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Bike Trail Will Take Over a Decade to Complete

The proposed Norwalk River Valley Trail involves building a 27-mile "recreational" trail from Calf Pasture Beach in Norwalk to Danbury, primarily using state-owned lands in the Route 7 corridor.

 

Wilton residents who are excited about the construction of a bike trail through town will need to be patient, as it will likely be more than a decade before the proposed Norwalk River Valley Trail is fully completed.

The proposed public-private project, organized three years ago by residents from Norwalk, Wilton, Redding, Ridgefield and Danbury, involves building a 27-mile "recreational" trail from Calf Pasture Beach in Norwalk to Danbury, primarily using state-owned lands in the Route 7 corridor.

Two miles of the recreational trail — which is designed for use by bicyclists, runners and walkers — have already been constructed in Norwalk and Wilton, however the remainder still needs to be approved and funded.

During an update before the Wilton Board of Selectmen on Monday, Mike Lindberg, member of the Norwalk River Valley Trail steering committee, said due to land-use and funding challenges the trail will likely need to be built in multiple phases over a period of 10 to 15 years. The steering committee in September received a feasibility study — from the National Recreational Trails Program and administered by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection — which maps out a proposed route for the trail (see attached PDF). However Lindberg said due to potential land-use issues, the route is still far from set in stone.

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About 90 percent of the proposed route through Wilton is on land which state Department of Transportation acquired decades ago for the now-defunct Super 7 highway project, which would have extended the Route 7 Connector to Danbury. Lindberg said the DOT has already given his group permission to build the bike trail on the Super 7 lands — however it is the 10 percent that will need to be on private property that poses potential problems and delays.

Lindberg said in order to build the trail through privately-owned lands, the town would either need to acquire an easement from each respective property owner, or buy the land outright.

Selectman Hal Clark, who is helping to spearhead the project, said while a bike trail "would be a tremendous recreational asset to the town, especially to those residents who live near it... we are not in the business of doing legal takings."

"This is not New London... we are not going to do this through eminent domain," Clark said. "If we wanted to buy a piece of property, the charter requires us to get town approval."

Lindberg, however, pointed out that it might be better for the town to acquire the small amount of private land needed for the trail, as opposed to getting easements, because of liability. He said the DOT will more than likely require the town to purchase additional liability coverage for the sections of the trail on state-owned lands — just as it has for other state properties under its control. Such coverage would cost the town about an additional $2,000 a year, based on current rates, he said.

However if the town only acquires an easement, the property owner could still be on the hook for providing liability coverage, he said.

Selectman Ted Hoffstatter said some of the residents in the Route 7 corridor have already won hard-fought battles to save their properties from eminent domain proceedings brought by the state during the Super 7 proposal, and therefore could react negatively to the bike trail proposal.

"They're going to be saying "'My God is something coming through here again?" Hoffstatter said, adding that effective communication and allowing the public to provide feedback on the project will be important as it moves forward.

Lindberg said the project has already met with some land use challenges — for example in North Wilton there is a 1/4-mile "gap" in the proposed route where the state never acquired any Super 7 land. Lindberg said the committee is looking for some alternative way to bring the trail through that area (from Thunder Lake to Georgetown), however there are currently no properties which can be used to facilitate its construction.

Then there is the question of how the project would be funded: Lindberg said it will be up to each community to establish a public-private partnership in order fund construction. That may or may not involve purchasing land, he said.

As far as maintenance goes, Lindberg said it would be up to the volunteer groups that oversee the trail in each town to keep it clear of litter and debris. He said in instances where the trail comes into a downtown area, the department of public works may wish to plow it and keep it clear of snow (the trails sometimes double as sidewalks in downtown areas). He said in the event there is a storm, the state parks service would assist in clearing storm debris from the trail.

Lindberg said the ultimate goal is to have the trail link with others heading north into the Berkshires — and beyond into Canada. He said the 27-mile stretch being proposed "is very similar in design and scope to trails that have been implemented elsewhere in the Northeast and throughout the country" including the famous Cape Cod Rail Trail.

Lindberg said his group studied similar projects in 12 other towns and found that they benefitted in a number of ways — for example residents' health and quality of life were improved through increased recreation; the trails helped take cars off the road which in turn reduced pollution and traffic congestion; there was a slight reduction in serious crime; and in some areas the trails helped spur businesses development.

What's more in some communities the development of a trail boosted residential property values by 10 to 15 percent, he said.

