WILTON — Thirty years ago it wasn’t easy to take a walk in the woods here. The Norwalk River Valley Trail has changed all that.

With its wide, level, stone-dust pathways and boardwalks that traverse shoe-sucking swamps, the trail enables people of all abilities to experience nature in a way that more rugged trails do not.

Last Thursday, a group of trail supporters gathered at a boardwalk near Twin Oak Lane, to honor Patricia Sesto, who advocated for the trail on state, local and personal levels from the beginning.

Her longtime friend, and fellow trail supporter, Helen Rendell-Baker, recalled taking a walk along a “deer trail” off Sharp Hill Road when she first moved to Wilton three decades ago.

“I said, ‘this is fantastic, I wonder what this is, nobody seems to be on it, nobody seems to know what it is,’” she said.

She said Sesto “was also wandering in the woods.”

Rendell-Baker said the NRVT became a reality because of Sesto’s vision and determination.

“Pat, through her knowledge, her leadership, her chutzpah, and her ability to get something going and to attract people to a good cause, made this all happen,” she said.

Rendell-Baker recalled how just three years ago she, Sesto, and other early trail advocates brought potential donors to the woods where it was still rough and swampy.

“But here we are today,” she said, adding how the trail has expanded to spots in Norwalk, and with segments planned for Redding and Ridgefield as it makes its way north to Danbury.

To mark Sesto’s contributions to the trail, a boardwalk was dedicated to her last week with a plaque that reads: “The Patricia Sesto Boardwalk — In recognition of Patricia Sesto’s dedicated leadership in the creation and construction of the Norwalk River Valley Trail.”

After a hearty champagne toast to celebrate the event, Sesto thanked those assembled who she said all played a part in the trail’s success.

“Everyone has a piece to make this happen … and it’s just been my pleasure and honor to go from the lot back in 1994 … to actually making it a trail. I don’t know why it worked now instead of two decades before when people tried to get it going and it didn’t, there’s just a place and time when pieces come together and we’re fortunate that all the likes of you brought something to the table that made it happen and I was just in a very fortunate place to assist in bringing it together.”

“It is really my honor to be part of this and this is way beyond my thoughts of what I would expect.”

At which point Steve Petit said, “Your perseverance has been extraordinary,” to which another supporter added, “you’re a testament to the difference one person can make.”

The journey

Sesto, who lives in Ridgefield and was director of environmental affairs for 23 years in Wilton before leaving in 2015, is a founding member of the Friends of the NRVT.

She began working on the trail in 2008. As chairman and president of the five-town committee, she led the development of the routing study that serves as the foundation of the subsequent efforts to build the trail. A major milestone occurred with the opening of a “demonstration” trail — a half-mile path in Wilton running from Gaylord Road to Raymond Lane — on April 26, 2014.

Since 2012, Sesto has directed the construction of 2.5 miles of trail in Wilton, designation of five miles of trail in Norwalk, one mile in Redding, 1.5 miles in Ridgefield and helped raise over a $2.5 million in private donations and grants.

When Sesto left Wilton five years ago, she said, “This is not Pat Sesto’s trail. This is Wilton’s trail, it’s a trail for five towns. I just had the pleasure of heading it up.”

In March, Sesto stepped down as president, handing the reins to Charlie Taney, of Redding, who for three years had served as executive director. That position is now held by Beth Merrill, of Norwalk.

Petit, who has been a longtime supporter of the trail, said “it is such a Wilton icon. There is hardly anybody who doesn’t know about it.”

“I wish people would realize how much their gifts count to perpetuating the trail,” he said. “Any size is important — and we need more people like Pat.”

Friends of the NRVT is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, dedicated to the creation of a 30-mile, multi-use, soft-surface trail running from Calf Pasture Beach in Norwalk, through Wilton, Ridgefield and Redding, ending at Rogers Park in Danbury. More information is available at nrvt-trail.com.