The Norwalk River Watershed Association (NRWA) received a $5,000 grant from outdoor gear and clothing co-op REI to create new hiking trail maps of the 40,000-acre Norwalk River Watershed area and restore two trail sections in Wilton.

NRWA President Louise Washer said the association and REI have worked together on projects since REI’s Norwalk store opened six years ago.

“Someone from the Norwalk store contacted NRWA and told us about the grants they offer to local environmental groups and in 2010 we applied for and received a grant to make the first-ever hiking trail maps of the watershed,” said Washer.

“Since those maps are becoming out of date now, and NRWA is almost out of them, we began talking to REI about updating and reprinting them.”

Washer said REI suggested the organization apply for another grant to not only pay for the creation and printing of the maps, but to also host two stewardship events to help raise awareness about the importance of open space to water quality and other issues.

There will be both print and online versions of the new map, said Washer, and the goal is to have the printed maps available for order on the association website and at local environmental events this spring.

“The maps will include the open space areas with trails in the watershed and vicinity, including parking areas, trails and highlights like good views, bird watching spots and fishing spots,” said Washer.

The new maps will highlight current and future sections of the Norwalk River Valley Trail (NRVT) system, which will eventually stretch 38 miles from Calf Pasture Beach in Norwalk to Danbury along the Norwalk River.

“Sections of the NRVT are completed and others are still in the planning stage, but both will be marked on this map with the planned trails in dotted lines,” said Washer.

The maps will also highlight spur trails off the NRVT and public hiking areas across the association’s seven watershed towns: Norwalk, Wilton, New Canaan, Weston, Redding and Ridgefield, Conn., and Lewisboro, N.Y.

“We are working on the new map now,” said Washer. “We are fortunate to be partnering with the Highstead Foundation in Redding through our membership in the Hudson to Housatonic Conservation Initiative.”

Washer said NRWA intern Mary Buchanan is “an expert in GIS mapping” and is using information compiled by NRWA board members to make the map.

“We should have the printed maps by this spring and hopefully the online version as well, or soon after,” said Washer. “We are planning an initial printing of 1,500 maps.”

Stewardship events


NRWA and REI will host two volunteer trail stewardship events in Wilton this fall, which Washer said she is looking forward to.

“It’s inspiring to see how many people come out to be part of protecting and enhancing our local environment,” she said, and “connecting people to the open spaces and natural habitats of the watershed is central to the mission of NRWA.”

For the first event on Saturday, Sept. 3, volunteers will do some clearing and planting along a section of the NRVT at Horseshoe Park, from 9 to 1.

Before volunteers get to work, NRWA board of directors members and Elizabeth Craig will give them an introduction to invasive plants of the watershed, said Washer.

“The Horseshoe Park event is exciting because this is a brand new section of the NRVT, and our group will be doing the important work of removing invasive plant species, such as mugwort and bittersweet, and planting native plants in their place,” said Washer.

The native plants will be purchased with the remaining REI funds. Tools, gloves and refreshments will be provided at the event. For more information, email info@norwalkriver.org or call 877-679-2463.

The second event on Saturday, Sept. 24, will involve building a new section of trail at Wilton’s Quarry Head Park from 8:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. At least 25 able-bodied people will be needed to re-route Quarry Head’s red trail from the picnic area to the brook.

Gloves, tools, lunch and drinks will be provided at the event, which will begin with a training session in tool safety and “benching.” To sign up, email info@norwalkriver.org or conservationevent@wiltonct.org, or call 203-834-0128.

Washer said the grant project with REI has required the NRWA to work with local land trusts, conservation commissions and other environmental groups, “all of which have a common stake in connecting watershed residents with the open space around us.”

“That in itself,” she said, “has been inspiring for us at NRWA.”

The Norwalk River Watershed Association is a not-for-profit membership organization that strives to improve the water quality, fish and wildlife habitats of the 40,000-acre Norwalk River watershed. To learn more, visit norwalkriver.org.