A regular theme throughout Northeastern Connecticut’s parks is their troublesome entry points and poor contiguity to other trail links.
Entering a park from a state highway in the Quiet Corner, also known as Northeastern Connecticut, can be dangerous. I've never seen a turn lane accommodate a park entrance. Often, they don't have adequate signage. It’s almost as if we’re not welcome to enter them. Frederick Law Olmsted’s vision of the pastoral was that the park is meant as our escape from life’s turmoil. Why then must we experience the harrowing endeavor of oncoming traffic/tail-gaiting in order to reach it? Is a brutal nadir necessary to reach the pastoral? If we are to get the maximum health benefit from our parks, their entry should be easier, and encouraged by smarter, more welcoming signs informing drivers of turn lanes to safely egress the highway. The entry itself should be an invitation to the pastoral.
The Quiet Corner also lacks another Olmsted precept, park contiguity. If our trails don’t connect to anything, what is their purpose? Months ago, I wrote about the Quinebaug River Trail in Danielson, Connecticut. Considered a link in the East Coast Greenway, the River Trail’s southern terminus ends in a cul-de-sac at the Plainfield town line, with no parking. Signs divert the "Greenway" to follow the busy Route 12, however its narrow shoulders, lack of sidewalks, and high speeds make it entirely unsafe as a contiguous trail for pedestrians and bicyclists. It finally reaches trail status again near Sterling, Connecticut. Whatever the future of the right-of-way may be, changes don't seem to be happening quickly.
Plainfield's First Selectman, Paul Sweet, is an avid hiker of local trails, especially the better ones nearby, such as the Air Line State Park Trail. He thinks we’re missing out on “a beautiful walk.” Sweet wishes he could get out on a bulldozer and complete the missing segment himself; however, it’s a project complicated by two major factors: portions of the former trolley rail bed lack crossings along the route, and having a trail at the far end of citizens’ backyards can turn away stakeholders. There are many property owners, and more than a few would rather keep their land. Plus, the money just isn't there.
Selectman Sweet wishes that the Quinebaug River Trail had been “taken more seriously at a time when there was more money.” He feels that these types of projects require a push. This story is an attempt. I’m certain our parks will one day be functional local marvels, when the public is given (safe) access.
Do your local parks connect to other parks? How easy is it to access or exit them? Share your stories and thoughts in the comments area below.
Credits: Images by Dan Malo. Data linked to sources.