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Grant Allows Fairfield County Trail Fans To Dream

Pat Sesto and other Norwalk River Valley Trail enthusiasts, contract number in hand, are seeking opinions from the public on a proposed 27-mile bike and pedestrian trail that would extend from Norwalk to Danbury, going through Redding, Ridgefield and Wilton.

"We've spent 20 months thinking about what it should be, really laying down the foundation for asking you what it should be," Sesto told about 20 people Monday at the Norwalk Public Library in the first meeting on the topic.

Sesto, chairman of the Norwalk River Valley Trail committee, said the state Department of Transportation in spring 2009 changed state statutes and no longer required that certain land set aside had to be used to build a Route 7 highway. The committee quickly formed to look into the possibility of using that land for a mixed-use trail and worked to get a federal grant to do a Recreational Trail Routing Study.

"It has taken us 20 months to pursue the grant, get the grant. We just got the contract number last week," she said. "It really has been a long process." That study will increase the trail's public visibility, encouraging ideas and feedback, which is important because "a multiuse trail is surprisingly complex."

Peter Cloudas of Stamford illustrated that point during the discussion. Cloudas, an engineer, leads the Stamford Bicycle Meetup and the Stamford Kayak Group, said different types of bicyclists have different needs. "A mountain biker likes a tree that has fallen down because then they can jump up on it and ride along," he said. "But then when they build a trail like this, they say, 'There's that tree, let's get rid of it.' We like to have a pile of logs to climb over."

Committee member David Park said people would like to go cross-country skiing and snowshoeing on the trail. Dog walkers conflict with bike riders, he said, because long leashes are sometimes a hazard to bikers.

Cloudas loves the idea of the Norwalk River Valley Trail. "A casual, leisure rider would get a lot of use out of this trail," he said, adding that they would no longer have to travel for an hour to find a place to ride.

The meeting was the first of five to be held this month. Each starts at 6:30 p.m. On Tuesday, a meeting will be held in the cafeteria at Wilton High School, 395 Danbury Road. Wednesday's meeting will be in Warner Hall on the Midtown Campus of Western Connecticut State University, 181 White St., Danbury. On Wednesday, May 18, opinions will be sought in Veterans Park Elementary School, 8 Governor St., Ridgefield. On Thursday, May 19, a meeting will be held at the Redding Community Center, 37 Lonetown Road, Redding. There will be two more sets of meetings over the year with a meeting in each town.

"This is a big step," Park said of the one-year study. "It gives you a vision, gives you routing, it gives you basic design, it gives you cost. Depending on the trail design, this is how much it will cost to construct the trail on this stretch. It's going to give you a lot of stuff. Then it's a matter of securing more funding, whether it's though capital requests through the towns, the municipalities, grant awards, that type of thing to do the construction."

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