By SHERIDAN CYR
Plainville is getting closer to closing up the final gap of the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail (FCHT), which will run 84 miles between New Haven, Conn. To Northampton, Mass. The gap in Plainville and leading into Southington is the only unplanned section in the 84-mile trail.
A collaborative workshop was held at Plainville High School Wednesday night, open to the public. The workshop included an open house where partners of the Gap Closure Trail Study were available to answer any questions and receive feedback and suggestions from residents, followed by a presentation lead by the Capitol Region Council of Governments.
The Gap Closure Study is led by CRCOG in partnership with the Connecticut Department of Transportation, the Town of Plainville, the Town of Southington, the City of New Britain, and the Plainville Greenway Alliance. The study has been evaluating feasibility and potential alignments and infrastructure needs to the FCHT.
While the rest of the trail is either complete or in the building process, there have been some roadblocks in connecting through Plainville and Southington.
Bruce Donald, Tri-State Greenway Coordinator of East Coast Greenway Alliance, one of the stakeholders in the study, explained that incentive is there for the trail to come together at this time.
“The funding has changed,” Donald said. “Prior, it was 80 percent federal funding, and 20 percent local [funded by individual towns], but now the Connecticut Department of Transportation has picked up that 20 percent.”
Donald added that, as the rest of the FCHT comes together in other towns across the state, the desire for it in Plainville rises. “Residents are traveling to nearby towns to use their portions of the trail,” he said.
“One of the bigger issues we hear about is that people don’t want this trail in their backyard,” said Donald, citing fears of crime rates, trespassing and vandalism. “This is a linear park. If people are using it, it essentially polices itself.”
Donald said that, based on studies that have been done on other completed trails, having the gap closed will increase the value of the town itself. “It becomes a talking point, and a selling point, of the town. It brings in residents and business. Once the residents have access to this wonderful amenity, it often becomes a part of their lifestyle.”
The open house served as a learning experience for the groups involved in the study and planning of the gap closure. “We value the input — both positive and negative — of the residents, and we feel confident that we can address the negative input,” said Donald.
Over 100 residents from Plainville and surrounding towns filled the cafeteria of the high school wall to wall – some angry, some excited, and some just curious.
“I like the concept, but I’m not a fan of it being near private property,” said Plainville resident David Spencer. “I used to work at a business that had a trail put in nearby. When it did, we received vandalism from mischief-makers.”
One Simsbury resident, Camilla Thompson, came out of both curiosity and support for the trail.
“Both I and my husband use the trail in Simsbury and it’s been wonderful thing for our community. I hope the Plainville people can benefit from it here as well,” said Thompson
CRCOG led a presentation following the open house.
Tim Malone, project manager on the gap closure study, explained that the study has narrowed the many path options from 14 to four practical and feasible options, and then down to one “preliminary preferred alignment.” After concerns from the meeting are collected and addressed, a final draft will be presented to residents before it goes to the Town Council for the final word.
“We want to prioritize safety, comfort and mobility for all users regardless of age and mobility. This is a multiuse trail, a great amenity for other towns and hopefully for Plainville,” said Malone.
The evaluation of the four practical and feasible options looked at off-road components, connections, safety (traffic, crashes, speeds), security, potential property impacts, potential environmental impacts and estimated costs. Out of alignments A, B, C and D, alignment C performed the best.
“Alignment C is 98 percent off-road, and our goal was 75 percent, so we are very pleased with this option,” said Theresa Carr of CRCOG. “We’ve been working to refine alignment C so that we can maximize its performance and minimize its impacts.”
The presentation included many photos of what the trail could look like. Some photos showed completed portions of other towns and cities. Others were photos of proposed trail areas of Plainville with computerized graphics to show how the trail would transform those areas.
Mary Elbech from CRCOG said there are three “facility types” on alignment C: off-road, shared, and on-street paths. Alignment C only has only a two percent on-street segment.
“On this two percent segment, we want the trail to still maintain its integrity as a trail,” said Elbech. “By using a median of lots of plants and trees between the road and trail, we can buffer that separation, and add cohesiveness so that the trail will still feel like a trail.”
There is still work to be done, and no set time frame, or exact plans for funding. This will all come once the final draft is created and accepted by the town. The workshop sought the responses of the town and will take all concerns into consideration going forward.
Comments? Email scyr@SouthingtonObserver.com.