A trail of its own


Plainville is trying to get one step closer to closing one of the largest gaps in the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail, which runs from New Haven to Northampton, Mass.
At its meeting last week, the Plainville Town Council voted to pursue a grant that would help fund the construction of a multi-use trail through Norton Park. The grant is sponsored by the states Department of Energy and Environmental Protection through the Recreation Trails Department. If the grant is approved, it would cover 80 percent of the cost of the project in Plainville, which is estimated at $406,000. The remaining 20 percent would have to be paid for by the town. However, Plainville can put “in-kind services” like design and construction administration, as credits towards the project, Town Manager Robert Lee said. This would help draw down the town’s remaining 20 percent share, which is being estimated at about $50,000.
This portion of the trail would go through Norton Park and would only be a portion of the entire trail that would run through Plainville, connecting to Farmington and Southington. While this portion doesn’t pose any serious obstacles, there are parts in this gap between Farmington and Southington that have been in negotiations with Pan Am Railways to secure for the last five years.
This part of the heritage trail “is on DEEP’s list of priority trails,” Plainville’s Economic Developer Mark DeVoe said.
The trail that could potentially be covered by the grant would be a “multi-use trail” for walkers, runners, and cyclers, and would be on-road for some parts, and off-road for others. This portion of the trail would begin at the intersection of Norton Park Road and South Washington Street. It will intersect with a 10-foot wide path and will run along the Farmington Canal, cross Norton Park Road, and continue behind Bernier Pool. The trail would cross the Skyline Drive path, continue to the southern part of Norton Park, and then turn east to South Washington Street, DeVoe said. It will continue on-road on South Washington Street, where it will eventually meet the Southington town line. The trail will not interfere with any proposed ball fields in the park, and will not take away any parking spaces.
Thomas Warnat of the  Advisory Board for the Parks and Recreation Department said the panel is “on board” with the proposed design of the multi-use trail, which may ultimately allow for the picnic area in the park to be expanded. He added that with the trail going behind the pool, it will allow for more safety in the summer months because cyclers and walkers will be out of the area where people using the pool are walking around, especially children, and cars are pulling in and out of parking spaces.
Bruce Donald, president of the Farmington Valley Trails Council, told the Plainville Town Council it could potentially help with raising money to go towards the town’s portion of the cost for the project. He said since the trails council’s inception in 1992, it has donated about $350,000 to towns for trail development.
“We really want this to happen,” Donald told the council. “It’s a big deal, and we stand ready to help.”
He said if Plainville is awarded the grant for the trail development, the Farmington Valley Trails Council would begin its fundraising measures to try and raise as much money as possible to help cover remaining costs. If Plainville is awarded the grant, the project probably wouldn’t begin until next spring, giving the trails council about one year to raise money.
There are still some sections that need to be complete before the entire heritage trail is finished, however Plainville is the only town along the trail that has yet to complete any portion of its trail. Farmington is on its way to completing its remaining portion, which will connect to Plainville’s northern section. The negotiations with Pan Am Railways are still hindering any work that needs to be completed on some portions in Southington, and Plainville, especially since there is a part of the rail that is still active.
Right now, the trail in Southington goes from the border of Cheshire, to Curtis Street. Southington’s Acting Town Engineer Jim Grappone said the town has tried to submit several proposals for funding to complete Curtis Street to Plainville, but the funding sources weren’t favorable.
Deputy Director for the Central Connecticut Regional Planning Agency Francis Pickering said the portion of the trail from Curtis Street to Lazy Lane in Southington is in the process of being developed by Solvent Recovery Service, which owns the land. The remaining portion Southington would need to develop would be from Lazy Lane to the Plainville town line, which is more complicated since Pan Am owns part of the railway. Pickering said the portion between Lazy Lane and West Queen Street is technically abandoned by Pan Am Railway, however, it still owns it. The state’s Department of Transportation tried to request “public use condition” on the property when it was abandoned. However, Pan Am was not willing to negotiate at that time and rejected the price the state was willing to pay.
“It is a big thorn right now,” Pickering said, adding that the other trouble spot is the railroad from West Queen Street to Plainville because it is still active. He said the trail that would go through Plainville goes through suburban areas of town.
“We have a lot of potential for this to be heavily used,” Pickering said, adding that the trail that would run parallel to Queen Street would be useful for people to access stores and businesses, rather than riding bikes or walking on Queen Street where it is dangerous. Pickering also said it has discussed the possibility of connecting the trail to ESPN, which would allow for employees to commute to work on foot or by bicycle. That trail could potentially go from Townline Road up Redstone Hill Road.
Once the entire Farmington Canal Heritage Trail is completed, it will eventually be a part of the East Coast Greenway, which will run from Florida to Maine.