The stone is starting to roll. After 10 years of effort by many, many people, the first leg of the South Branch Trail of Hartford's Park River Greenway is about to become a reality.
Who could have guessed that laying a trail across an unoccupied urban meadow could be so challenging?
There will be a groundbreaking for the project at 2:30 p.m. Friday at the corner of Nilan and Brookfield streets in southwest Hartford. The first stretch of paved trail will extend from that corner through meadow and forest to the corner of Brookfield Street and Flatbush Avenue. A loop from this segment closer to the river will be added later.
This first piece of greenway will be a recreational and environmental amenity. This part of the city has been reborn during the decade of planning for the trail. The old Charter Oak Terrace and Rice Heights public housing projects have given way to new single-family homes, the Breakthrough Magnet School, a completely redesigned A. I. Prince Tech, the Charter Oak shopping area, the Job Corps Academy and the new Hartford Housing Authority headquarters. The greenway will fill in the middle of this area and help make it a real neighborhood.
The trail also provides unmatched access to one of the better bird watching sites in the city. Because of the open water and the mixed meadow and forest, this marginal piece of property has become a stopover for migrating birds and habitat for wildlife including turkeys and foxes. The trail's proximity to four Hartford schools makes it an educational resource.
This new trail segment will be a wonderful first step; the trick will be to keep it from being the only step.
The trail is part of a comprehensive plan. Another section from Nilan Street to Newfield Avenue is ready to go as soon as funding (about $325,000) is available. It can link to West Hartford's Trout Brook Greenway, currently under construction in some areas.
To the north, the trail will connect to on-street bike lanes between Flatbush Avenue and Hamilton Street. From there, the system will connect to new trails through Pope Park to Capitol Avenue. Planners hope to link through Bushnell Park to the Connecticut River.
In the grand scheme, these trails will connect to the East Coast Greenway, a planned pedestrian/bicycle corridor that will run from Maine to Florida.
We cannot realistically execute this plan if each leg takes 10 years from concept to groundbreaking. This first leg was made possible by the dogged work of city, state and federal agencies, nonprofits such Knox Parks Foundation, Hartford Areas Rally Together, the Capital Region Council of Governments, Mutual Housing and neighborhood residents. The Eastern Connecticut Resource Conservation and Development Council and U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service both went above and beyond to keep the project on course. Sorting out ownership of the land was a challenge, as was procuring the funding.
Hartford has remarkable green corridors that will readily support trails for recreation and commuting. We must hope all the partners, as well as agencies such as the Department of Transportation, will see the value in an expanded trail system and help expedite it.
Jack N. Hale is the executive director of the Knox Parks Foundation.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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