CHESHIRE — Children who grew up learning to bike on the fledgling Farmington Heritage Canal Trail decades ago can now ride 34 uninterrupted miles with the unveiling of the completed 0.8 mile gap on Sunday.
“I used to play down there, so it’s incredible to see this developing,” said Jeffrey Guimond, who grew up near the trail in Cheshire. He is also one of the three co-owners of Ball and Socket Arts, a developing arts center adjacent to the West Main Street trail crossing.
“It really is going to create a pedestrian centric entertainment and cultural district,” he said. “I think it will bring more awareness to the neighborhood.”
Cheshire was one of the first towns to build part of the trail in 1993 with the section from South Brooksvale Road to Cornwall Ave. It now stretches from New Haven to Westfield, Mass., with only one gap in Plainville, which is currently awaiting funding.
"It became such an attraction that people from all over the region were drawn here and all over the state because many communities wanted to emulate what happened here," said former Town Manager Michael Milone, who added he’s been on the trail with his wife at least five days a week since retiring earlier this year. ““Our biggest hope is it will be a major economic development catalyst. The whole idea was to bring people down here.”
The project was stalled for years after a nearby business filed a lawsuit against the town to block construction. The alignment of the path was subsequently changed, which required building a concrete walkway over wetlands. The West Main Street crossing also features parking and bathrooms on Railroad Avenue.
Sunday’s ceremony also saw the dedication of a memorial garden in memory of Michaela Petit, who was killed in a Cheshire home invasion in 2007.
“It’s hard to put into words what it means. It gives a lot of joy to our family,” said Hanna Petit Chapman, Michaela’s aunt. “It will be a nice place to reflect.”
"This is what transforms the state of Connecticut,” said Department of Transportation Commissioner James Redeker, who led the effort to secure state funding for much of the trail. “It provides affordable transportation via biking and walking, while improving health and the vibrancy of communities along the way.”
According to Redeker, every dollar spent on trails returns $10 in commercial development and raised property values along its pathway, making the $4 million project a strong investment.
“I do think that trails are a really critical asset for our communities,” he said.
Project Manager Scott Bushee called his work on the trail “the most exciting project” he’s done during his time at the Department of Transportation.
“It’s very rewarding...it affects so many people’s lives,” he said.