'Rogue no longer': Wilton's Bradley Park trail to officially open to public

WILTON — Leonard J. Bradley Park will play host to an expected two dozen volunteers on Saturday when a "rogue trail" used by many during the COVID-19 pandemic will be fixed and reopened as an official new trail for hikers and mountain bikers.

The town has agreed to allow an all-volunteer group led by the Fairfield Chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association to clean and fix the rogue trail and officially open it for use next week.

Dave Francefort, a volunteer with association, will lead they efforts to bring the trail up to snuff over the weekend. 

"It is great to know that the town could work with local organizations and neighbors to achieve a common goal," said Dave Cote, co-head of Friends of Bradley Park, who also served on the Wilton Conservation Commission. "Users of Bradley Park, myself included, are very excited that the town has approved this great new trail so that even more people can come and enjoy this beautiful park."

He added this comes at no cost to the town. The entire scope of work will be handled by volunteers.

Cote, along with nearby neighbor Andy Cox, started the Friends of Bradley Park in summer 2021 to help oversee the trails' upkeep. 

An issue initially arose during the early months of the pandemic when more and more residents began frequenting park trails. Soon, residents had begun to wander off the official, established tracks — like at Bradley Park —  and using "rogue trails" before town officials began to notice.

The topic became an agenda item for multiple town commissions over the past two years. In 2021, Wilton's Environmental Affairs Department had even began blocking off entrances to the rogue trail to dissuade pedestrians from entering it. This year, signs were placed around the park warning of the premises being under video surveillance and that trespassers could be subject to legal ramifications.

Francefort's plan was initially proposed in late 2021, but approved later this year and, with the half-mile trail now flagged and approved by Wilton Director of Environmental Affairs Mike Conklin, work is slated to start on Saturday.

Those who frequent Bradley Park will not need to wait long before the new trail is unveiled, either.

"If we get the 20-plus volunteers we expect, it can probably be knocked out in one morning," said Mike Malwitz, of the mountain biking association.

The build will be from 9 a.m. to noon and open to any volunteers. Participants should meet at the park's Oak Ledge Lane entrance at 8:45 a.m.

Malwitz said that there will be a brief safety instruction period before the build officially begins that morning, and all those involved will be guided by the mountain bike association members throughout the day.

The friends group will provide snacks and beverages.

Malwitz said the association will be available to help the Friends of Bradley Park on future trail adjustments if needed.

"This opens up another whole section of the park that was previously unused and will reduce wear and tear on the existing main trails while also spreading out foot traffic," Cote said.