior provides space and seating for riders to relax or enjoy organized 16

events and a bite to eat from the Rich Pantry — a small kitchen that doubles as a casual snack bar and a work area for caterers during weddings and parties. Perhaps the most inspiring features are the enormous sculptural cupola and triple dome skylight formed from thirty distinct layers of cross-laminated timber — the first use of this innovative form of engineered wood in the United States. Each segment of the cupola creates a contemporary counterpoint to the traditional hand-carving techniques used to make the animals of the carousel. Looking up, the open canopy of the carousel reveals a constantly changing surface of wood, sculpted by sunlight and animated by the rider’s movement. It’s that inventive use of wood, a renewable material harvested from sustainable sources, that reflects the Mill River Park project as a whole — to make beautiful, healthy places for Stamford’s citizens and visitors while protecting, strengthening and celebrating our natural environment.


Project by project: Mill River Park’s progression 2006

The creation of the Playground at Mill River Park. This once-unkempt area has been transformed into a safe child-centered playground, and the surrounding garden provides an opportunity for children and adults to interact with nature and enjoy the 18,000 flowers planted there.



The Restoration of Mill River. With the help of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a river that was once dammed and polluted has been restored and revived. The freed river has become the home to many new species of fish and wildlife. The 100-year flood elevations have been lowered by 3 feet in Downtown Stamford and future floods will be contained in Mill River Park’s floodplain.

2013 The creation of 12 acres of beautiful landscape in the heart of Stamford. Thousands of new shrubs and 400 new trees were added, including 70 new cherry trees. In fact, the Park now has the largest cherry tree grove in New England.


The Brownstein | Selkowitz Carousel Pavilion. The pavilion houses the David & Marian Nissen Carousel, with its 30 hand-carved figures and a fully accessible chariot. The pavilion also includes the Rich Pantry for snacks and light meals. The pavilion, carousel and pantry are available for both large and small private party rentals.


Upcoming projects Project 5 The Steven & Alexandra Cohen Ice Skating Center & Fountain. The Ice Skating Center & Fountain will provide the ideal venue for family recreation. The 9,000-square-foot ice rink will be artistically illuminated and will transform into a magical interactive fountain during the warmer months. The adjoining Whittingham Discovery Center (Project 9) will house a restaurant, skate rentals, and the Singer Learning Center for environmental education, where children can explore the wonders of nature in the middle of the city. This 10,000-squarefoot building will be another Mill River Park architectural attraction with five terraces, including a large rooftop observation deck offering the best views of Mill River Park.

Status: Funding complete; construction underway. Completion date estimated for Spring 2018. 20

Giant topiary frogs will house the playground restrooms.

Project 6

Project 8

Project 11

A complete renovation of the Playground at Mill River Park. The playground will get new equipment, a picnic area and a 2,500 sq. ft. splash pad. Status: Funding and design complete; construction will begin Spring 2018

Extend Mill River Park along the east side of the Mill River from Main St. to Richmond Hill Ave. Status: Design will commence Spring 2018

The Greenway North. This project will extend the greenway up to Scalzi Park and include the creation of an outdoor classroom for Hart Magnet School. Status: Funding in progress; design 80% complete

Project 7 Extend Mill River Park along the west side of the Mill River from Tresser Blvd. to Richmond Hill Ave. Status: Funding and design complete; construction will begin Spring 2018

Project 9 The Whittingham Discovery Center Status: Currently out to bid for design work

Project 10 Turn the 1050 Washington Blvd. parcel into parkland. Status: Funding in progress





At home in the Park: Mill River Park’s native plants and animals








People are just part of what makes Mill River Park such a wonderful gathering place. A bounty of wildlife calls our beautiful environment home.

1. Mink with American Eel 2. Snowy Egret 3. Cormorant 4. Muskrat 5. Red-Tailed Hawk 6. Red-Eared Slider Turtle 7. Eastern Chipmunk 8. Red-Backed Salamander 9. Hooded Merganser 10. Peregrine Falcon 11. Eastern Cottontail




A snowy day in Mill River Park


The people: Mill River Park Collaborative THANK YOU TO OUR BOARD MEMBERS

(as of November 1, 2017) Arthur Selkowitz, Chairman Arnold M. Karp, Vice Chair Robert M. Phillips, Vice Chair Don Brownstein, Secretary Robert Granata, Treasurer Ralph Blessing Harry Day Gloria DePina Sandy Goldstein Dr. Tommie Jackson Katie Kasinskas Diana Lenkowsky Jackie Lightfield Thomas Madden Frank Mercede

Shelly Nichani Ernie Orgera Stephen Osman Michael Pollard Ryan Salvatore JJ Sendelbach Jim Shapiro Robin Stein Michael Whittingham Michael Widland Mill River Park Collaborative recognizes the following board members whose terms ended between July 1, 2015, and June 30, 2017: Robert C. Graham David Kooris Judy Shelby Fabrizio Zichichi

MILL RIVER PARK COLLABORATIVE STAFF Dudley N. Williams Jr. President & CEO Kevin Cuevas Land Care Technician & Mechanic Lester Dixon Land Care Associate Amanda Keith Visitor Experience Manager Kevin Kelly Director, Business Operations Trent McCann Education and Programs Manager Vincent Piselli Land Care Manager Nia Rhodes Jackson Director, Visitor Experience Brian Sachs Land Care Associate Mike Stake Director, Construction & Capital Planning



Mill River Park Collaborative 1055 Washington Boulevard, Ste. 101 Stamford, CT 06901 203.989.0321

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