Originally Posted on October 23, 2015
By John McDonald, Extension Intern
The Let’s Talk Trails event held in October at Torrington City Hall was arguably a gathering of the most important people involved in trail development, construction and maintenance in the state of Connecticut. Bruce Donald, Chairman of the Connecticut Greenways Council and President of the Farmington Valley Trails Council, Clare Cain of the Connecticut Forest and Parks Association (CFPA), and Laurie Giannotti of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) all participated, offering their collective experience in a series of brief presentations. Other panelists included Bruce Dinnie, Director of Vernon Parks and Recreation, a 30-year veteran of trail construction and maintenance, and Beth Critton, an attorney who sits of the Board of Directors for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. I must provide the caveat that the following synopsis does not offer a comprehensive account of this event. Readers who wish to learn more should consult our trails resources page which should be up and running very soon.
Bruce Donald’s overview of the various benefits of greenways set the tone for the morning’s proceedings. Some of what he discussed, such as economic impact and preservation and amenity value, were examined at length in the recent literature review drafted by the UConn Extension. Important topics not covered by the review but explored in detail by Mr. Donald included the role of greenways in the transportation network and in pollution and noise abatement. As Mr. Donald reported, one important new development is that biking and pedestrian activity are now considered viable transportation alternatives by the Connecticut Department of Transportation and bike/ped projects are eligible for funding as such. A balanced transportation system is now seen as one in which biking and walking play a significant role. This is reflected in such programs as Safe Routes to School and Complete Streets. The pollution and noise abatement properties of greenways are directly related to their role in the transportation system, as every trip taken by bike or on foot equates to one less trip by a motor vehicle.
Clare Cain, like Mr. Donald, emphasized the importance of trail connectivity as she discussed how the state Blue-Blazed Trail System has evolved since its inception in the 1920s. While suburban development has severed existing trails and makes it difficult to connect others, the end goal of the CFPA is an interconnected statewide network of hiking trails. Ms. Cain talked at length about the volunteer cadre that is the backbone of the CFPA, a sentiment that was later echoed by Bruce Dinnie of Vernon Parks and Recreation. Ms. Cain discussed important new technological developments that have changed the way CFPA works. All new trailhead kiosks feature a QR code, enabling smartphone users to download trail maps, access the CFPA website, and report trail conditions to the CFPA. These user-generated trail condition reports can then be used to direct trail maintenance activities. The trailhead kiosks serve as the CFPA’s public interface as well as a partial trail user counting system. The CFPA’s mapping database has also been overhauled. Much of this data is publicly accessible through Google-based interactive maps. These maps indicate trail locations and length and parking information such as location, type of parking facility and number of parking spaces. These maps also alert users to trail closures and restrictions and provide a more up-to-date accounting of the trail system than the CFPA’s traditional guidebooks, the latest edition of which came out in 2006.
Laurie Giannotti gave a specific presentation about constructing trails on DEEP property, but she also discussed the benefits that being recognized by the Connecticut Greenways Council can confer upon a designated trail. These benefits include official greenway signage at all trailheads and road crossings, a higher profile for grant requests, and inclusion in the Connecticut Plan of Conservation and Development. Most importantly, Ms. Giannotti stressed that providing ease of access is perhaps the best marketing strategy for a trail or greenway.
Bruce Dinnie discussed his lengthy experience in trail development and maintenance as Director of Parks and Recreation in Vernon, a community with three designated greenways, numerous town-owned hiking trails and a portion of the CFPA Shenipsit Trail. Mr. Dinnie praised his greenway volunteers and talked about the role of sponsorship in trail maintenance. He also discussed some of the technical aspects of trail construction and maintenance. Mr. Dinnie veered into environmental psychology topics when he mentioned how removing trees to improve visibility along trails led female trail users to feel safer, how signs should be welcoming and not a list of do-not proscriptions, and how a mural project led to a decrease in graffiti at an underpass tunnel on the Vernon trail system.
Beth Critton’s presentation centered on the potential risks for trail users and the liabilities assumed by trail owners and organizations. After listing, in an often-humorous fashion, most of risks trail users could face, she discussed the differences in liability between non-profit and for-profit trails organizations and mentioned several key court cases and the Connecticut General Statutes with relevance to trail construction and maintenance.
I was not able to stay for the following roundtable discussion.