Road map for trail is still sketchy

Plans to complete a 38-mile pedestrian and biking corridor, which will link Calf Pasture Beach in Norwalk, and run through Wilton to north Danbury, are about 10 to 14 years down the road, according to Mike Lindberg, a member of the Norwalk River Valley Trail Steering Committee.

Speaking before the Board of Selectmen at its meeting Monday night, Mr. Lindberg said that although 90% of the proposed trail route is on state-owned DOT land, the 10% of the trail that potentially crosses private property is raising questions that need to be addressed.

The trail will run through Wilton, Norwalk, Redding, Ridgefield, and Danbury.

Mr. Lindberg said to construct the trail on private property, the town would need to either buy the private land or acquire an easement. Second Selectman Hal Clark added that residents should be assured that "this is not New London ... we are not in the business of doing legal takings." Mr. Clark said if Wilton wants to buy property, the charter requires town approval.

First Selectman Bill Brennan urged that community outreach continue to be emphasized for the project, so "there is plenty of opportunity for residents to make comments and suggestions. ... This will be a collaborative process."

Some residents in the Georgetown area of Dumplin Hill Road recently raised concerns about the routing of the trail. At a Board of Selectmen's meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 4, Mr. Clark provided a letter from the residents that said, "Our specific objection and protest lies in one of the optional routings of the trail to make the connection from Thunder Lake Road to the Connecticut Department of Transportation-owned property through Thunder Lake Road that connects to Dumplin Hill Road." The letter further identifies "policy/security" issues and the specter of decreasing home values.

The residents met with Mr. Clark, state Sen. Toni Boucher, state Rep. Gail Lavielle, and Pat Sesto, Wilton's director of environmental affairs and the trail's chairwoman.

Ms. Sesto said the main concerns center on the logistics of the routing.

"As stated to me by several residents on and nearby Dumplin Hill, they are not opposed to the trail as a whole, they are opposed to the idea of using the Dumplin Hill right-of-way. And they have no current intentions of giving permission to use this privately owned right-of-way, should they be asked," she said. "We are not actually asking them or any other private landowner for permission at this time."

Further, Ms. Sesto said, "the routing study appropriately identifies a gap in publicly owned land, and this gap will someday have to be resolved. When we get that far, we would discuss options with various private property owners about easements or other mechanisms to facilitate the trail." However, she said, eminent domain is a non-issue. "There will be no eminent domain taking of private land," she said. "For this neighborhood, this is a discussion for some day in the future. Wilton's early efforts will focus on the sections that connect to train stations and business districts in the Wilton Center area. We will have our hands full with this for a number of years."

On Monday, Mr. Lindberg cited a study of 12 such trails by Alta Planning and Design, which showed that "property values of homes near the trails rose by 8-12%." The study also showed that crime decreased, although there was "a slight problem with littering."

A comprehensive routing study for the project was unveiled at a ceremony at the Wilton Library on Sept. 4. The trail project initially set off in 2009 with the help of a $180,000 federal grant, which stipulated that steering committee members match it with $45,000 in funding. In less than 18 months, that was reached, with municipal payments and volunteer efforts.

Two miles of the trail have already been completed in Norwalk and Wilton, and Mr. Lindberg said Monday the trail will eventually link all the way to Canada.