MERIDEN — Regional and local officials continue putting together plans to connect the city’s existing paved trail system from downtown Meriden for bicyclists and walkers through Giuffrida Park and into Middletown.
The Meriden segment is part of a larger effort called the Central Connecticut Loop Trail connector that runs from the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail in Cheshire through Meriden, Portland and East Hampton to join up with the Air Line Trail that runs from Bolton to Hartford and then back to the Farmington Canal Trail.
Supporters believe the trail will be a strong attraction for cyclists from in and out of the state. Because it passes by rail stations in Meriden and Hartford, it would encourage transportation by bicycle and train.
At a September meeting, engineers and consultants said the Meriden Phase II plan calls for the linear trail to be connected at Brookside Park using an old rail line that travels from the park to Broad Street. A signal light at Atkins Street will provide access to the continued rail line on the eastern side of Broad Street.
The city is currently working on properties on Hanover Road to realign Harbor Brook to reduce flooding. The work will yield an extension of the linear trail along Hanover to the Meriden Green. Forging a trail from the northern part of the Green to Brookside Park is still in the works, city officials said.
The rail line trail across Broad Street will travel to Bee Street where it will cross and continue along Westfield Road. A 10- to 15-foot-wide path will be constructed to get to the entrance to Giuffrida Park.
Engineers and consultants noted the steep climb to the park entrance and said the path can be meandered some to reduce the grade for pedestrians and cyclists. Another paved portion at the rear of the Bradley Hubbard Dam will bring the trail to the Blue Ridge Trail system where it will cross into Middletown.
The South Central Region Council of Governments commissioned the study at $108,000 to open up transportation options in open space areas in Connecticut. The entire project will encompass 111 miles.
“The step we’re in right now, is we’re performing a study,” said Emile Pierides, associate city engineer. “SCRCOG gave us a grant to fill in the gap from Cheshire to Middletown. The trail under construction now is for the Harbor Brook portion to the Meriden Green. This study is just for the section from Brookside Park to Middletown.”
The trail planners could not follow the entire rail bed beyond Bee Street because it leads to the Suzio York Hill quarry, cuts through significant wetlands and personal properties that would have to be settled first, planners said.
They determined the best alignment would travel along Bee Street to Westfied and into Giufridda Park. The trail would be 10-15 feet wide alongside the existing sidewalk.
The city owns much of the property on Westfield Drive to Hunters Golf Course and the park entrance.
“The end of the (park) driveway is where it gets really steep,” Pierides said. “We don’t have to follow the driveway into the park. We can make the trail make a more gradual slope so you maintain a steady grade.”
The part that engineers want to pave is an upper trail along the western side of the park. The western most trail is basically a gravel road used infrequently by the city and Eversource, which has a power line easement in the area.
There appears to be some confusion among the public about exactly what will be paved.
“Once there (at the parking lot) there are multiple trails,” Pierides said. “The western most trail is basically a gravel road. That isn’t the trail. It’s an upper trail to the west. It’s fairly flat and it’s gravel and 10 to 15 feet already. Makes a lot of sense to have the trail on that. It’s not on the water until we get to the back section of the lake and combines with the trail that goes around the reservoir for a short period.”
Once beyond the lake, it meets the Blue Ridge Trail into Middletown. City engineers have met with Middletown and SCRCOG officials several times to determine where Middletown can pick up the trail in its city.
Study authors are accepting public comments about the proposed trail and have received mainly positive comments, although some people are averse to paving the trail around the reservoir.
“I am opposed to paving the trail right along the lake side of the lake at Giuffrida Park (or removing the trees so that any trail further away would have a clear view of the lake),” Lisa Davis, a member of the Meriden Land Trust Board of Directors, stated in an email. “The walk along the lake under the trees that were planted by the WPA, clamoring over the roots ... standing amongst the trees, maybe fishing or walking a dog is a classic feature of Meriden.”
Davis said she is speaking for herself and not the group. She understands the need for access for those with disabilities. “However, not all locations can be adapted without causing major disruptions.”
Other people expressed positive views about the project and think it will help more residents explore open spaces in the city and elsewhere.
“I was totally against paving the Red Bridge Trail,” Michael Hoffman stated on social media. “It was a great trail for hiking and easy mountain biking. But after seeing it get so much use and so many people enjoying it, I changed my mind. If it gets more people out of the house and outdoors, I think it’s worth it as long as enough undeveloped trails remain.”
The study authors are still gathering public comments about the proposal and expect a full report to be completed in January.
For more details on the September presentation and to leave a comment, please go online and visit: https://www.meridenct.gov/announcements/central-ct-loop-trail-connection-study/