WATERBURY — Shoving an annoying, green branch out of his face, Bill Fitzpatrick fought through a stand of invasive Japanese knotweed in search of another birdhouse.
“This,” the scoutmaster said over his shoulder, “didn’t used to be here.”
The vegetation was so dense he might have been somewhere in a Malaysian jungle. He was walking a strip of land that separates the buzz of Route 8 from the tranquility of the Naugatuck River.
Twisting a screwdriver to remove the front of a green birdhouse, Fitzpatrick smiled. “We’ve got a nest,” he said triumphantly. “Tree swallows. See the eggs?”
For 23 years, Fitzpatrick’s Boy Scout Troop 140 from St. Mary Magdalen Church in Oakville has been erecting birdhouses, planting trees and shrubs, and cleaning up trash along a two-mile stretch of the river.
Fitzpatrick would seem to have reason to be leery of the Naugatuck. His uncle told stories from the Flood of 1955, including his loss of two trunks full of World War II memorabilia stored in the devastated Brooklyn neighborhood.
At 62, the Waterbury painter can also remember from his boyhood how the river would run different colors depending on what was being dumped in it that day.
Instead, Fitzpatrick’s attitude is just the opposite. “I love the river,” he cooed. “The water is soothing.”
A bevy of groups from Torrington to Ansonia have conducted cleanups. But few have been involved longer or more loyally than Fitzpatrick’s Boy Scout troop from Oakville, which originally responded to a newspaper advertisement seeking volunteers in 1992.
From Huntingdon Avenue to Colonial Plaza, the Oakville Scouts have planted white pines, white spruce, chokeberry bushes, lilies, dogwood and streamco willows (a favorite of beavers and muskrat). And that’s just a sample.