Thirty-nine acre Bayberry Lane tract to be known as Newman Poses Nature Preserve
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)
Westport, CT – “My dad was not a bronze bust kind of guy,” said Lissy Newman when the Town of Westport asked what they could do to honor her father, the late actor, director and philanthropist Paul Newman. Being remembered for a favorite tract of land, which the two had often hiked, seemed more in keeping with his character.
Late Wednesday morning Sept. 14, Lissy, First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, members of the Aspetuck Land Trust (ALT), adjacent neighbors, friends and media all came together near 307 Bayberry Extension to officially dedicate 39 acres of land as open space that will be owned by the town and maintained by ALT. Going forward, it will be named the Newman Poses Nature Preserve. The tribute recognizes Paul Newman’s support of local civic causes, including the ALT. Over the past year and a half, the organization worked closely with the town and Newman family to ensure the land will be retained as open space for the public and not be developed. The Land Trust has made improvements, with parking and trail enhancements.
Newman lived near the property, which is bordered by the Aspetuck River, and donated a large portion of the land to the town. The parcel also includes land sold to the town by Lillian Poses, a neighbor and friend of Mr. Newman’s who worked on the New Deal in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration and was one of the first women to graduate from NYU Law School.
About the parcel, Lissy, flashing the trademark Newman blue eyes, said, “I grew up here. My desire to preserve the land came from the ground up. I moved around a lot and this really became an anchor. I had no desire to own it necessarily and wanted to give back what it gave me.”
Lissy took special care to thank Mary and Eddie Warburg, a banking family, and the Poses, who had formerly owned the land. “They let us (Lissy and her younger sister Clea Soderland, who lives in the Fairfield Beach Area and is the director of development for non-profit Giant Steps) run around like it was our property.”
The Newman family bought eight acres when the Warburgs moved away and offered that same land to the town, which now owns that land but holds it in privacy for Lissy’s mom, actress and philanthropist Joanne Woodward.
“I remember walking along the trails with my dad – he was quixotically practical – who said we can’t go on preserving our land forever,” said Lissy, a mother of two boys and board member of the Hole in the Wall camp, which Paul founded. “I was the one who suggested we donate it. So now I’m basically finishing the process he started.”
The land, at one point, had been in jeopardy, said adjacent neighbors Jean and Dick Denholtz. “The town was going to put in a waste disposal site – a place to take brush and dump it here, about six or seven years ago,” said Jean. “We did a direct mail campaign and got it voted down. This has turned out to be a perfect thing for everybody.”
Indeed, according to ALT Executive Director David Brant, the space represents a “great partnership between the town and Land Trust.” Brant thanked neighbors, including Mrs. Barbara Rothenberg, whose sons, like Lissy, played on the parcel. One son, David, at the age of 16 in 1978, was inspired by the open space to write a short book called “Walking in the Woods.” He has since gone on to become a serious musician, professor of philosophy and accomplished author.
For his part, First Selectman Joseloff said the Land Trust was a “godsend”, as it allowed the town to “do right by the property in tough economic times.” Lissy thanked Joseloff for being “so amenable to something that reaches out into the community.”
As a brief hike, more or less self-led, around a defined loop of the dedicated space commenced, Lissy accepted the gift of a painting created by Jay Petrow, a Westport artist and landscape designer. The artwork depicted a grassy meadow and crossing within the preserve – a keepsake Lissy said she would hang in her home.
Of course, nothing beats the real deal and Lissy bounded along the trail munching a donut and sharing insights. “There are a bunch of coyotes here,” she remarked. “That’s an important reason to keep dogs on a leash. They’re mostly nocturnal, but we should respect their neighborhood.”
Spotting a familiar plant, Lissy said, “Jewel Weed is one of my favorites. If you put the leaves under water, they reflect silver, and they pull out dry. They have tiny little flowers, like orchids, and seeds that pop open when you touch them.”
The group came to a spot by the river where a sandstone bench had been dedicated to Lissy. She playfully draped herself across it and spoke about its creator, Pasquale Pilatos of Pilatos Artscape. “I asked if he was a stone mason,” she said. “He said he’s a ‘stone artisan’. He gave me a red-tailed hawk feather he had found.”
Approaching a cluster of pines, with brown needles carpeting the ground around them, Lissy recalled, “I had a British nanny named Duffy. Dad named a dog after her. She only drove a motorcycle. She was stocky, and toured Spain by herself. We were walking here one time and saw a bow hunter up in a white pine. He looked at us, we looked at him, and we just kept going…. I used to climb these trees with my sis, and would build tree forts. The last one was to impress a guy. I made igloo shapes and didn’t use anything from outside. That guy was one right before my husband,” she laughed.
So many memories related to this land… and so many new memories to be made.
Visit www.aspetucklandtrust.com for more details. Aspetuck Land Trust is a member supported, non-profit organization dedicated to preserving open space in Easton, Fairfield, Weston and Westport. The Land Trust maintains 42 trailed preserves on over 1,700 acres.