DARIEN, CT — As Darien looks to prepare Great Island for vehicular access, the town is planning on offering early access for pedestrians in the coming months.

The Great Island Advisory Committee, which is charged with overseeing post-acquisition tasks on the 60-plus acre waterfront property, held its monthly meeting on Wednesday where pedestrian access was a topic of discussion.

Right now, the only people on the island are those who live in the few apartments there, as well as those who visit the horse stables.

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Committee Chair and Selectman Monica McNally said she felt the early access for the public was important so residents can experience the property and begin to visualize a future for the land.

The widening of the island access road, 23A, for two-way vehicle traffic, is slated to begin sometime in April and conclude in July.

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“So between now and April, it would be terrific if we could have some pedestrian access,” McNally said. “I look at this as kind of a soft opening as a way to kind of learn what’s going to work out there and what’s not going to work.”

Committee members Bruce Ferguson and Kipp Visi convened with fellow committee member and Parks & Recreation Commission Chair Lori Bora, McNally, and Department of Public Works Director Ed Gentile to examine how early pedestrian access would work.

“There was a lot of discussion behind this. An easy way out would’ve been to say, ‘Let’s wait until everything is in place,’ but I think this is a great example of prioritizing some of the desires of residents of the town but also realizing there are a lot of things that go into this,” Visi said.

Should the town follow through on the plan, access would be limited to paved roads only. This would allow residents to walk on a little over a mile paved loop from start to finish.

“While it’s limited, that gives a great view of the property. The idea is to give residents and anyone who visits the property the ability to visualize what the possibilities are with the property,” Visi said.

Access would be granted daily from sunrise to sunset, and no pets would be allowed due to the diverse wildlife that has inhabited the island for years.

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No gatherings would be allowed either, Visi noted, adding that there are currently no working restrooms on the island.

Ferguson walked the committee through the benefits and challenges of early pedestrian access.

“Our group felt the benefits outweighed the challenges, and we could find a way to mitigate the challenges,” he said.

The benefits include providing as many residents as possible with exposure to the property since the majority of those in town have not set foot on the island yet. Tours were offered last fall but they were limited to a certain number of people.

“It would be beneficial to gain feedback, lessons learned, what the early visitors see and do on the property,” Ferguson said.

On-site parking is not available at the moment, however, and neighborhood area streets could see an increase in improper parking, Ferguson pointed out.

“We would need to check signage prior to opening early access. If people don’t live nearby, they’d have to drive and park somewhere to be able to walk onto the property,” Ferguson said.

Other challenges include protecting the privacy of the island tenants and making sure residents don’t interact with areas that have not yet been deemed safe or properly secured.

Selectman and committee member Michael Burke asked if there was a way to open up more access outside of the paved roadways, similar to the guided tours from October.

“I envision somebody falling off of a wall or down by the water, needing an ambulance, and having a horse trailer trying to leave at the same time and having a problem,” McNally said. “I know that’s worst-case basis, but that’s my job.”

To that end, the committee discussed adding signage throughout the property to remind residents of the route and the rules.

“We talked about at the [traffic] circle having a welcome sign that welcomes the community to Great Island, shows a little map of the roadways, and potentially even putting a few blazes on the roadway to… let you know you’re on the path and you’re going to loop around to where you started,” Ferguson said.

Waterproof leaflets with a general map of the property could be made available to guests, too.

McNally stressed that this would be a soft opening, and access would improve with time.

“This is until construction starts. I’m really, really excited. It’s been a long haul,” she said.

McNally hoped to bring the idea to the Board of Selectmen meeting on Jan. 23 for discussion.

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