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A Trail Worth Blazing

August 27, 2006

Riverfront Recapture, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, has reconnected Hartford to its waterfront, and lined both sides of the Connecticut River with parks and trails. Windsor, Wethersfield and other river towns are developing plans for riverfront pathways.

Imagine if we could connect them all. Imagine what a fully conceived statewide trail from Suffield to Old Saybrook would do for the region. Imagine if this trail continued into Massachusetts and Vermont.

A pathway from Hartford to Old Saybrook could take advantage of the existing rail line that winds along almost the entire west side of the river. As a commercial real estate specialist, I believe that a nationally known greenway will do more for economic development in the region than an underused freight line. However, the two uses might actually coexist peacefully, if designed correctly.

My first encounter with a bike trail was way back in the late 1960s, riding through the sand dunes around Provincetown. What a thrill it was to ride without traffic or other distractions through a pristine natural environment. Part of the fun was the adventure of traveling from one destination to another, eventually ending up at Race Point Beach. There were several attractions along the way including riding stables, a sightseeing biplane with its own airstrip and the steep curving dunes themselves.

Since then, I've experienced the Potomac River Trail, the Farmington Canal Trail and even a rail trail in Morgantown, W.V., along the Monongahela River. Greenways are spreading across the nation like vines along abandoned railways and through cities and towns wherever possible - connecting the dots from town to town, attraction to attraction.

Two formative experiences that further influenced my belief in the economic development power of bike/walking paths were a college semester spent in London and six years living in Hell's Kitchen, on the western side of midtown Manhattan, both within walking distance of two great rivers. In the late 1970s, both cities were languishing economically. But what a difference their waterfronts have made in their economic revivals since. And the same can be said for Providence, Boston, Pittsburgh, etc. So it can be with Hartford and other Connecticut riverfront towns.

Cities and regions boast of rail trails in their brochures, websites and advertising for a reason. Outdoor recreation is a huge attraction for everyone, but especially GenXers and the millennium generation. Location ratings done by the media and professional services will always highlight major natural attractions like rivers, mountains and lakes and all the recreational opportunities that they present. Central Connecticut must do a better job at promoting our existing recreational resources while adding new ones whenever possible. We are rich in cultural establishments, but not well known for our recreational attractions.

Most of the benefit of this concept would accrue to the towns along the river, former bustling river ports such as Old Wethersfield, Rocky Hill, Cromwell, Middletown, Haddam, etc. And towns east of the river can get into the action as well, since the trail could be designed to encourage crossing over wherever possible. As a resident of Cromwell, I can think of nothing more positive for the economic development of the town's old river port area than being a stopping point along the trail with its riverfront park and charming old railroad depot.

Towns along these trails usually see an increase in tourism that provides a ripe environment for new businesses like bed and breakfasts, restaurants and complementary retail while boosting attendance at businesses and historical attractions. Best of all, the typical users of these greenways are families and health-minded, outgoing people, who are generally respectful of property and interested in the history and people of a region.

I am interested in starting or joining a statewide effort to make a Connecticut River Trail a reality. Just as Riverfront Recapture's success has taught us, anything is possible with a good plan and a lot of determination.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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