Norwalk River Valley Trail: Wilton Loop breaks ground

Before the year is out, significant progress is expected to be made on a half-mile demonstration segment of the portion of the Norwalk River Valley Trail known as the Wilton Loop. A ceremonial groundbreaking took place Friday, Nov. 8, with real work starting this week.

Despite a cold, steady drizzle, first selectmen from three towns, state legislators, and many others committed to seeing the trail become a reality gathered in an opening in the woods near the Route 7/Wolfpit Road intersection for the ceremony.

Guests included Wilton First Selectman Bill Brennan, Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi, Redding First Selectman Natalie Ketcham, state Sen. Toni Boucher (R-26), state Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143), businessman Chris Edwards, and Pat Sesto, director of Wilton Environmental Affairs.

In her opening remarks, Ms. Sesto recalled those whose vision for the trail system helped spur things along — Norwalk Mayor Richard Moccia, Mr. Brennan, Mr. Marconi, and Ms. Ketcham — as well as those who persevered since the trail’s inception.

“Our steering committee is hanging tough three years later,” she said.

“Most important is the vision among our funders. We have had the wind knocked out of us with their generosity,” she said.

“Out of the gate were Jesse and Betsy Fink,” who donated the seed grant of $125,000 to kick-start work on the loop.

Ms. Sesto then named Greg and Gina Jansen, Tim and Kari Roberts, the Foster Family Foundation, Steve Zemo, Wilton Family Y, Jay Fain & Associates, Mike and Paula Lindberg, and McChord Engineering. Pledges have also been made by the Robertson Family Foundation, Chris and Catherine Stroup and the Clifford & Norma Fox Donor Advised Fund.

Mr. Brennan spoke of the mutual cooperation among the five towns the trail will pass through: Danbury, Ridgefield, Redding, Wilton, and Norwalk.

“We often get remarks from the state about regional cooperation,” he said. “This is the best example of regional cooperation without the state getting involved.”

As a mountain biker himself, Mr. Brennan joked, “I have a little interest in this.”

Ms. Ketcham said, “We are amazed something has gone from paper to reality in so short a time. … We are very proud to be part of this.”

Mr. Marconi termed the loop “a wonderful project to benefit the entire region.”

“This is an example of what communities can do together when they start with nothing but a great idea, hard work and resolve,” said Ms. Lavielle.

“We live in the enchanted forest,” she continued. “This trail will turn it into something we can all enjoy.”

Ms. Boucher said Connecticut is “the most beautiful state in the country and this spot is one of the most beautiful in Connecticut.” She called the trail “an incredible resource, not only for people but for education.”

Mr. Edwards, who has a marketing business, said everyone has “a social responsibility to improve our community,” and predicted the trail will “draw in more businesses, homeowners and students.”

Among those at the event were trail supporters from other towns.

“To see this is exciting,” said David Park of Norwalk, who is also a member of the Norwalk River Watershed Association. He said the Norwalk portion of the trail now runs from the Maritime Aquarium to Union Park and New Canaan Avenue to Broad Street.

From Broad Street to the Wilton Loop is the next area of emphasis for Norwalk, he said.

Trail supporters from Redding and Ridgefield said they plan to revisit Wilton to see what the trail looks like.

Construction of the demonstration segment is the responsibility of Timber & Stone LLC of Calais, Vt. The east side of the loop will start at the intersection of Route 33 and Route 7 and extend to Cannondale Crossing and the Cannondale train station. It will cover land primarily owned by the state Department of Transportation.

The western portion will run from Wolfpit Road to Allen’s Meadow and connect School Road with Merwin Meadows and the town center. In all, the loop will encompass eight miles.

The eastern portion is designed for walkers, bicyclists and wheelchair users. The western portion of the loop will be available to equestrians as well.

The eastern portion will include bridges that are not designed to hold horses, said Jim Snedeker, a steering committee member. In addition, there is concern horses could dig up portions of the trail, especially in the area of the YMCA.

“North of Cannondale it is our intent there would be horses,” he said, “but it depends on the kind of trail built.”

In concluding the ceremony Ms. Sesto quoted from the poem The Victor by C.W. Longenecker, which begins:

If you think you are beaten, you are.

If you think you dare not, you don’t.

It concludes:

But sooner or later, the man who wins

Is the man who thinks he can.

“I think we can,” Ms. Sesto said, “and I know we will.”