Mike Mushak couldn't believe his eyes Sunday as he exited a riverfront walk behind the Avalon Apartments. There was a simulated brick walk stamped into the pavement, next to where the bus station is being renovated. "This is really amazing," he said. "Oh my God, I'm so happy."
Mushak and his partner, David Westmoreland, were walking the Harbor Loop Trail, a proposed route Norwalkers dreamed up 30 years ago and have yet to see finished. Westmoreland and Mushak, "two crazy guys," have a mantra about the proposal "We're not going to wait 10 years."
The Harbor Loop Trail is part of Norwalk's zoning and permitting process: Anyone who builds on the water along its proposed path is required to construct a waterfront pathway. The idea is that the parts will eventually connect, and Norwalk will have a trail. But that hasn't happened.
"Some of the sections are so old that they've actually started deteriorating, and they've never been used," said Mushak, a landscape architect.
The men have visited bike trails in Florida, Toronto and on the West Side of Manhattan. They've seen how other communities have dealt with similar problems, and they say the trail can be opened within a year. They have a route mapped out that skips parts that aren't built yet, and they have paid a graphic artist to design an "urban tattoo," a symbol that will identify the trail. Volunteers would apply bright green traffic paint through a stencil, and walkers would always be within sight of the urban tattoo. That would be in addition to signs directing people to the trail.
They had hoped to get it done by the end of July. Now they're hoping to get it down within a year. But they can't just attack the city streets "guerilla style," they need to get approval for each spot they want to put a stencil or a sign.
Mayor Richard Moccia supports the plan. "Absolutely, it's a good idea," he said. "If he let's me know if it's anything the city can help with, certainly we'll try to expedite it." One good thing: New construction is expected within a year that will complete another waterfront section.
Mushak says the trail will attract people from the suburbs. Industrial plants along the eastern side prevent people from walking along the water, but "where else can you be within 10 feet of an asphalt plant? So this becomes part of the experience. We don't deny it; we don't want to screen it. No, not at all, celebrate it."
"The harbor was always a working port," said Westmoreland, president of the Norwalk Historical Society. "It always had industry around it. If you look at all the old drawings, it's boats, it's industry, It's history. This is what Norwalk is. We don't really want to pretty it up or change it."
The western side of the trail would go a few blocks inland, behind the Norwalk YMCA using what will become the Norwalk River Valley Trail, providing a glimpse into the "urban fabric" with "a whole different flavor," Mushak said.
They say the trail will change people's perception of Norwalk, now thought of as a "driving city." The trail is only 3 miles long, they say, and connects businesses and historic areas, including Pine Island Cemetery and Wall Street.
The stamped brick pavement was a big improvement, the men said, because a high curb was there before. Mushak sent an email about the problem a couple of months ago, and he was pleased to see results.
"Let's identify the route now, using all these existing pieces," Mushak said. "It's 90 percent complete. ... We're not going to wait, there's a few issues with the city but we'll get it right. We'll get them onboard."
What do you think? Are they crazy?
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