NRVT awaits results of trail usage study

Visitors of the Norwalk River Valley Trail (NRVT)’s Wilton Loop may have noticed a grey box mounted on a tree near the Autumn Ridge Drive parking lot.

That box is actually an infrared device installed in late December to count trail visitors 24 hours a day, seven days a week, as part of the University of Connecticut (UConn)’s study on trail usage in the state called the Connecticut Trail Census.

The NRVT is one of 15 trails participating in the study, said NRVT Executive Director Charlie Taney, and “the idea is to get a handle on how many people are actually out on the trails.”

“Every quarter, we get a report that lists the counts for each day by hour and day of the week,” he said.

However, the device isn’t designed to solely detect people. It counts “anything warm that goes by,” said Taney.

To check the accuracy of the infrared counters, Taney said, UConn recently asked trails participating in its study to conduct their own counts.

From May 13 to May 21, volunteers spent an hour each day sitting near the Wilton Loop infrared device and manually counting trail visitors.

Taney said the tallies were sent to UConn, which is currently processing the data, comparing the manual and infrared counts, and preparing a report.

“Hopefully, what it will show is that the counts are close and the counters are accurate,” said Taney, who expects the report to be released around September.

Although he does not have the total number of manually counted Wilton Loop visitors, Taney said, he does know that in the first five weeks after the infrared device was installed, more than 4,000 trail visitors were counted.

In the spring, the number of visitors was close to 5,000, said Taney, “which makes sense because when it’s warmer, more people are out on the trail.”

“I think we can safely say we’re counting between 4,000 and 5,000 people a month, depending on the season, which is fantastic,” he said.

“I think it shows what a great resource it is and how much people enjoy it.”

In addition to manually counting trail visitors in May, Taney said, NRVT volunteers also handed out questionnaires “to get a handle on how people feel about the trail.”

“They would say when they generally come to the trail, what they like about it, what time of day they come, what time of year,” he said.

“I think what we found was what we expected — people generally enjoy the trail, they use it because they want to get out, get some exercise; they love being out in nature.”

Taney said the bulk of the trail’s usage is between 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and people of all ages use the trail.

“You really get everybody, but the bulk of the people you see are adults who are active,” he said.

“It’s primarily walkers and hikers, although we do get a fair amount of bike-riders and moms with strollers, and we see lots of families out there.”

What’s next for the trail?

The NRVT will run through five towns along the Norwalk River — Norwalk, Wilton, Ridgefield, Redding and Danbury.

The trail’s two most active towns so far, said Taney, are Norwalk and Wilton, where “substantial parts of the trail have been built.”

“In Ridgefield, we just chose our first two-mile section, which we’ll call the Ridgefield Ramble, and we’re now doing the trail plan for that,” he said.

“Redding has their first mile — the Redding Mile — all set to go, and we’re now doing fundraising to build that section.”

Danbury is “waiting for Redding,” he said, “because until there’s something in Redding, Danbury’s kind of on hold.”

The Wilton Loop’s newest section ending near Twin Oak Lane was recently completed, and plans for a 2,000-foot stretch up to Skunk Lane are already in the works.

Thanks to “very generous” people, Taney said, the NRVT has already raised $170,000 of the $200,000 needed to build the Wilton Loop’s next section.

“We’re now working on getting that last $30,000,” he said, so construction can begin next fall.