Tuesday, September 14, 2010

$180K grant to extend River Valley Trail



By ROBERT KOCH

Villager Staff Writer


NORWALK -- Officials gathered at Union Park in Norwalk on Monday morning to announce the award of a $180,000 federal grant which they said marks a "new beginning" for the Norwalk River Valley Trail.

The proposed 27-mile bicycle/pedestrian trail from Norwalk to Danbury currently comprises a one-mile stretch that ends at Union Park in Norwalk. Another section has been opened in Wilton, between Merwin Meadows and Wilton High School.

"This is the end of the trail in its current form, and from here, we're looking to go roughly 27 miles north. So that is a big task to undertake and today marks the first major step," said Patricia Sesto, director of Wilton's Department of Environmental Affairs and chairwoman of the Norwalk River Valley Trail steering committee. But first "we need a clear sense of what is logistically feasible, and what the towns and the cities want."

On Monday morning, Sesto and officials from towns along the proposed trail announced the receipt of the $180,000 grant from the National Recreational Trails Program and approved by the Federal Highway Administration. Confirmation of the award was received this month, according to officials.

The federal money will be used to develop a study, which will serve as the foundation for construction of the trail northward. As part of the study, the steering committee will seek public input on design, routing and other aspects of the trail.

Sesto told the Wilton Villager that the NRVT steering committee will issue a request for proposals seeking a firm to prepare the study. She hopes to see the study completed within 18 months.

Officials from towns along proposed trail route stood in Union Park at the edge of the current trail and in front of a banner reading "Norwalk River Valley Trail. Five Towns. One Vision."

"I think that this, again, speaks to regional cooperation to solve many of our problems," Norwalk Mayor Richard A. Moccia said. "It's an example of when big cities and small towns can work together."

Also present were state Sen. Toni Boucher, R-26; state Sen. Bob Duff, D-25; state Rep. John W. Hetherington, R-125; Ridgefield First Selectman Rudi Marconi; and Gail Lavielle, a member of the Wilton Board of Finance and chairwoman of the NRVT public outreach subcommittee.

Lavielle, a Republican who is challenging state Rep. Peggy Reeves, D-143, this November, credited Sesto with leading the "mammoth task" of assembling the grant application last year within a two-week window -- a deadline was looming. She said construction of the trail has broad support.

"It's rare that you find something that has such universal support. The Norwalk River Valley Trail benefits every one of the communities," Lavielle said. "A number of families have told us they are so happy this is moving along."

Silvermine residents Lance Zimmerman and Deborah Lewis rode their bicycles to the grant announcement. They told The Hour Newspapers that they ride the trail regularly.

"One of my dreams, before my kids graduate from school, is they can safely ride their bikes to school," Lewis said.

Duff, himself a bicyclist, said he enjoys riding the trail, but not having to leave it at Union Park and ride on streets alongside vehicles. Boucher thanked the office of Gov. M. Jodi Rell and the state DEP for shepherding the grant application. Marconi said talk of the trail began many years ago. He credited those early talks and all who've helped advance the concept since. Hetherington said the trail will draw attention to the Norwalk and Silvermine rivers and other wetlands along its route.

"These rivers are really treasures," Hetherington said.

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