Committee Earns National Trail Assistance Grant
Two National Park Service (NPS) advisors filled a broad, blank sheet of paper pinned to the meeting room wall with colorful markers, adding in green trees, a bright arcing yellow sun, and a green horizon.
Stephanie Stroud and Stephan Bastrzycki with the NPS Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program introduced the Bike & Trails Committee on January 15 to a NPS non-monetary assistance grant focusing on Al’s Trail, and additional opportunities it brings. Ms Stroud explained how she and Mr Bastrzycki will assist the committee and the community to “plan for parks and trails.”
A document circulated to The Newtown Bee after the meeting and forwarded by Bike & Trails Committee Chair Brid Craddock, states that the grant will also “include working on developing a broader trail vision for the town.”
Members and advisors talked about getting from Fairfield Hills to Sandy Hook by trail, restoring Al’s Trail, making additional trail connections, and more, all while receiving guidance.
Ms Stroud said they have “no set agenda. We want to hear from you.”
They “help with community events,” and “spark excitement for nature in the local community,” she said. The advisors are also backed by “a lot of people and resources to bring additional help on projects,” Ms Stroud said. Their goal is to protect spaces and “create recreational opportunities … think about stewardship for years to come.”
Rather than a grant of funds, she said, “You get our time,” for one to three years. Ms Stroud then asked for committee members’ “investment” in putting in the work as “partners” in their future efforts. She recommended “connecting” with residents “to reach everyone in the community.”
“Ask the community what they want,” she said.
That evening, they talked about creating a vision for the committee, including a search for future project funding.
Standing in front of the large drawing paper, Ms Stroud said, “It’s 2045. What are our trails systems like?” She explained that answering this mission and vision “is the work of this group.”
Ideas emerged regarding Sandy Hook, including mountain biking, kayaking and “revitalizing” Sandy Hook with an outdoor activity focus.
The group discussed Newtown’s “underutilized” rail system, Fairfield Hills as a “gem,” and the “connectivity,” of being able to get from one part of town to another via trails. Could the schools be connected? Better trails “signage,” “big views,” “scenic areas,” are all part of what makes Newtown special, group members noted as Ms Stroud wrote down key words on the paper.
The committee would need a “publicity arm,” she said. The ongoing publicity would let residents know about “the outdoors, places to venture,” and turn areas into attractions.
Newtown’s greenways might connect with other towns’ spaces, she said.
Conversation turned again to connectivity, “pocket parks,” “destinations,” “road planning and safe streets for pedestrians,” and the thought of someone in Hawleyville potentially getting to Dickinson Park without getting in a car.
Ms Stroud asked members to identify barriers. Manpower and money topped the list, while members agreed that “Not In My Back Yard,” is often encountered where trail-building is taking place in neighborhoods.
Members identified winding and narrow roads with no shoulders as a barrier to biking; the Batchelder property — a brownfield on the Monroe border — is also a barrier to rails to trails progress; while parking near certain outdoor recreation sites could become a barrier if the locations become popular on a broader scale.
Following the committee’s and advisors’ initial brainstorming, identifying goals, and forming goals, they will move toward community involvement.
Introducing The Grant
Ms Craddock said the group will hold a symposium and open house on March 8, from 11 am to 1 pm, at Newtown Community Center, 8 Simpson Street, at which time they will introduce the grant, in detail, to the public. Members will roll also out 2020 initiatives.
Ms Craddock, along with other committee members and Newtown Forest Association member Harvey Pessin, attended a recent Fairfield Hills Authority meeting on January 27.
According to meeting minutes, Ms Craddock that evening explained that the Bike and Trail Committee is a nine-member board that was appointed by First Selectman Dan Rosenthal in December 2018. The mission of the committee is to support development, maintenance, and enjoyment of interconnected sidewalks, trails, and roadways for recreation and nonmotorized transportation.
NPS advisors will work to coordinate with the Bike and Trail Committee and other commissions to “help put together a plan for a network of trails,” the minutes state.
In mid-January, Ms Craddock also created a lengthy document — Bike & Trails Committee Summary of Activities — spanning April 2019 through January 2020. A cover letter addressed to Newtown Forest Association, Newtown Bridle Lands, and Pootatuck Water Shed Organization welcomes the groups to attend Bike & Trails Committee meetings, “usually held the 3rd Wednesday of the month at the Community Center meeting room.”
Ms Craddock wrote, “We would welcome the opportunity to meet with your organization to discuss our activities and how we might all work together to promote and care for trails here in Newtown.” She also invited the groups to the upcoming symposium.
Summary of Activity
An 11-page PDF document detailed the public trail-building workshops, a “Save Al’s Trail initiative,” guest speakers at the committee meetings, research and outreach to various officials and organizations, coordinated hikes, and more.
The summary outlines the NPS grant.
Ms Craddock wrote that in January of 2020 “our committee was the recipient of a National Parks Service grant for services in kind … National Park Service staff with experience in trail planning, design, and implementation are coming to work with the committee to help us move trail projects in town forward. The grant focuses on Al’s Trail restoration and development and will also include working on developing a broader trail vision for the town.”
She stated that the vision for this project has three parts: “Trail restoration, developing a new network of trails, and a possible greenway — a corridor of open space. An overarching plan would restore the entire 10.7 miles of Al’s Trail and would include eventual use of this trail as the main artery of a larger trail network in Newtown. There are schools, residential developments, parks, open spaces, a community center, and a village center along the trail that could be connected to the trail, giving residents better access to open spaces and recreational activities. Lastly, we would like to investigate the feasibility of turning the southern section of trail between Sandy Hook Village and Fairfield Hills into a multi-use, recreational greenway that would have greater use and accessibility than the current footpath.”
January 15 was the first site visit by the NPS advisors, the document explains.
“We are looking forward to an engaged and active trail planning process over the next 18 months. The end result of this work will be a document which can be used to attach to grants for further design/planning work and for monetary grants,” Ms Craddock’s document states.
The information also introduces ideas, such as a trail census or trail counting program to get a better idea of trail use, and additional projects involving both town and state officials in implementing a trails census.
Ms Craddock’s information states that the program counts people using the trails and helps coordinators “understand how to serve the users of our trails better. Understanding the trail users, who they are, why they use trails and their trail needs will direct the committee on how best to seek grants and funding to meet those needs.”
Within the 11 pages is information about GIS mapping to collect trails data, welcoming volunteers to produce digital, interactive trail maps, and paper maps.
She also mentions a trail crew and a volunteer group of trails users, and notes other groups, individuals, and events that have some link to promoting and preserving Newtown’s open spaces and recreational opportunities.