Connecticut’s trail network steadily growing
It’s common to see full parking lots near the Still River Greenway in Brookfield.
“It’s been a home run,” he said. “We couldn’t be more thrilled with the usage there.”
Trail usage has grown everywhere in Connecticut, and with it the network of available trails.
The state now has about 2,000 miles of trails — a 25 percent increase in the past 10 years — including those overseen by the state, municipalities, land trusts and other organizations, said Laurie Giannotti, trails and greenways program coordinator for the state Department of Energy and
“It’s a lot more connected than it’s ever been before,” she said. “You can jump from one network to another.”
On Saturday, National Trail Day, some 236 trail-related events were held around Connecticut, more than any other state, including organized hikes and trail maintenance events throughout greater Danbury.
Local trail projects in the works
New Milford hired a firm to study expanding the river trail to connect it with other trails in town.
Redding, the Redding Land Trust and Aquarion recently closed on 33 acres, called the Biehn property, and plans drafted to create a loop trail.
The Redding and Bethel land trusts are close to opening another trail on the 100-acre Stephenson property on the town lines. It can open once a parking area is determined between the trusts and DOT on Route 58, Stuart Green said.
Redding is shovel ready on its mile-long section of the Norwalk River Valley Trail and is just trying to secure the total $263,000 to build it. Ridgefield created a planning group to look at its first two miles of the trail.
Giannotti said Connecticut has room to expand the trail system on state-owned land, but lacks the funding and resources to do it. But local trail users are able to seek grants from DEEP and the state Department of Transportation to expand their own systems.
Each year, the state receives grant requests totaling $5 million to 7 million for the recreational trail program. The program is frozen this year, but the governor’s proposed budget for next year includes $5 million for it.
Towns already are lining up for the money. Redding, for example, has applied for funding to cover its part of the growing Norwalk River Valley Trail.
“If funding is restored, we would be high on the list,” said Stuart Green, who coordinates trail volunteers for the town’s conservation commission.
About $32,000 has been raised locally for the project, he said, and state grants would close the gap.
Trail advocates and state officials said they have noticed a shift over the past decade or so in public support for trail development.
Tom O’Brien, with New Milford’s bike and trails committee, said people want to be outside, but don’t feel safe on the roads. For years, he said, Connecticut’s planning was centered around cars, but now there’s a real push for trails to provide alternative travel corridors for pedestrians and cyclists.
He said New Milford Mayor David Gronbach and other town officials have tried to meet that demand.
“He gets the fact that the next generation wants trails and to be able to bike,” O’Brien said.
Giannotti said she gets calls from church groups and Scout troops that want to meet at trailheads, noting that greenways have become great places for community members to mingle.
“The trails are really becoming a new version of a town green,” she said.
DiPinto sees that daily on the Still River Greenway. He said high school couples meet there for dates and that people of all abilities use it to work out.
“In a town that has zero sidewalks to speak of, it’s really filling a need,” DiPinto said.
DiPinto and O’Brien said their recently created trails near the Still and Housatonic rivers have opened them up to the public.
“Years ago, you couldn’t even see the river if you were standing on the bank,” O’Brien said.
Both the state and Brookfield are studying who uses the greenways and for what purposes, as well as what economic impacts they have on the surrounding areas. Officials say the data collected will be helpful tools to encourage investment in expansions down the road.
“I just think there’s more demand now,” Giannotti said. “People are more open-minded to cost-effective ways to enjoy the outdoors.”