Lindberg said the group's goal is to bring the trail into each town center — as well as to link it to mass transit wherever possible.

First Selectman William Brennan said although some Wilton residents had "gotten worked up" over the proposal, when it was first announced in 2010, it was "mainly due to misinformation." For that reason he sees communication and community feedback as being critical to the project's success.

"Effective communication is what will alleviate all of these ungrounded fears," Brennan said, adding that in other areas of the country, such trails have become "an important asset to the community."

Lindberg said his group has already held five informational meetings in Wilton to give residents the opportunity to learn more about the project. He said his group will be holding additional forums for residents to provide feedback as the project progresses.

Brennan added that the public will be given ample opportunity to provide feedback as the various phases of project make their way through the local approvals process.

Alethiologist November 21, 2012 at 10:21 AM
Google "agenda 21" Government owns everything! And we vote for them.....wake up everybody!
WiltonWarriorMom November 21, 2012 at 12:08 PM
We too have questions about this trail. We live in South Wilton, but the proposed trail will come close to our property. We paid a premium for a very private location for our house; this trail will change our privacy dramatically. We also question ongoing cost. When I last looked, it appears much of the trail in Wilton is mapped to be near water - what happens when it floods in a rain storm? Who does clean up? Some of the trail is also close to the train tracks. Will fencing have to be put in for safety? Who will be liable if an accident happens? It seems like some basic questions need to be answered before more money is spent on this endeavor.
Anna Larsen November 21, 2012 at 12:52 PM
Do you know, we can all comment all we like on here....will do nothing whatsoever. I was told by Toni Boucher that if people contact or write their state rep (Toni Boucher or Gail LaVielle) something can be done if they go about it properly. North Wilton requested and got a formal protest meeting. We are on record as doing so. There is protocol to be observed...letters, or signatures, writing your rep, gathering neighbors and scheduling a meeting at town hall, I do know that this little paper alone won't get anything done. Anyone with concerns, reach out to Toni Boucher or Gail. That is why we voted them in. I agree with everything everyone has voiced as to concerns: the clean up issue after storms, crime, litter, horses, bad routing, infringement, privacy, etc., this is why we do not want this stupid trail. CONTACT YOUR STATE AND GOV REP OR ELSE NOTHING AT ALL CAN BE DONE. We have all paid thru the noses to live here. This trail is a disaster in the making and we appear to have zero say in how our properties will be affected and are given platitudes, etc. Speak up and contact state and local government if you want to get anyone to hear you. This is just a little forum that won't get where you need to be heard.
Anna Larsen November 21, 2012 at 12:56 PM
oops, warrior mom. Unless they purchase a piece of your property or take it by emminent domain (the state can do whatever it wants I believe but I could be wrong here) or ask for an easement of your property, YOU are liable is they do not own it. Our private drive which we own they can't buy and we won't let them. So we will have trespasssers, bikes, and we are the ones who are liable and must do the clean up if we continue to own it. If they do, they are. But then you lose your property and privacy. It is a dreadful catch 22. Do your research, you''ll be horrified as we were.
Jlo November 21, 2012 at 01:22 PM
As a runner I think the trail is a great idea. If you are one of the handful of people who will actually have to engage in negotiations with the town/state over property issues then I can understand the concern, but at the end of the day I think the positives outweigh the negatives.
happy November 21, 2012 at 03:57 PM
BOS, BOF, Town Counsel - please openly address issues of NRVT funding, liability, trail maintenance, neighborhood opposition, safety, mapping, communication. Please disclose what this trail will cost Wilton for development, maintenance and liability insurance. Please explain whether there is a plan to outright purchase easements from property owners, and at what cost. What impact will the NRVT have on the Town of Wilton budget in 2013, 2014, and beyond? The cost is not Zero. The liability is potentially significant. The lack of planning re: development, funding, maintenance, etc. is appalling. The opposition is real, and questions are not being answered. It is the responsibility of the BOS and the BOF to engage in dialogue NOW, not later.
Connecticut15 November 23, 2012 at 12:01 AM
Jlo - then I suggest that the trail go through your property where you can ultimately decide if the legal liabilities of strangers on your property and your privacy being compromised are the wonderful positives that you believe outweigh the negatives.
Connecticut15 November 23, 2012 at 12:09 AM
