Part of an award-winning group series on waterfront access in Fairfield County.
As we made our way down Steamboat Road early Thursday morning, the other side of Greenwich Harbor — a row of large homes with expansive green lawns leading down to the water — seemed about as surmountable as Everest.
Though I didn’t want to believe it, there was going to be very little direct access to the waterfront on this leg of our series. I had already called Frank Creamer, Belle Haven’s head of security, to ask if they would let us in and at least catch a glimpse the million-dollar vistas. The answer was, of course, a resounding, “No.” Still, we kept that grove of trees in our sights.
The first part of our walk was easy enough. It started from the tiny pier at the end of the street, where a small group of fishermen had already gathered at 7:30 a.m. to stake their claim on bluefish and porgy, and one of the best public views of the Sound in town.
There was mostly concrete, as photographer Helen Neafsey, intern/videographer Jay Polansky and I passed through parking lots and watched the people eating breakfast on the patio at L’Escale.
Eventually, after getting a look at the setup for Shakespeare on the Sound in Roger Sherman Baldwin Park (and finding a bunch of used rubber gloves scattered around the grass, which I can only hope were used to apply the actors’ makeup), we came to one of the most contrasting views in town — Grass Island.
The first thing we saw was a big truck pumping out the material from Greenwich’s septic tanks. Grass Island is home to the town’s wastewater treatment plant, but is also a park and marina. While it attracts many early-morning strollers and dog-walkers, it wasn’t always very inviting. Well, as inviting as it could be when you’re competing with sewage.
“They had more garbage down here than the garbage dump, ” said Sylvester Pecora Sr., co-chairman of Friends of Grass Island, a group started about eight years ago to slowly improve one of the rare public access points to the water in central Greenwich.
“They took 17 Dumpsters out of here of debris, ” said Pecora, 71, who grew up in Byram and now lives in Chickahominy.
The town also spent $285,000 to patch up the road, which was falling apart and had massive potholes. With the improvements, more people now take advantage of the waterfront, and Pecora said come noon, the park is filled with Greenwich workers enjoying their lunches.
“This is probably one of the most beautiful views in Greenwich we have on the water, ” said Chris Antonik, the other co-chairman of the Grass Island group. “It’s for everybody, not just for us.”
Antonik, 62, keeps his 35-foot Bertram boat at the nearby Greenwich Boat & Yacht Club, which he gave us a quick tour of before we trekked up Shore Road.
John Lagano recalled how he and the other original members built the modest club themselves in the late 1960s. The building had the comfortable feel of a friend’s worn-in rec room, albeit one with a striking view of boats bobbing in the water.
Still, as Lagano bragged about the people from all walks of life who pay the club’s $132-per-year membership fee, he couldn’t help but mention the “rich and famous” folks who lived just around the bend, such as the uncle of Dodi Fayed, the Egyptian heir to the Harrods department store fortune who died in the 1997 car crash with Princess Diana.
And then, after a quick side trip to the treatment plant, we plodded on with an impending sense of doom, looking at the marshy water next to us. Jay had learned Wednesday from the Greenwich Police Department Marine Division that getting around Field Point Park and Belle Haven would be impossible, with no way of staying under the mean high tide mark — even at low tide, the water is 6 feet deep.
So, with an idea of what would happen, we paused to look at the big “No Trespassing” sign at the start of Smith Road, and made our way in. We passed a jogger on Field Point Park who nodded at us and gave a small smile as she passed. Then the old-looking police car pulled up next to us.
The security officer instructed us to meet him at the guard booth, and Jay couldn’t help but notice a copy of Greenwich Time sitting inside, with the 19th installment of our Breaking the Sound Barrier series splashed across the cover.
“Everyone here knows about it, ” said the guard, who refused to give his name. “These people are very concerned about their privacy.”
We backtracked down Field Point Road, stopping at the security checkpoint for Belle Haven, where a friend of my family lives and had offered access to her property in Quarry Farm. But unfortunately for us, she had just left for a trip that morning, and we wouldn’t be able to get in on foot without her there to escort us.
On Hamilton Avenue — our one escape to Byram Park where our walk finished up, and where Jay and I had parked our cars — we hit another roadblock, literally. Traffic was being detoured because of downed power lines. We stood pondering our options, the least tempting of which was to trek up to the Post Road.
After Jay talked to W. Christian Andersen Jr. of the Cos Cob Fire Police and took some notes for a possible story, a wonderful thing happened — the police waved us through while there was a pause in the work and we took the last leg of our odyssey, to the waterfront in Byram.
Our feet aching, it was some of the best shore access we had all day.
Ease-of-access index 0.5
Views were plentiful from Roger Sherman Baldwin and Grass Island Parks, but tight security makes access impossible.
Day 20 Fun Facts about this area
• In the late 1800s, Field Point Circle was a horse racetrack — mainly trotting — called Field Point Driving Park.
• At the start of the 20th century, Belle Haven was often referred to as The Zoo for the Wall Street “bulls and bears” who lived there.
• In 1914, the owner of Round Island sued the town for dumping raw sewage in Greenwich Harbor. A year later, the Representative Town Meeting voted to build a disposal plant on Grass Island.
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