Trail of dreams: Major grant propels construction

A $125,000 grant from a Wilton family will turn a plan on paper into a nuts and bolts reality as work on a “demonstration” section of the Norwalk River Valley Trail is expected to begin in Wilton by December.The grant is actually a challenge grant, issued by the Fink Foundation, headed by Jesse and Betsy Fink. It is intended as seed money to attract other donors to contribute to the overall cost of the “east-side” portion of the eight-mile Wilton Loop, which is estimated at $1.6 million and is to be raised through private donations and grants.

“What we like to do is be a catalyst and a seed, a seed in the woods as it were. We come in early and encourage others to get behind the project,” Mr. Fink said on Friday. “We are hoping by giving catalytic funding others will get behind it quickly and it will gain momentum.”

The demonstration portion of the loop is expected to extend about three-quarters of a mile up the eastern side of Route 7. It should take about six weeks to complete, Pat Sesto, Wilton’s director of environmental affairs, said. It is intended to enable the community to use the trail and see how it is planned to be built.

Much of the four-mile, east side of the loop will make use of vacant land owned by the state Department of Transportation as part of its Super 7 right-of-way extending from Wolfpit Road north to Pimpewaug Road.

The west side will incorporate existing sidewalks, Merwin Meadows and shared roadways.

Eventually, the entire loop will extend eight miles running from Wolfpit up to Cannondale, across Route 7, through Allen’s Meadow, down past the schools, Trackside and Wilton Center and back to Route 7 at Orem’s Diner. The entire loop could be completed within two years, according to James Snedaker, a member of the NRVT steering committee and co-chair of the fund-raising subcommittee.

It was Mr. Snedaker who approached the Finks about supporting the trail.

“Years ago we were approached by the library when they wanted to expand,” Mr. Fink told The Bulletin in explaining how the couple decided to make their donation. “They had a plan. We looked at it and it was pretty substantial, and we thought if you can do it, it would be great for the town. We worked on a challenge to motivate people to donate or give in other ways and it was a huge success.

“When we were approached by Jim (about the trail), it felt like the same thing. We heard the thoughtfulness and tremendous amount of work that has gone into this.

“It feels like a similar project to the library — a trail of dreams. It will transform Wilton in a positive way.”

Mr. Fink went on to describe the couple’s focus in their giving “has been the environment and health and wellness. This is a great thing for the environment. It hits on the things that are important to us. We hope it will attract other funders.”

“This is outstanding,” First Selectman Bill Brennan said. “The Finks have a commendable record of being community leaders and the Wilton Loop is another example of their foresight and commitment to the town.  We are again grateful for their generosity.”

Trail design

Timber & Stone LLC of Calais, Vt., prepared the trail design of the eastern section of the loop. It will be naturally surfaced and compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Physically, the trail will be 10 feet wide whenever possible, and no less than eight feet in narrow areas. It will be designed for use by walkers, bicyclists and wheelchair users.

The trail is aligned with established rock outcroppings, stands of oak trees, stone walls and wetlands. Portions of the trail that traverse wet areas — particularly between Sharp Hill and Skunk Lane and from Skunk Lane to Pimpewaug Road — will incorporate boardwalks. Timber & Stone has recommended including education platforms along the boardwalks to provide an interesting view into wetland ecosystems.

“The platforms would provide a destination for students to gather and observe wetland communities and how they adapt over the seasons,” the company’s report said. “The platforms also provide a gathering area for users to congregate and rest during a long bike ride. To encourage observation and contemplation, benches could be constructed into the railing design that encircles each platform.”

Six trailhead kiosks are recommended where the trail intersects with a road. Each would display a trail map, safety rules and seasonal postings of trail-related events.

Also planned along the trail will be kiosks that feature QR codes linking information on benefactors, features of historic significance, and geographical and geological aspects of the trail. In addition, the codes are expected to provide real-time information on plants and animals in the area.

Eventually, the multi-use trail will extend from Long Island Sound in Norwalk to Danbury, passing through Wilton, Redding and Ridgefield.

Anyone interested in contributing to the construction of the NRVT Wilton Center Loop or the project as a whole may send a tax-deductible contribution to “The Friends of the NRVT” P.O. Box 174, Georgetown, CT 06829. Questions may be directed to Patricia Sesto, 203-563-0180 or