On Saturday, June 27, members of the public, donors, officials and trailbuilders all made a 1.1-mile journey along the Norwalk River Valley Trail to the site of a groundbreaking, which celebrated the construction of the trail’s new half-mile section to run from Sharp Hill Road to near Twin Oak Lane. In addition, a 500-foot section that will hug the southern side of Horseshoe Pond will also be built. Both sections of trail are scheduled to be completed over the summer.
The well-wishers gathered at the commuter Park and Ride north of Orem’s Diner on Route 7 and then proceeded together, talking among themselves about the trail as they went.
When they arrived, there were tables, a microphone, and refreshments already set up.
Michael Lindberg approached the microphone, and began to speak.
“We’re here today to celebrate the groundbreaking of two new sections, and we are deeply indebted to a number of people for doing that. I’d like to introduce a couple of our dignitaries and special guests today. I’d like to start with our elected officials — Toni Boucher and Gail Lavielle.”
“These two have worked tirelessly in Hartford, both to help Wilton and to defend and make this trail happen. They introduced legislation about five years ago; this was originally deeded that nothing other than a super highway could use this 800 acres of land. Toni, in her cunningness at the 12th hour, snuck a little amendment into that legislation and got ‘if for other transportation purposes’. So we are very, very appreciative to both of you for fighting the fight in Hartford and helping to make this happen.
“Over the last four years, we’ve had hundreds and hundreds of people help support us with donations of dollar value or in-kind goods and services. We couldn’t do this without them; this truly is a volunteer effort.
“I’d like to recognize two of those who are here today.” He then named Clifford Fox and Greg Jansen.
“Cliff has been there from the very beginning, supporting the trail and the overall initiative. He’s put forward several grants the community has responded to in wonderful time. Cliff, we certainly appreciate it. Thank you.
“Likewise, to Cliff’s left side, is another true leader in our community: Greg Jensen. Greg and his wife Gina have been actively involved from the very first inception, helping to raise funds; they’ve made some major donations that have been matched by the community, and Greg and Gina, we very much appreciate all that you have done as well.
“Two years ago, we completed our first half-mile, and last year we doubled that to here. Every other week, a major company reaches out to us, because they want community projects.”
“You know, every day, you see kids running around and building stone statues, you see adults enjoying themselves, but perhaps the most touching thing you’ll see is more mature couples walking hand-in-hand together down the trail.
“Cliff was a key donor for this section,” said Lindberg as he shook Fox’s hand.
“This sort of thing pulls people out of their homes and brings them into the community,” said Fox. “We’re really happy to help out, and look forward to using the new section when it’s complete.”
State Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143) also said a few words.
“I just want to thank you, for everything you’ve done, because I don’t know anyone else who could have,” she said to Lindberg directly. She then addressed the rest, and said, “Michael Lindberg has been there from the very, very outset. He has been instrumental in the construction of the Wilton Loop.
State Sen. Toni Boucher (R-26), who had to leave early for a United Nations meeting, acknowledged the significance of Jim Snedeker’s fight to keep land that will now become the trail from becoming a highway decades ago.
“The big names in my book are Michael Lindberg, and also Jim Snedeker, who … was such a driver for our community to protect open space in Wilton when it was under tremendous attack.”
She also commented on the fact the trail will exist into the future, even after all those who helped to build it have moved on.
“This is beyond all of our imaginations, because, after we’re gone from here, this (trail) will continue to be used. It’s an amazing legacy.”
Next up was Peg Koellmer, owner of Realty 7 and president-elect of the Mid-Fairfield County Association of Realtors.
“I know you all want to get out there and walk, so I’ll keep it short. This is going to have tremendous impact. Businesses are always looking for key elements in a town when they consider relocating. This would certainly be a bonus for their employees.
“Studies have shown nationally,” she continued, “that when you have a trail of this kind, that property values along the trail actually go up, and I think now that it’s here you can see why.”
The trail benefits the local economy in other ways as well, she said.
- “The trail increases Wilton’s desirability as a tourism destination.”
- “At 38 miles, appeal increases for all NRVT towns as studies show that the longer a trail is, the further people will travel to visit and the longer they will stay.”
- “It will directly benefit restaurants, stores, gas stations, and other local businesses.”
- “It is beneficial in bringing hospitality-related businesses to town.”
- “Increase in business equals increase in tax revenues.”
Koellmer announced that the Mid-Fairfield County Association of Realtors, which includes Norwalk, Weston, Westport and Wilton, has named NRVT as the sole recipient of its fund-raising efforts for this year.
Timber & Stone is the trailbuilding company commissioned to construct the Wilton Loop. Its owner and founder, Josh Ryan, spoke next and said his business philosophy is one of trust.
“When we build in the Northeast, we look for partnerships, not jobs,” he said.
“Our best work,” he added, “is underground. You might not realize it, but you are all standing on about a foot of different materials, the likes of which keep trails intact over the years.”
Ryan called the NRVT the “people’s trail.”
“You see 20 to 30 people taking the trail every day. It’s really quite amazing.”
Also in attendance was Caleb Worley, an Eagle Scout candidate. His contribution to the NRVT’s Wilton Loop will be a kiosk he designed and will help to build.
“I’m designing and building it, and it will be a model that they’ll (The NRVT) use to build more,” said Worley.
The Norwalk River Valley Trail Association will build through the wetlands to Skunk Lane if it can raise the necessary funds of $250,000 before the end of the year.
The NRVT also plans — with the funds already raised — to build a parking lot to mitigate some of the traffic that will be caused by the new amenity.