I have glimpsed the future, and it is a 10-foot-wide ribbon of asphalt making its way from New Haven northward to the Massachusetts border.
On a recent Sunday, I joined a group of 35 bicyclists who hopped on their bicycles at the Yale University School of Engineering and followed the Farmington Canal Heritage Greenway to Simsbury. There were gaps — incomplete sections — in the trail, so so we jumped off occasionally onto local roads, with some hill climbs and jockeying with traffic. But for the most part, we rode peacefully along the route of the Farmington Canal, at the gentle grades that you expect from a former canal and railroad line, experiencing the scenery of the passing landscape — urban, suburban and rural.
It was compelling to ride and to understand the transformative power of a trail wending its way through a community and linking communities. We saw trail users of all sizes and ages, from the very young to the very old, from the fit to those trying out new exercise regimes. We saw trail users on bikes, scooters, rollerblades and on foot. Occasionally we had to slow down because so many people were on the trail.
Communities are energized by this new way to enjoy the outdoors. Businesses — a couple of stores and restaurants so far — have begun to market to the trail, drawing customers in the back door as well as the front. Developers have taken notice and have plans to transform old industrial sites to residential communities, allowing residents easy access to the trail.
The thoughts that kept going through my head as we rode along were: "When more people experience this, more people will demand a path near their homes," and "Every community needs one (or more) of these."
The Farmington Canal Trail is a part of the East Coast Greenway (www.greenway.org), a pathway that will connect cities along the East Coast from Calais, Maine, to Key West, Fla. In the Hartford region, the greenway will begin on the Hop River Trail in Andover and travel through Bolton, meet the Charter Oak Greenway in Manchester and East Hartford, connect to the riverfront trails, proceed through Hartford and Bloomfield and go through the gap in the ridge at Tariffville to connect to the canal trail.
Much of the route needs to be finalized and designed, but join me in imagining the possibilities of a trail that links our region from one end to the other: A regular stream of bicycle tourists riding through Hartford as part of a longer journey, perhaps from Boston to New York City; a trail system that is an integral part of the fabric of our communities — kids biking to school, adults biking to work, and families out for daily walks; the trail as an economic driver encouraging new investment in communities.
I urge you to to walk or bike the Farmington Canal Trail. You will see how it creates a new way to see and experience a community. Then dream — dream of a time when all the communities of our region are linked not just by roads, but also by pathways like this. Get involved with your community and encourage the completion of trails that have been started or planned. Your town deserves a trail; you deserve a trail.
Sandra M. Fry is principal transportation planner with the Capitol Region Council of Governments.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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