Last month, out on a hike, I watched a red-tailed hawk fly from perch to perch, and then soar to circle far above. Before, on the ground, a group of deer had moved through the sun-lit trees. Later I spooked a turkey into fleeing for the brush. This didn’t happen at the Devil’s Den or high on the Appalachian Trail, but a few hundred yards from Walmart and i.Park on the Norwalk-Wilton line. One of the hawk’s perches was a CL&P transmission tower, from which it would have seen the Metro-North tracks, Route 7 and – as a sharp-eyed creature – the slender Norwalk River.
One day, on its way from the Sound to Danbury, the Norwalk River Valley Trail (NRVT) will pass through the hawk’s hunting ground. I hadn’t heard much about the NRVT until early last year. Then, David Park – author of “Kayaking in and around the Norwalk Islands” and a supporter of the trail – reached out to me after reading one of these columns. I got drawn in, and over the past year have joined other volunteers in trying to push the trail forward. This was a literal undertaking when we hacked a way through tangled undergrowth beside Riverside Avenue in Norwalk. It was a physical job too when we led a CT Trails Day hike through where we had hacked. But, for me, pushing the trail forward has mainly been about building public awareness of it with events, articles and newsletters. Other volunteers, in the meantime, have been busy talking to local governments, property owners and benefactors.
After all this hustle, it was good to get out recently and actually enjoy the NRVT, both where it exists now and where it soon may. I have called my outings “water”, “wasteland” and “woods”. (Photo album on Facebook: “McWilliams Takes a Hike”, “NRVT Outings”.)
WATER: On a glorious first Saturday in May I rode my bike from Calf Pasture Beach to Union Park. (Yes, yes, I know this column is meant to be about hiking. I’ll be back in boots soon enough.) Now, the NRVT from the beach to the Stroffolino Bridge is just a route. You won’t find a trail or even route-markers yet. From the bridge to Union Park, there is surfaced, informally-marked trail most of the way, and sidewalk where there isn’t. It was about 3.5 miles from beach to park, from the sparkling Sound to a tranquil space with greening leaves. All along the route there were views of the tapering, tidal river – from the end of quiet East Norwalk streets; in Veteran’s Park; as I waited for the Stroffolino Bridge to lower me some road; and finally from high on the mound of Oyster Shell Park. Usually I spend my trail-time enclosed in woods. What a treat to be by a bright, breezy, open harbor instead.
WASTELAND: The CT Department of Transportation land beside the tracks in South Wilton – the place where the hawk flew – may not be wasteland strictly, but it is an overgrown and unfrequented place. It is shabby here and there, with trash and the signs of secretive hangings-out. But there are wilderness elements too – rampant brush with mean barbs, wildlife aplenty, and a sense of being apart from the surrounding suburban world. Between the railroad and the Norwalk River there is a pond of several acres, a beauty spot were it not for the transmission lines. The river behind Orem’s Diner feels miles away from any hubbub.
I came to this wasteland-wilds with fellow-volunteers Dan Landau and Jim Carter to gauge the feasibility of bringing a CT Trails Day hike through it from i.Park to Wolfpit Road. It is a key section in the NRVT vision, the link between Norwalk and the brand new NRVT “demo trail” in Wilton. It would be nice for hikers on Trails Day Weekend (June 7-8) to walk here and visualize a trail as smooth and wide as the demo trail laid out beside the tracks and ponds. We’ll need to get out and clip back the undergrowth if that is to happen.
WOODS: Ten miles up Route 7, in Redding, is another CT DOT property. It is unbroken woods, a mile northeast of the very source of the Norwalk River in Ridgefield’s “Great Swamp”. The woods may one day host another section of the NRVT. There is no marked trail here today, just faint paths that sooner or later vanish. I thought I might lose my way, but either a sense of direction or dumb luck took me easily enough from Fire Hill Road up to Picketts Ridge Road. Occasional bows of surveyor’s tape left tied to trees from earlier NRVT scoutings surely helped too. The morning of my walk was still, dull and showery, but the fresh green starting to infuse the woods was luminous nonetheless. Hunting stands and ATV loops were evidence that the land is used by some already. Now, a good trail would open it to everyone.
|Where to find the NRVT today|
|CALF PASTURE TO MARITIME AQUARIUM, NORWALK||Unmarked route on road, sidewalk and trail. Kiosk with maps in Mathews Park|
|MARITIME AQUARIUM TO UNION PARK, NORWALK||Informally marked trail, occasionally on sidewalk. Kiosk with maps in Mathews Park|
|NEW CANAAN AVENUE TO BROAD STREET, NORWALK||Surfaced riverside trail starting at CL&P substation, then skirting Kellogg Pond.|
|WOLFPIT ROAD (NR OREM’S) TO RAYMOND LANE, WILTON||The NRVT “demo trail”. 0.5 miles of brand new surface through woodland|
|CENTER ST (PORTOFINO) TO SCHOOL ROAD, WILTON||Marked riverside trail via Merwin Meadows and Lovers Lane open space|