Using rogue trails in Wilton is a crime, new signs warn

WILTON — Numerous signs have popped up at Bradley Park warning potential hikers and joggers from straying off the beaten path after town bodies have repeatedly warned residents not to create “rogue trails.”

The Wilton Department of Environmental Affairs, headed by director Mike Conklin, placed signs that read: “Use of unauthorized trails or modifications to the trail system is a criminal matter. Video documentation of violators will be turned over to Wilton Police for enforcement action.”

This comes on the heels of numerous months of back and forth between the town, a budding neighbors group and a volunteer from the Fairfield County chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association. The three parties have held discussions on how a new, secondary “legal” trail could be conceived in a safe and environmentally sustainable way.

A “Friends of Bradley Park” group would need to be formed to not only handle the building of the new trail, but to maintain it as well, First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice said.

The roadblock, Conklin and Vanderslice said last week, was that there weren’t enough volunteers for the Wilton Conservation Commission to move forward with the plans.

At the moment, the burgeoning Friends of Bradley Park group is made up of just several members.

The town hasn't recognized them as an official group yet because the proper guidelines weren’t followed when they formed last year. The town is in the process of drafting guidelines for “Friends of Bradley Park” to recognize it as an official entity it can partner with in the future.

Two of its founding members, Dave Cote and Andy Cox, said Tuesday that they were initially disappointed when seeing the new signs.

“Our initial reaction was the same as many fellow users of Bradley Park: that the town would rather enforce than engage,” Cote and Cox said in a joint statement. “However, upon further thought, our reaction is that we should’ve been more proactive, instead of being reactive.”

Cote said that the small group “should have communicated with the Wilton Conservation Commission” after Francefort’s proposal was presented in October and “done a better job conveying the FOBP’s intentions and asked questions ahead of meetings.”

“The miscommunication rests on my shoulders,” he added.

Residents advocating for the trails and officials have said creating new trails, like those in Town Forest, will deter people from using rogue paths. However, the friends group needs more people to be trained properly to build the trail sustainably and ensure its upkeep.

Conklin has been gathering suggestions for specific guidelines for the Friends group to follow.

While recruiting initially was thought to have started last year, Cote said that the group is now following the new process laid out by the town.

“Once everyone who has offered to help has a clear understanding of commitments, exposure and expectations required by the town to join a friends group, we will begin confirming our FOBP volunteers,” he said. “I now realize it’s not the WCC’s job to pull proposals through the process, rather, it’s the public’s job to try to push them through the process, like we did very successfully with the Wilton Athletic & Recreation Foundation.”

Cox and Cote said they are looking “to meet the town’s requirements” and that they hope the Conservation Commission is willing to re-engage with them for “park improvements to all users.”

They reiterated the importance of the “hundreds of people who use it every week, all year long” to hike, bike, walk their dog, unplug and reset.

Now, the Friends of Bradley Park founding members are aiming to attain to enough volunteers to show the town and its Conservation Commission that it can handle the full weight of its initial ask to create another trail for regulars. Then, hopefully, the signs can come down.