FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. – You cannot walk, pedal your bike or ride your horse from Greenwich to Fairfield alongside the Merritt Parkway just yet.
But if a proposal succeeds for a 37.3-mile bike, pedestrian and equestrian trail along the parkway, Fairfield County residents may be able to hit a trail spanning one end of the county to the other.
“This would give people a chance to experience the scenic parkway on foot and bike,” said Will Britnell, principal engineer for the Department of Transportation's highway design unit. “It would also provide people who live along the parkway an alternative to get from one town to another.”
State officials are seeking public feedback on potential trail designs as part of a nearly $1.3 million feasibility study. The DOT is conducting the study with a $1 million grant from the National Scenic Byways Program, with the state allocating the rest.
"During the first phase, our goal is to obtain information from local residents and business owners about what types of access they'd like to see along the trail," said Britnell. The DOT will hold a series of public workshops in the eight municipalities along the route to gather input for the envisioned path, which has been advocated by cycling enthusiasts for nearly 20 years.
The workshops are scheduled for:
• 5:30 p.m. March 22 at the Stamford Government Center;
• 6 p.m. March 26 in Greenwich Town Hall;
• 6 p.m. April 3 at New Canaan's Outback Teen Center; and
• 6 p.m. April 10 in Fairfield's at Osborn Hill School.
The DOT had opposed the trail when it believed the Merritt could be widened, Britnell said. Under the plan, the trail would border the parkway and go through Greenwich, Stamford, New Canaan, Norwalk, Westport, Fairfield, Trumbull and Stratford.
But Britnell says some residents living near the Merritt are likely to oppose a trail so close to their backyards. Environmentalists have raised concerns about deer and coyote, which roam in wooded areas along the parkway. But DOT officials said the trail would avoid areas with heavy wildlife populations.
“We also know it will be very, very costly, certainly with a price tag in the many millions of dollars,” Britnell said. "But it would be built in stages over many years.”
Supporters include David Kooris, vice president of the Stamford-based Regional Plan Association, a nonprofit research group that covers New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. The trail would establish a “unique, comprehensive and economically important network for nonmotorized travel and significantly increase property values in homes along the trail," Kooris said.
"You can’t just think about the trail in isolation because when you combine it with projects like the Norwalk River Valley Trail and Mill River Greenway in downtown Stamford, it would become part of an unparalleled system linking suburban neighborhoods with downtowns," he said.
The association hired a consultant in the early 1990s to conduct the Merritt Parkway Trail Feasibility Study, stating it “could become part of the East Coast Greenway, a 2,750-mile network of trails from Florida to Maine.”
After gathering feedback from residents and officials, engineers this summer will attempt to plan a path and the assess challenges involved with building it.
“In concept this sounds like a great idea, but there are a lot of important details that need to be worked out before we can support any design plan," said Bob Rogers, chairman of the New Canaan Parks and Recreation Commission.
"It sounds like they want to create a Connecticut version of the Appalachian Trail."