(The following article originally appeared on Zip06.com)
By Morgan Hines
With summer traffic at its maximum in Madison, it’s nice to think that in a few more years, some of the traffic flowing into and out of Hammonasset State Park won’t be in cars. Recent progress on the Madison stretch of the Shoreline Greenway Trail (SGT) is making bicycle and pedestrian traffic a real alternative—even if it still has some hurdles to clear.
“The first sections were built in Branford at least 10 years ago. We began in Madison in Hammonasset Park about eight years ago. It is a very long-term project,” said Virginia Raff, vice chair of the Madison SGT Committee. “Most trails like this are built over an existing right-of-way like an abandoned rail bed. We don’t have a right-of-way, so we are piecing it together as we can raise funds and get landowner permission.”
Raff said that the stretch in Hammonasset built by the committee opens from the trailhead parking lot and continues a mile through the park so far.
“We just received our encroachment permit from Department of Transportation (DOT) for the section that runs along the DOT right-of-way from Webster Point Road east to where the trail now ends at the park property. We expect to complete that section before the end of the year,” said Raff. “There will still be a short gap in the trail between the trailhead parking lot and Webster Point Road parallel to the park service road. That will be completed when the project to replace the park’s underground utilities is done and trail instead of grass will be the cover.”
The work that it takes to complete the SGT has been a challenge.
“Mostly to finish building it which means identifying the route, convincing landowners to allow it to cross, raising the funds, getting permits and approvals, and, of course, construction,” said Raff. “I counted something like 14 permits, certifications, approvals, and reviews for the Hammonasset section alone. “
Raff said that the building of the trail is being supported by organizations the Madison Foundation, the Dorr Foundation, and the Recreational Trails Program of the Federal Highway Administration in addition to individual donors.
“We also obtained allocations from the U.S. Congress several years ago for the trail. The funds are being funneled through Connecticut DOT to the town governments, so they are pretty much out of the trail organization’s control,” Raff said. “The first selectman decided to use Madison’s grant for a section between Scotland Avenue and Lover’s Lane. It is being designed at the present time.”
Those committed working to build the trail do so on a volunteer basis. According to Raff, the non-profit doesn’t even have an office or a constant staff.
“There have been a number of Eagle Scout projects for the trail. In Madison, Eric Marsh installed benches and a donor appreciation sign overlooking the beautiful marsh view along the park entrance road,” said Raff. “Tom O’Sullivan installed the bench and bike rack near the parking lot. Most recently Eric Weidman of Guilford organized the planting of the rain garden and is continuing to water the plants until they are established.”
The trail is open to the public—not just those who are headed to Hammonasset with a day or season pass. One of the ways the organizers are introducing the SGT throughout the shoreline is by holding First Saturday walks each month, rotating between the four member towns (Madison, Guilford, Branford, and East Haven).
“The First Saturday Walks are intended as a way to introduce people to the SGT in general and in particular to our finished trail sections,” said Madison SGT Chair Judy Miller. “In the past few years, we’ve added bicycle rides to the mix, although those have to include non-SGT roadway. One of our most successful First Saturday events takes place at Hammonasset, where we hold an en plein air walk where local artists paint and watercolor as walkers pass by on our beautiful trail.”
“We also give presentations to community organizations, and some of the towns have held bike safety rodeos for school age children,” explained Raff. “We are clearly succeeding in that [encouragement]. Hundreds of people are using it every day.”
As the construction of the trail continues, the trail is open to all interested. For more information, visit www.shorelinegreenwaytrail.org.