May – Blazing the NRVT

Published in The Hour Online – May 2013.

Norwalk River - photo by David Park

Photo by David Park

We had come to blaze the Norwalk River Valley Trail. It was a cloudless Saturday morning, and the world was leafing up. I followed other volunteers out of the sunshine and into the shady strip of woods between Riverside Avenue and Route 7 in Norwalk. Michael was offering bug spray, and warning there might be copperheads. Jim was already snipping at undergrowth with loppers. There was no hint of a trail. I‘ve done trail maintenance, but this was going to be construction. “I think we should tackle that rat’s nest,” Jim said, pointing to a tight mesh of fallen branches and vines. I looked at it and thought “we’re going to blaze exactly ten feet of trail this morning.”

One day the NRVT will provide multi-purpose trail from Calf Pasture Beach to Danbury. These woods, on a mile-long stretch of river between Union Park and New Canaan Avenue, form a “missing link” in the project’s early stages. There is completed trail at either end, and building here will connect the Maritime Aquarium to Deering Pond with paved trail. On June 1st – National Trails Day – NRVT volunteers will lead the public on a hike from Mathews Park to Deering Pond (see JOIN US ON JUNE 1ST below). The hike is intended to raise public awareness of this next piece of the NRVT puzzle, and to encourage the City Public Works Department to move ahead with design work. “It’s a question of priorities,” said David Park of the NRVT Norwalk Implementation Group, “The funds are available for a design study. We just need the City to move it up its ‘to do’ list.”

Driving along Riverside Avenue you might think that this next piece could never be very beautiful. In fact, it’s an oasis. The river flows – perhaps 50 feet wide – between steep, rocky banks. The roads are out of sight, if not out of earshot. The woods are dense and sheltering. But it would stay an inaccessible oasis unless we shifted that rat’s nest and started to hack north. Our objective today was not to build the beautiful 10-foot-wide trail that will one day exist. We wanted to cut a “deer trail” for the pioneers on June 1st. So we sawed and pulled at the rat’s nest until, much quicker than seemed possible, it was gone. The ground ahead was less tangled, and we spread along the top of the bank, sawing, clipping, pulling at brush, and flinging it off our emerging trail. Meg specialized in picking up garbage, slowly filling most of 45-gallon bag. There was all the trash you’d expect, plus an unopened can of Coors, a still-shiny cooking pan and – far too big for Meg’s bag – a truck wheel and tire. After power tools arrived to render my bow saw obsolete, I specialized in vines and brambles. They invaded from all sides, even above. One bramble sent a barb right through my thick gloves. The power tools were a boon – a chain saw to cut through storm-downed trunks, and a trimmer to help with the small stuff. Two of us made a rudimentary bridge over a small stream with rocks and logs.

I could not believe the progress we had made in two hours, and we were only the northbound party. We stepped down to the river’s edge, and the oasis became greener still. Birdsong began to drown out the traffic. When we finally reemerged onto Riverside Avenue it felt as if we had really escaped the city for a while. And we had blazed not 10 feet but half a mile. Together with the south-bounders, we had readied a new trail for June 1st, cutting back plants that scratch and sting, and sending any copperheads there might have been slinking deep into the woods. We’ll go back and give it another trim. Things grow quickly in May.

Once work on the paved “missing link” is underway, we can focus on another section – “the connection”. This is the NRVT from Deering Pond to Wilton. And when that is done, you will be able to cycle or walk, untroubled by traffic, all the way from South Norwalk to Wilton Center. It is, said Jim Carter of the Implementation Group, “all doable, not a pipe dream”. And when it happens, please remember the May 4th trailblazers: Mike Barbis, Jim Carter, Meg Doyle Burdett, Peter Eddy, Dan Landau, Rob McWilliams, Mike Mushak, David Park, Andy & Laurie Peden, Michael Richardson, Peter & Ursula Schuerch.

JOIN US ON JUNE 1ST – National Trails Day

WHERE Kiosk by trail in Mathews Park, 295 West Ave, Norwalk. Parking is available.
WHEN 10am. Only heavy rain will cancel.
ROUTES (1) “Easy Walk” along completed trail and walkways from Lockwood Mathews Mansion to Calf Pasture Beach (approx. 3 mi, 2 hrs); (2) “Easy Biking” on a route similar to the easy walk; (3) “Moderate Hike” of blazed trail from Mathews Park to Deering Pond (approx. 3 mi, 2.5 hrs).
WHAT TO TAKE Please wear appropriate clothing and footwear and bring water (long pants / sleeves, bug repellent recommended for the “moderate” hike).
QUESTIONS Jim Carter (203-682-3000) or David Park (203-866-7555)

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