Montville Eagle Scout candidate creating public trail along Horton Cove
Montville — Along Route 32, there is a swath of undeveloped town land between the Montville Public Safety Complex and Horton Cove with a steep slope and wetlands peppered throughout. Once the site of a witch hazel factory, the heavily wooded area has served no practical purpose for the town or its residents in recent years.
Enter Tyler Lawton.
The Horton Cove Trail Project is the final step in Lawton's years-long involvement with the Boy Scouts of America Troop 93. Early this year he embarked on earning the rank of Eagle Scout.
“I really like going out there and looking at the area because it’s pretty and hasn’t really been touched by many people, especially recently,” Lawton said earlier this month.
The 15-year-old Lawton, who is heading into his junior year at Montville High School, has extensive plans for the 14-acre property along the shores of Horton Cove, which includes creating a ¾-mile-long public hiking trail through the unused space.
His father, Chris Lawton, works for the Connecticut Forest and Park Association, and Tyler learned quite a bit watching his father do similar work.
“I already have a lot of experience with building trails and maintaining them. That is something I feel comfortable doing, so that’s why I lean toward that more,” he said of his inspiration for the project.
An Eagle Scout project can be rather small, or it can be extensive, like Lawton’s. Either way, the project must serve an organization such as a school, a religious organization or a community, and it must help the scout learn leadership skills.
Lawton did all the research and planning, fundraising and organizing for the project and will direct the work done at the site.
The scope of the project is vast. In order to create the plan, he had to learn about topics like wetlands, erosion, how trails are created, types of bridges, geology and local history. The plan also required approval from four town departments which meant he had to navigate the permitting process.
In February, he appeared before the Parks and Recreation Department. March brought him to the Inland Wetlands Commission. By April, he had plenty of practice with public speaking and using his PowerPoint presentation to convey his ideas when he appeared at the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, and by the time he got to the Town Council for final approval in May, he was an expert.
The project has a price tag, which forced him to learn even more.
He said he learned a lot about fundraising by going door to door and doing cold calls to businesses, and had success doing so.
“I’ve learned a lot about how to market a project like this and make it seem very interesting and more worthwhile,” he said.
Lawton also discovered his project was eligible for Sustainable CT’s Community Match Fund. With the match, he raised more than $6,000 — more than three times his original goal. He said any excess funds will be given to the town.
Part of the money will also be used to help pay for a small, gravel parking lot for the walking trail. At a June 15 meeting of the town’s COVID-19 Impact Study Committee, up to $10,000 was approved for the parking lot.
Town Councilor Lenny Bunnell Sr. said people often underestimate the project as “just an Eagle Scout project,” but that Lawton has taken it to “another level above by his investigation, his looking into what it’s going to take and cost, which is really good.”
Bunnell said he and a few others walked the trail with Lawton earlier this year.
“I think that it’s really the beginning of some good things that could come from this area because of the history of that property,” he said.
Bunnell said Lawton demonstrated during their walk that he “knew what he was talking about. He was committed, and he was on his own; he wasn’t prompted by any adults. That’s what really impressed me, and he also impressed everyone from the Town Council on how much effort he was putting into this project.”
“This project is not something that just happened yesterday — he’s been working on this for a year. So that tells you something about his commitment,” he added.
Lawton’s commitment and knowledge were evident as he made his way — in his Boy Scout uniform displaying the 50 patches he has earned — through the overgrown but marked trail on a hot and humid mid-June day, as he pointed out and explained various features of his plan.
As he walked, he indicated where he will construct beam bridges and bog bridges over wet and marshy areas and explained that each type of bridge serves a different function. He will use bog bridges across marshy areas because they can span longer distances, and beam bridges across water crossings and areas that may be too saturated during wet seasons.
He stopped at a field of boulders, some more than 15 feet high, to explain that they are glacial erratics — boulders that were moved and left behind by the movement of the glaciers across the land — and he pointed out deep grooves in their surfaces indicating the dragging of the ice across the rock.
He talked of the old foundations on the property and the spring box, a type of well which still provides fresh drinking water. He said he plans to extend a side trail to it if he has the time and money.
“There’s a bunch of Mountain Laurel, which is the Connecticut state flower,” he said. The area is “some of the original where the town was settled back in the colonial days in the 1600s,” he explained, and pointed out two gravestones from the colonial era.
“I’m keeping a respectful distance from those resting places,” he said.
At the end of the trail, Lawton exited the woods with a smile on his face that expressed his love for the property. He indicated the spot where he plans to install a small kiosk, right before the entry to the trail, where he envisions people posting information of local and community interest.
Lawton said he loves the history of the area and nature and designed this project as a way to give people more access to the outdoors. Lawton said he anticipates work beginning in late summer.