I am always taken aback when I hear someone say or write that New Milford doesn’t need the New Milford River Trail. Then I realize, our organization must continually educate the community on its importance, so here goes.
New Milford has a lot of truly beautiful trails. Whether you are on Candlewood Mountain or Mount Tom, in one of the local parks like Carlson’s Grove or Clatter Valley, Harrybrooke Park, Lover’s Leap State Park, or a Weatinoge Heritage Land Preserve property, there are several options available to residents and visitors already. However, all of these trails are encapsulated within a specific property. The New Milford River Trail is different. It’s like comparing apples and oranges. The New Milford River Trail is and has always been about four key things: connectivity, historic and environmental preservation, health and well-being, and of course, economic benefit to local businesses.
As a town-length, 13-mile envisioned trail, the New Milford River Trail would connect residents in the north (as far as Gaylordsville) to the downtown area and beyond. Residents living in southern New Milford would be connected to the downtown area and beyond. If you think of the trail as the trunk of a tree with several branches, it connects most of the town parks, industry, stores and restaurants, and schools in a way that is far safer than riding a bike or walking along Route 7. It would also connect neighboring towns like Brookfield (with the extension of the Still River Greenway) and Kent.
Since both the Housatonic River and the Still River are highlights of the trail, there is an opportunity to educate people about our town’s history, most of which occurred along the trail. Since before our town was settled, Native Americans relied on the river, then later, industry and agriculture. There will be points of interest and educational signage along the proposed route.
When New Milford River Trail Association conducted a survey of residents at various functions around town in 2012/2013, 82% of the 300 surveyed, when give a choice of 11 possible scenarios to make New Milford more bicycle and pedestrian-friendly, selected a trail along the river as the best option. Amazingly, people still respond to our survey, so the percentage could be higher now. The overwhelming response was that people don’t feel safe riding on their narrow winding country roads or along Route 7. There are numerous reports out there on the health benefits of walking or riding a bike. It’s a wonderful family-friendly activity to do. People want to feel safe doing it.
Lastly, the economic benefits to our local businesses. The downtown area is the hub of the trail. With the one-mile downtown loop being enhanced with sidewalks, visual modifications, signage and points of interest, connectivity of the trail at the riverfront to the downtown area will be more appealing. It would draw residents to the downtown area. Looking forward into the future, as our population continues to age, it is a draw for young working professionals and families with discretionary income. There has been plenty of development in Brookfield at the Four Corners, including several new condominium complexes. Brookfield is eager to extend their trail to the New Milford line, and we are eager to extend ours to join them. The longer the trail, the more the economic opportunity. It becomes more appealing regionally. The further people travel, the more likely they will spend money in shops, restaurants, delis, bike shops and inns or hotels. Let’s not forget that we are part of U.S. Bike Route 7 (aka Western New England Greenway), which offers maps on their website http://wnegreenway.org/ for less traveled roads to bicycle from Canada to New York City. Their goal is to take their routes from mostly roadways to off-road. There is opportunity to capitalize on that. If you are interested in seeing our spreadsheet containing the results of economic studies completed by other trails, email us. There is plenty of proof that trails bring in much needed revenue to towns all around our country.
So, we hope to see you on the parts of the trail that already exist, including at Sega Meadows Park off Boardman and River Roads or the downtown riverfront, and hope you will continue to support our efforts to extend the trail which represents connectivity, historic preservation and education, health and fitness and economic development.