$180,000 for a study. Is this study available for review? What are the costs for this? What will the maintenance costs be? If this trail can be imposed on these people's private properties, then the next one can be imposed on anyone else's property. We have Merwin Meadows and the wooded areas that connect it and Wilton Center, we have our school properties, there are wooded areas off Branch Brook, now we must provide a trail for all sorts of residents and strangers to traverse through people's properties, alongside them, or on them? Why not have a bike trail along Route 7 where there already exists town/state easements instead? Yet, the more important question is where will this money come from? We are a state deeply in debt, taxes continue to increase, federal taxes are increasing. Substantial decreases in discretionary money will affect the ability of businesses to survive as our residents have less money to spend at stores and restaurants. To ask our residents for more tax dollars for this trail is irresponsible in this economy.
Connecticut15 November 23, 2012 at 12:10 AM
Good points and questions, Ken. All that should be answered.
Cathy November 23, 2012 at 07:10 PM
The Wilton Selectman signed Wilton up to make Wilton a participant in I.C.l.E.I. This is part of the UN Agenda 21 plan... Look it up.
Cathy November 23, 2012 at 07:10 PM
Kinda like the tale of Rumplestilskin...
Anna Larsen November 24, 2012 at 08:01 PM
Again,, nothing at all matters unless you contact your state rep. Otherwise, this is just a gripe forum, guys.
Anna Larsen November 24, 2012 at 08:02 PM
also, I really agree with the comment to the runner. Firstly, try it on your own property not some one elses. Secondly, there are far, far more than a "handful" of unhappy people over this thing.
Anna Larsen November 24, 2012 at 11:05 PM
and....if anyone gets the Wilton Villager, there is an article in there on this trail...utter BS, full of smooth down phrases citing that the people affected will be required to attend meetings. Really? We have it routed right through our yards and we were kept in complete dark over it. If not for some really hard digging, we still would not know of it. Also, the article cites "lights and police patrols"....wonderful. Big lights along a trail we don't want at nightime in the front yard. We certainly would need lights and police, but from this ridiculous statement, it is abundantly clear that they can't do this right alongside people's homes. Mr. Lindberg also states "it is 10-15 years in the future and only a theoretical route"...really? Already celebrated and routing displayed in the Wilton Library? We, here on our little private drive in North Wilton have continual trespassers looking to see where the trail will go already. We have had people from the NRVT come.Hm. Sounds like more smoke and mirrors again. What a mess. All in order to keep the Super 7 at bay, which it won't do. It might only delay it. In the meantime we will have a stupid trail with litter, crime, bikes, horses, trespassers, police patrols if we are lucky (but who wants this in their yard for heaven's sake!) and, oh, lights. Terrific. The article says that a trail affects real estate values in a positive fashion. I would never buy a home right next door to something like this! Imagine.
Connecticut15 December 11, 2012 at 06:21 PM
What real estate professional in their right mind would think that having a home adjacent to a public trail is a positive for real estate values? Big lights? Are we now encouraging night time use? Why? Any trail like this should be closed at night. Police patrols needed too? What will the operational costs of this type of trail be?
Connecticut15 December 11, 2012 at 06:25 PM
The trail should be parallel to Route 7 where there are probably already lights and land for it. Leave the forested areas alone, they deserve some peace and if you want to hike or bike in the forest, buy your own land or go to a park that doesn't jeopardize the quality of life and investments of our own residents. Who's next then in having their property either taken or marginalized in one of the worst ways possible.
Cathy December 11, 2012 at 06:37 PM
After spending time in Portland Oregon recently, I saw how they have integrated biking and driving. Most streets have a bike lane. You will even find bikes on highways! So putting this walking/bike trail off the beaten path as opposed to running it along roads like RTE 7 makes little sense – especially if one of the goals is to encourage people to leave their cars home and ride a bicycle. CT has plenty of places and ways to get close to nature and the argument to run this path along the river actually puts the ecology of the river at risk. Additionally taking away property rights is simply wrong.
Anna Larsen December 11, 2012 at 08:43 PM
Oh my word, could not agree more....there is a facebook page for this ridiculous trail. Fools have "friended" this thing. I suppose it doesn't impact their property. There should be one for people against it. yes, of COURSE it would be well nigh impossible to sell one's property. I consulted four friends in real estate on my own behalf and NO, it is a detriment, not an asset. Of course, if one looks up under government sites for this, it is highly touted the other way around. All depends on whose agenda it is. This trail is asinine, unwanted, irresponsible, stupid and a nice case of bullying the little guy (Gtown) into compliance. Read up on it folks. It's a disaster. However, not defending Pat Sesto, but I highly doubt she is so machiavellian as to do this all on her own, or have her own agenda to make herself the boss of the world. That sounds a tad gothic. She is somewhat obstructive and a bit high handed (ie: not informing the neighborhood involved at all) but not a bad lady overall.
