By LISA CAPOBIANCO
With ongoing efforts to close Plainville’s gap in the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail, over a dozen residents spoke out against an alternate route that connects to Tomasso Nature Park.
During a recent Town Council meeting, residents expressed their concerns about a 4.8-mile alignment that connects with Tomasso Nature Park. Known as Alignment C, this option for closing the gap is 95 percent off-road, uses the public right of way where possible, and connects with downtown and Norton Park.
After the project’s Steering Committee recommended Alignment C as a preliminary preferred route during a meeting held on July 11, many Plainville residents addressed the Town Council about the impact this option would make on Tomasso Nature Park’s serene environment.
“Dogs, bikes, fishing are not allowed in that area, which helps to keep it nice and peaceful. It was meant to be a nature park,” said resident Elaine Belanger.
Given to the town of Plainville by the Tomasso Brothers, Tomasso Nature Park was established in 1989 as a wetland mitigation area for the lost wetland that resulted from the Robertson Airport reconstruction and expansion, according to the town of Plainville’s website. Wetland vegetation, animals and soils were literally removed from the construction site and meticulously relocated by light machine and hand to their current home at Tomasso. Among the park’s wildlife includes ducks, geese and snapping turtles.
Art Marino of Bristol, the curator of Tomasso Nature Park, also opposed the route. He helped build the park with Ruth Hummel, a longtime activist and volunteer in Plainville who passed away two years ago.
“It’s a natural park—that’s what we built it for,” said Marino, who now runs educational programs for youth and organizations at the park. “I don’t want to see it get ruined.”
Residents also cited safety concerns about the route’s impact on the Perron Road area, including the Conservation Commission’s Chairperson Marge Burris and Vice Chairperson Roberta Lauria.
“That road is not wide,” said Burris.
“Most of the street has no sidewalk. You also have limited streetlighting. We are somewhat secluded,” said Lauria, urging the Council to take Alignment C off the list of alternate routes. “We have serious concerns about strangers and the possibilities of what could happen on this road.”
Resident Jeff Pooler, who has two children, also said he had “serious safety concerns” about the trail coming down Perron Road.
“My kids play on the street. It’s very concerning for me—the amount of volume of people down there,” said Pooler, adding that his neighborhood is deeply concerned.
Known as one of the most historic greenways in New England, the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail is an 84-mile multi-use trail that stretches from New Haven to Northampton, Mass. But Plainville’s gap is the last one that is currently not under design or construction—due to an active rail line.
Last year, the Capitol Region Council of Governments (CRCOG) began a study to find possible routes that would connect the trail with Plainville, New Britain, Southington, and the CTfastrak station in New Britain through a world-class multi-use trail network.
After of several public meetings last year, the study team narrowed down a list of 14 possible route options that were suggested for closing Plainville’s gap in the trail. Alignment C was one of four options.
Although the Steering Committee recommended Alignment C, nothing is set in stone yet.
Currently, the study team is in the process of refining the alignment to identify any “tricky spots,” said Tim Malone, principal planner at CRCOG. The exact route for Alignment C is not final until the Council approves it.
“We’re in the process of refining those alignments—looking for areas that might be a little bit tricky…and see if there’s a way to mitigate any concerns,” said Malone, adding that the study team is looking into the public’s concerns about Tomasso Nature Park. “This is preliminary. We really are looking for feedback.”
“It’s not a done deal until people agree that this is, in fact, the best route,” added Steering Committee member Jim Cassidy, who serves on the Plainville Greenway Alliance.
The public will have an opportunity to share input on the recommendations during a workshop planned for September. The committee also recommended a preliminary preferred alignment that connects the trail to CTfastrak. Known as Alignment E, this “off-road” option is 4.5 miles and mainly relies on state-owned right of ways between Route 72 and Black Rock Avenue.
“We’re going to be asking people to sit down at various stations and look at some of those areas we’ve identified as being potentially tricky,” said Malone.
Malone said the study team hopes to better understand residents’ concerns during this public workshop.
“We want to present something that we feel best meets the needs of the community,” said Malone.
“We want to hear what people’s concerns are,” said Cassidy. “Then we can go to work on what those concerns are and make that portion of the route better.”
For more information, visit www.gapclosure study.com/.
Comments? Email lcapobianco@BristolObserver.com.