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Assessing the Potential Value of the Naugatuck River Greenway

Originally posted on September 25, 2015

By John McDonald, Extension Intern

 

Naugatuck River

Naugatuck River in Waterbury. Photo: John McDonald

Greenways are multi-use trails that act as linear parks, often following the course of a river or former right-of-way such as a canal, railway or trolley line, or abandoned road. The Greenway movement gathered momentum in the United States through the 1980s and ’90s, and in 2001, the Naugatuck River Greenway was conceived. As of September 2015, there are only four unconnected, short segments totaling 4.1 miles in length. Completion of the greenway requires buy-in on behalf of the Valley municipalities and, with this in mind, an economic impact analysis was proposed by the Naugatuck River Greenway Steering Committee. The economic impact analysis will be a collaborative effort between the University of Connecticut Extension, UConn’s Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis, and the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments.

This study will be the first economic impact analysis of a Connecticut greenway or multi-use trail. To date, a literature review has been drafted examining similar studies and situating the project within its historical and regional context. Trail user intercept studies are planned for fall 2015, and focus groups with administrators of existing Connecticut trails will follow in the spring of 2016. The data gathered by these methods will supplement the formal economic analysis done by CCEA and the end result will be a comprehensive evaluation of the impact that the construction of the Naugatuck River Greenway will have on the Naugatuck Valley. It is hoped that the findings will encourage Naugatuck Valley municipalities to invest in the construction of the greenway, which has the potential to be beneficial in many ways to the communities it will pass through.

Potential monetary benefits include jobs added, increases in property values and, by extension, property tax revenue, and recreational expenditures by trail users which is hoped will stimulate more purchases in the Naugatuck Valley. CCEA will conduct a formal economic analysis using existing economic data and an economic simulation model called REMI, designed by Regional Economic Modeling, Incorporated. This analysis will examine regional trends and the impact that the construction of the Naugatuck River Greenway will have on the regional economy. This, however, is only one part of determining the value of the greenway. Non-monetary benefits include health benefits due to increased physical activity, preservation value due to the conservation in perpetuity of the greenway as open space, and the sense of the greenway as a community resource with aesthetic and social significance.

Study Underway to Assess the Economic Impact of the Naugatuck River Greenway Trail

Naugatuck GreenwayThe Naugatuck River Greenway (NRG) Steering Committee has initiated a 2015-2016 study to catalog the economic and quality of life impacts that will result from the construction of the Naugatuck River Greenway trail, a planned multi-use trail along the Naugatuck River. The study is designed to assist each of the 11 greenway municipalities and local greenway committees in furthering their work to complete sections of trail in their communities. The planned NRG route will follow the river for 44 miles bringing the trail through parts of Torrington, Litchfield, Harwinton, Thomaston, Watertown, Waterbury, Naugatuck, Beacon Falls, Seymour, Ansonia and Derby.

The NRG Economic Impact Study is being conducted by The Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments (NVCOG) in partnership with the UConn College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources Extension program in Community & Economic Development (Extension), the UConn Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis (CCEA), and the Northwest Hills Council of Governments (NHCOG). The project will be guided by the NRG Steering Committee, a group made up of representatives of the 11 greenway communities, state and federal representatives, and other key stakeholders. Funding to conduct the study has been received from The Connecticut Community Foundation, The Valley Community Foundation, The Eva M. Coty Fund of The Community Foundation of Northwest Connecticut, and The Katharine Matthies Foundation.

“It is important that each community have a detailed analysis on how both trail construction and the completed trail sections will impact the local economy,” said NRG Steering Committee Co-Chair Ingrid Manning. The study was designed to give municipalities information they need to make a stronger case for funding greenway construction, and findings will help them make stronger applications for state and federal grants. The study will determine the effects the NRG will have through local spending by trail users, changes in property values, construction related expenditures, the health and quality of life of residents, and potential tie-ins with brownfield redevelopment. Information gathered will also help them capitalize on the trail once it is a reality. It will look at how municipalities can maximize benefits through enhanced citizen participation, proper construction planning, trail management, marketing strategies, residential and commercial development and zoning changes.

UConn Extension’s staff in Community & Economic Development conducted an extensive literature review, detailing similar projects around the country. This is being used to inform ongoing data collection and analysis. Over the past several months, NVCOG staff and volunteers have been working to collect trail user data on the open sections of the NRG in Derby, Ansonia, Beacon Falls and Naugatuck, as well as on other comparable multiuse trails, namely the Middlebury Greenway in Middlebury and the Sue Grossman Trail in Torrington. Automated counters have been set out on trails throughout the summer and into the fall to track trail use. Trail users have also been greeted by staff and volunteers at several trailheads and asked to complete a short survey aimed at determining their demographics and spending patterns. Over the winter, the study partners plan to collect more information through multiple focus groups of trail administrators, recreation and land managers, adjacent property owners, area business owners, and local policy makers. CCEA will be completing the economic analysis that will include an analysis of property values, local spending patterns, a cost/benefit analysis, and construction spending from building sections of the trail.

As part of the process, the NRG Steering Committee and project partners will present study findings to municipal officials, developers, development agencies and the public both electronically and via an outreach forum. It will also solicit comments and suggestion from stakeholders in this regard.

The NRG corridor has been officially designated as a greenway by the CT Greenways Council and the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP). The entire greenway trail is identified as a trail of statewide significance in the Connecticut Recreational Trails Plan, and it was designated as one of 101 America’s Great Outdoors projects in 2011 by the U. S. Department of the Interior.

More information can be found at www.NaugatuckRiver.net , at www.nvcogct.org, and at http://communities.extension.uconn.edu/.