WiltonResident December 11, 2012 at 10:51 PM
That's a reasonable approach about Sesto (I agree with your analysis) - poor excuse not to be proactive to local residents who are directly impacted. However - this is being driven by an agenda - and I don't believe it to be Bill Brennan's. The question is - if not Sesto, who is the driving force behind NRVT? Surely not the citizens of Wilton as far as I can tell.
Cathy December 12, 2012 at 01:56 AM
Its all about the fact that Wilton's leaders joined iclei.org on behalf of the citizens of Wilton without letting anyone know...and without fully understanding what they signed up for...
Jlo December 12, 2012 at 02:14 AM
If it went adjacent to my property I wouldn't care, people live next to the schools, next to ambler farm, next to the parks in town, and it seems to work out alright for all parties involved. What are the legal liabilities anyway? they are using the trail not my land.
Alethiologist December 12, 2012 at 09:46 AM
Vote them out
Anna Larsen December 12, 2012 at 02:06 PM
what is iclei.org? And we should indeed vote them out if this is a bad thing? As I understand it, it is to do with 1. Trying to hold Super 7 at bay and fighting Bob Duff on this, but the bike path. (isn't going to do it, and it will screw over us in Georgetown and our home values). That was the issue on the table.
Cathy December 12, 2012 at 02:40 PM
Vote who out? Take a look at past elections...nearly every seat has been unopposed in every election. One first must pass the local RTC and DTC to even get on al ballot. I recommend people get to know those boards, let them know what you think and who you think would do a better job. Having been on one of these town political boards I can attest they are the only way to public office. They are the gate keepers...so saying 'vote them out' may be a good idea but you must have people to vote for.
Anna Larsen December 12, 2012 at 03:02 PM
Goodness, no one is arguing with you here, Cathy. Thanks for the info
Anna Larsen December 12, 2012 at 03:06 PM
Maybe whomever posted that comment could provide a listing of whom to "vote out"...that might actually be helpful. Here in N Wilton, we had a town meeting and went on record as being opposed to this trail. Doubtful it will do a thing, but we tried. We were all told by Toni Boucher and Gail LaVielle that getting in touch with them was the only way to register a protest formally. They attended the meeting. So perhaps anyone concerned would do best to contact them and object to this trail. Us posting little comments in this little forum doesn't do muchl
Cathy December 12, 2012 at 03:32 PM
Anna, have Toni or Gayle gotten back to you and others on this yet? What exactly did they assure you? I do not believe that they were the ones that actually signed Wilton up to participate in the UN's Agenda 21 program known as ICLEI, I think it was the selectmen. I do know from past conversations with Gayle that she may actually support ICLEI in principal. It's about getting money into communities...as I stated a few weeks ago...like Rumplestiltskin offering gold now in exchange for the girls first born...one day. Here we are offered 'gold' in exchange for our rights and freedoms...in the name if greening the environment and sustainability.
Cliff Cuming December 12, 2012 at 03:50 PM
Cathy, I agree! The RTC needs to be overhauled. They nominate board members who just tax and spend like like there is no tomorrow. We have gone thru the worst recession since the 1930's and they nonetheless raised taxes every year. Brennan gets 21% more in salary; fees for everything go up and yest services are flat....what new service have they provided since the budget doubled?! Both the RTC and the DTC are advocates of Big Government that is screwing up our country.
Anna Larsen December 12, 2012 at 07:32 PM
No they have not. All that happened is that we are formalyl "registered" as being in opposition to this trail. Doubt it will do a bit of good. To the person who noted that the trail should be closed at night...yes of course, but if this thing stretches from Danbury to Norwalk that is going to be mighty hard to enfore. And as a kid who grew up in Wilton, guess what it'll be used for. Parties.
Anna Larsen December 12, 2012 at 07:36 PM
goodness, can't type today...sorry! It will certainly need police patrols to stop kids from partying as of course they will. And crime will happen too. Drug traffic. It's the worst idea I've heard in years and no one seems to have thought this through in the slightest. Nor have they consulted the folks whose property it abuts. It will require lights, meaning poles strung. To think that it could be "closed" and that kids/criminals would respect this is quite naiive. No one has ever mentioned it despite loudly protesting during meetings and phone calls that it was "widely advertised" ...really. The entire neighborhood concerned knew nothing. Not one of us. This is shameful.

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