Whether from his time as state representative or his service in local organizations, Steve Fontana is a very familiar name in North Haven.
A founding member of the Peter’s Rock Association, Steve is now the president of the North Haven Trail Association, a role he took up because it presented a great opportunity to build on his love of, and commitment to, the environment, and to help the organization with an infusion of energy and new ideas.
“Thankfully they had a great core group of people of 10 or 15 members who really sustained the organization on an ongoing basis, but it was a chance for me to try some new things and try to reinvigorate some of the other things that the people in the community do to improve and maintain the environment,” Steve says.
The two biggest opportunities for the organization were the Tidal Marsh Trail and the trail inside the Quinnipiac River State Park, Steve says.
“With the resources we have, both human and financial, we’ve been focused on trying to create modest trails with amenities that people will enjoy.”
For the past four to five years, the organization has focused its work on these two trails, but Steve says the association is also in talks with the owners of the land behind the Cinemark movie theater about a potential trail in the wetlands.
The trail association focuses on encouraging people to engage with the river and the environment and making it a positive experience with initiatives such as maintaining the cleanliness of the trails and developing signage and maps. The group secured grant funding from the Community Foundation of Greater New Haven for events and programs including a bird walk on the Tidal Marsh Trail and, partnering with the Quinnipiac Valley Health District, “wellness walks” to discuss the history of the trail and the benefits of exercise.
“We’re always constantly trying to think of new and interesting ways to excite people about the river specifically and the environment generally, so we have a lot of fun doing that,” Steve says.
Steve has also served as secretary of the Montowese Volunteer Fire Association for the past 15 years. He was a volunteer firefighter for nine years and the vice-president of the association for about six years.
“It’s important to support the volunteer fire department,” Steve says, adding that he thinks people appreciate what the volunteers do, and he is fortunate to work with a great team of hard-working volunteers.
In addition to fighting fires, Steve says the association is involved in charitable activities, including toy drives to benefit hospitals and selling Christmas wreaths and trees.
“The organization does a number of things to try to help support the community and give back to the community, so the association helps with that,” Steve says, “I enjoy playing my role down there, and supporting the guys in the organization because it is important.”
Steve has also served in the political sphere. Most notably, he was North Haven’s state representative for 14 years, from 1997 to 2011.
“I enjoyed it, it was tremendous,” Steve says, “I’m a firm believer in public service, and it was a great opportunity to serve the people in town for an extended period of time.”
During this period, he was chairman of two different committees for a total of six years, which Steve says was an excellent opportunity to have a greater level of responsibility and get some things accomplished to make the state a better place.
About four years ago, Steve was appointed by the governor to Connecticut’s State Insurance Risk Management Board, a statewide organization that oversees and advises the state on insurance policies it carries (except health insurance), and oversees the state’s response if it’s sued when it comes to liability.
Currently, Steve is the deputy economic development director for New Haven, a role he says is wonderful and challenging, and one in which he’s learning all the time and can bring a great deal of creativity to what he does.
“I’m very blessed to have the job that I have,” he says, “The mayor is very supportive; she provides us with a lot of direction and vision, but gives us…the autonomy to pursue some of the ideas that we want to pursue to help make the city a better place and the region a better place.”
Steve says his job brings him back in touch with North Haven on a regular basis, including opportunities to develop land on the border, and there is contact with First Selectman Mike Freda to see if something could work in one community that doesn’t work in the other.
Steve says public service is important no matter who you are, and it gives him a great deal of satisfaction. He believes the country was built on people giving back when they can afford to do so and in a manner they can do so.
“For me, again, I just derive a great deal of satisfaction from doing that kind of work, and so I try to make it a part of what I do, whether it’s my job or the things that I do on the side,” Steve says.