In the six years since it took its first steps, the Norwalk River Valley Trail project has progressed more quickly in Wilton than anyone anticipated. Just three years ago, trail supporters were talking in the 10- to 15-year range.
Thanks to the enthusiasm — and generosity — of community members, businesses and foundations, things have moved much more quickly, particularly in Wilton, where ground was broken two years ago. It is likely that within five to seven years trail users should be able to go from Wilton Center to the Maritime Aquarium.
In an interview with The Bulletin, Pat Sesto, chairman of the project’s steering committee, expressed her gratitude to those who have supported the trail and said the hours put in by volunteers “are definitely worth it when you see the diversity of people using it.”
When complete, the 38-mile trail will extend from Calf Pasture Beach in Norwalk to Rogers Park in Danbury, passing through Wilton, Redding and Ridgefield.
With 1.5 miles of the eastern portion of the eight-mile Wilton Loop completed, the Wilton committee is looking to install 300 feet of boardwalk over wetlands from the trail’s present terminus to Twin Oak Lane, and then complete another half-mile to Skunk Lane. There are also plans to build a short section along Wolfpit Road at Horseshoe Pond. This work is planned for 2016.
“The desire to have more trail is incredible,” Mike Lindberg, treasurer of the project’s steering committee, told The Bulletin. “We are very much looking forward to completing the Wilton Loop over the next several years.”
The Vermont company Timber & Stone will build the boardwalk as well as continue the 10-foot wide cinder trail to Skunk Lane.
To accomplish this, which the committee hopes can be started this winter while the ground is hard, it needs to raise $350,000. A donor has made a $55,000 challenge grant toward that end, said Sesto.
This week, the committee is sending an appeal letter to its supporters, “and we are hoping the broader community will also respond,” Lindberg said. In addition to the challenge grant, he said money has come from all kinds of donations, from matching corporate donations and memorial gifts to two children asking for donations to the trail instead of birthday gifts.
The trail has also become a fundraising project for the Wilton Woman’s Club, which is marking its 50th anniversary this year, and the Mid-Fairfield County Board of Realtors. The committee hopes these actions will encourage other nonprofits and businesses to see the value of the trail in terms of its benefits to families and the community, healthy living, and real estate values.
In addition to extending to Skunk Lane, Sesto said the trail’s Autumn Ridge neighbors, “who have been wonderfully patient,” will benefit from an eight-car parking lot on state land. Some who use the trail have been parking along the road.
“We are in the final stages of getting a leasing contract with the state,” she said. The committee has the money for the lot, and will ask the town if it can provide the labor and machinery to build it. “We hope to have that done over the winter,” she added.
A portion of the west side of the Wilton Loop is already built since it incorporates existing trails from Cider Mill School past Comstock Community Center and Merwin Meadows down to Wilton Center. There are also sidewalks on Route 7 that run along the proposed trail route.
One section that needs attention, however, involves Horseshoe Pond and Schenck’s Island. With leftover material from the Wilton Center sidewalk project, Wilton DPW Director Tom Thurkettle has offered to build a stretch of trail along the south bank of Horseshoe Pond. This would extend 600 feet from the intersection of Range, Wolfpit and Horseshoe roads to the dead-end section of Horseshoe Road on the west side of Horseshoe Pond.
The trail will then go along River Road to the entrance of Schenck’s Island where there is a footbridge. The route through Schenck’s Island is to be determined, but will probably follow higher ground, away from flood zones near the river.
Bicycle paths will be striped along Wolfpit Road from Route 7 to the Horseshoe/Wolfpit intersection and along the dead-end section of Horseshoe Road and River Road to Schenck’s Island. A grant from Wilton Rotary will cover a portion of these on-street markings, Sesto said.
The trail committee has the money in place for the work at Horseshoe Pond “and with some cost savings afforded by in-kind services from DPW, there should be enough funding left to start working on the trail in Schenck’s Island,” Sesto said.
“None of the direct expenses are hitting the taxpayers,” Lindberg said.
If work goes according to plan, the committee hopes to push on with the Wilton Loop from Skunk Lane to Pimpewaug Road and then into Cannondale, where there are sidewalks.
“Getting to Pimpewaug is the goal for 2017,” Lindberg said.
To Wilton’s south, Norwalk is in the design phase to connect an existing section of the trail there to Route 123.
The two towns are also working out an agreement to continue the trail from Wolfpit Road to Gristmill Road.
It appears the state will contribute $1.2 million towards that work, with the NRVT committee needing to raise a matching 20%.
Approximately $1 million has been raised so far for the trail, Lindberg said. Private and corporate donations total around $820,000, and early on the state made a $180,000 grant.