Last week I attended the monthly meeting – my first – of the Norwalk River Valley Trail Regional Steering Committee. The trail is still more project than reality, but the vision is wonderful — “a 38 mile route (including loops) for cyclists, hikers and walkers from Calf Pasture Beach in Norwalk, north to Danbury.”
Inevitably I imagine first how it will work for me. I live near the proposed route, and salivate at the prospect of easy access to miles of trail. It will be like my boyhood, when a footpath began two houses down our street, and connected to a network of paths all over town and country.
When the NRVT is complete, I will be able to hike without getting into the car first. There will be local walks that are off-road. My daughters might be able to get places – the library, Starbucks, even the beach – on their bikes with less exposure to busy roads.
But the NRVT will be irresistible to other locals too. I already regularly bike a section of its route through Wilton and, judging by the number of riders, walkers, dog-walkers and runners that I need to steer around even now, demand for good, continuous trail will be high.
But what about visitors? Will they flock to the NRVT for recreation?
We have to be honest here. The Norwalk River valley is not the Shenandoah, nor even the Housatonic. When you chug up to Wilton from South Norwalk on the train, the last thing you think as you look out the window is “my, this is fine hiking country”.
But urban and suburban trails are valuable just because they are close to where people live, and accessible by public transport. Uninterrupted beauty is not essential. Not long ago, I hiked a trail like this – Scotland’s Clyde Walkway. It runs 40 miles up the River Clyde from Glasgow, a city of 600,000. The first 20 miles are mostly urban, even industrial. The picture above is pretty enough, but the M74 motorway was behind me and there were factories behind the trees.
My only problem with the Clyde Walkway had nothing to do with the scenery. My gripe was with the signage. Now, I have no objection to hiking without signposts or even blazes. But when you advertise a walkway or a trail – especially one in settled country – the public has a right to expect regular and consistent marking. It was not the case on the banks of the Clyde, but the NRVT seemed last week to have the matter well in hand.