New Milford Town Council considers $18.5 million river trail

NEW MILFORD — The Town Council will have to decide which pieces of a 9.5-mile trail it wants to tackle first to make a decades-long plan a reality.

An $18.6 million trail plan was presented to the council at Monday’s meeting, following up on the initial designs presented by Milone and MacBroom in September.

The overall route hasn’t really changed since then, but costs were announced and the project was broken out into 12 smaller phases, compared to the original five. A completed trail would go from the Sega Meadows trail by Boardman Bridge south to the Brookfield town line, passing Young’s Field, Hidden Treasures Park, the John Pettibone Community Center and Kimberly Clark. It could also tie into Lover’s Leap State Park.

So far, a quarter-mile piece along Young’s Field has been completed.

“We’re moving it another step forward,” said Tom O’Brien, chairman of the bike and trail committee. “We recognize the challenges, but don’t want it to disappear for another 20 years.”

The idea of a contiguous trail along the Housatonic River has been an idea since 1999, but the project stalled in the early 2000s. It was revitalized in 2009 when the town received two grants. The bike and trail temporary committee was established in 2016 and the design was developed for $193,000. Council voted to re-establish the committee Monday, this time with nine members, instead of five.

Thomas Sheil, of Milone and MacBroom, said permits and easements were the biggest challenges facing the trail, but estimated it would be easy to get about 75 to 90 percent of the trail’s easements. Some of the pieces are expensive, based on the terrain and what structures need to be built. A few pieces call for bridges.

O’Brien said the trail wouldn’t use town money and instead focus on grants. He and Sheil recommended building pieces of the trail over time as money became available.

“If you visit any other greenway trail, you’ll find they have gaps,” O’Brien said.

They recommended the southern two-mile trail that goes to the Brookfield town line, connecting to Harrybrooke Park or connecting the existing Young’s Field portion to downtown.

Sheil advised the council to adopt the plan, which would make it easier to get federal funding.

Most of the council members said they support the idea of the project, but wanted more information about feasibility before adopting it. They also acknowledged it would take a long time to build.

“I certainly won’t see it in my lifetime,” Councilman Walter Bayer said. “It’s phenomenal, though.”

O’Brien agreed it would be a long-term project.

“This is a long-range road map to move forward a dream,” he said. “These things take time to build.”

The New Milford River Trail fits into plans for an even larger network, the Western New England Greenway, which is expected to go from Montreal to New York City. Connecticut’s routes would include the Housatonic Bike Trail, the Still River Greenway and the Norwalk River Valley Trail.