September 1, 2006
By PETER MARTEKA, Courant Staff Writer
It's hard to envision something on paper. The proposed path known as the Charter Oak Trail/East Coast Greenway gap was one of those things.
But after a "windshield view" of the proposed link, it's hard not to get excited about a trail extension that would eventually link downtown Hartford with "The Notch" and the suburbs of eastern Connecticut, such as Manchester, Bolton, Vernon and points beyond.
On Wednesday, I met with Manchester resident William O'Neill and Bolton resident Gwen Marrion, who have teamed up and are hoping to get this gap filled over the next few years. Once it's completed, trail enthusiasts and bicyclists will be able to journey to Rentschler Field, Riverfront Recapture or downtown Hartford.
By sometime next year, approximately half of that gap will be filled with a link from the current eastern terminus of the Charter Oak Greenway at Gardner Street to Finley Street - and if funding holds up to the Bolton town line. Marrion is working with state Department of Transportation to link the trail from the town line to Bolton Notch State Park and the Hop River multi-use trails that run from Bolton to Willimantic.
"The Notch and the Hop River trail are the destinations," O'Neill said. "We are trying to get the planets aligned here. You have [state Department of Environmental Protection] Commissioner Gina McCarthy talking about no child left inside and [state Department of Health] Commissioner J. Robert Galvin talking about getting out and walking. First we have to get these gaps closed so people will have an uninterrupted corridor to really travel on."
Although we couldn't get permission from the state Department of Transportation to walk the link because most of it would be along the I-384 right-of-way, we traveled the link by car with O'Neill noting how the trail would pass one of the state's largest waterfalls, an abandoned copper mine, forests, reservoir watersheds, the Shenipsit Trail and eventually Bolton Notch State Park on the trail's eastern terminus.
"This is just something waiting to happen," said Marrion, who serves as chairwoman of the Bolton Inland Wetlands Commission and president of the Bolton Land Trust. "I'm seeing more and more people using the trail. When I used to walk the Hop River trail, I would see maybe one person a week. Now I'm seeing three a day.
"This is the place to be," she said from the state park. "From here you can turn and head to Manchester and Mount Nebo or the football field or the riverfront or go to Freja Park in Bolton or on up to Vernon. This is a real important junction where all these different points meet. This will be a destination."
O'Neill notes that the whole effort now is seeking permission for the greenway from the DOT. Much of the greenway from the town line into Bolton will be within the scenic watershed of the Howard and Porter reservoirs south of I-384. When the path hits Route 85, it will cross I-384 over the Route 85 bridge, and continue to the notch along the north side of I-384.
"There's enough right-of-way, so every chance we get to dive into the woods, we do," O'Neill said. "The deeper into the woods you can get it, the more fun it will be."
The 12-mile-long Charter Oak Greenway has been completed from Forbes Street in East Hartford to Gardner Street in Manchester. Future plans include running the greenway from Forbes Street behind what is soon to become the former Showcase Cinemas to the football stadium.
The Charter Oak Greenway is part of the 2,600-mile East Coast Greenway - the "urban alternative to the Appalachian Trail." When completed, the greenway will extend from the Florida Keys to Maine and the Canadian border. A 177-mile section is planned for Connecticut, snaking from Greenwich to Moosup on its way to Rhode Island.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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