Norwalk River Valley Trail construction may start this year

If Wilton and the Norwalk River Valley Trail steering committee are  successful in a grant application, work could begin later this year on a portion of the Norwalk River Valley Trail (NRVT) that will loop around Wilton Center.

At its meeting on Monday, May 6, the Board of Selectmen unanimously voted to move forward with an application for a recreational trails grant paid for by the Federal Highway Administration but awarded through the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP).

The targeted portion of the trail is known as the eastern half of the Wilton Center Loop of the NRVT and encompasses Department of Transportation land along Route 7 beginning across the street from the commuter lot at Wolfpit Road up to Pimpewaug Road. It is a run of about 3.3 miles.

The trail would then cross the Norwalk River at Cannon Road to Allen’s Meadow and proceed south through Merwin Meadows, Wilton Center along the west side of Horseshoe Road and down Wolfpit back to the commuter lot. The whole loop is about eight miles, according to Pat Sesto, Wilton’s director of environmental affairs.

“Wilton is hosting the grant on behalf of the five-town steering committee  (Wilton, Ridgefield, Redding, Danbury, and Norwalk), which means our finance office is willing to administer the grant, including paying expenses out and getting reimbursed quarterly by the state,” Ms. Sesto said.

Although the grant application is for $1.6 million, the grant pool for the entire state is only $900,000, Ms. Sesto said, so any actual award would be much smaller. If awarded, the grant would be combined with privately raised funds to finance the construction of the eastern half of the loop. The western half of the loop would be completed by using existing sidewalks and trails, in-kind services from the town, and seeking opportunities to piggyback on other projects such as the gas line. This will be a public/private endeavor, Ms. Sesto said.

“Our hope is to break ground this year for the Wilton loop,” Ms. Sesto said. “We’ve got to get our final documents to DOT and get our local wetland permits.”

The hope is that the grant would include $26,000 for construction drawings from the commuter lot to Broad Street in Norwalk as well as signage for the whole trail.

Wilton and the steering committee have several advantages in applying for this grant, Ms. Sesto said, because the DOT has already demonstrated it is open to the trail and the town has already received a $180,000 grant for the routing study, which has been completed. It would make sense, she said, for the state “to continue as funding partner.”

By completing the routing study in a timely and organized manner, Ms. Sesto said, “I think we proved ourselves to be good grant recipients.”

At Monday’s meeting, Second Selectman Hal Clark said he “bushwhacked” through the eastern half of the loop, and when all is said and done, it “will open some very pretty land to use as a walking trail, a biking trail and to appreciate a lot of the natural land in Wilton.

“It’s hard for a lot of people to envision what this trail will be. We have to build a little bit of it and have people use it. Then the enthusiasm will be there,” he said.

“It’s very exciting to see this start,” First Selectman Bill Brennan said. “Some of the land was designated for Super 7. The more we can use it for recreational land, the more unlikely it will be used for a highway.”