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Connecticut town's trail system began with one man's vision

This article is taken from a new publication: American Pathways: Case Studies in Successful Partnering for Trails and Greenways.

From the American Hiking Society

The Trail and Partnership Movement

Branford, Connecticut is a small shoreline community with a population of 28,000. Bordering the majority of the town's perimeter is a 28 mile sectioned trail which currently passes through five shoreline communities. Every home in Branford is within 15 minutes walking time of a trail.

That the Branford Trails Program exists today reflects the initial efforts by one man working in a "grassroot" approach to develop a town wide trail program. This inspirational man, Chet Blomquist, has been a leading force for trail recognition and increasing use. Shortly after retirement as a physical education teacher, Mr. Blomquist felt the need to remain physically fit and socially interacted. Finding several companions, the group began walking pieces of open space identified by the Branford Land Trust. The group was intrigued by the natural beauty the surroundings had to offer and wanted to share their experience with other residents.

Since most of this area was on the edge of town, adjacent to the shoreline Mr. Blomquist thought linking these pieces together would provide a viable natural, recreational and educational resource for the immediate community. Based on his vision and working with the city, he created a program called "Walk around Branford" which has encouraged a high level of trail support from the community. This partnership represents a simplistic approach to initiaing a trail project for a small community with limited resources. Blomquist's long range ideas include the proposal of a 28 mile trail which surrounded the town of Branford, divided into eight segments each beginning and ending at a public road with space for parking. Today individual trails exist, but linkages for a continuous trail has not been developed.

"Walk Around Branford" Program

Initially approached by Blomquist, the city committed support for this new trail program offered to town residents. The Parks and Recreation Department provides the promotional support including printing and distributing flyers as well as the registration process. Blomquist and a few other volunteer interpreters, provide coordination and leadership of the program.

Presented twice a year, once in the fall and one in the spring, the program is exceedingly popular. Basically, the program includes participants walking all eight sections of the trail over an eight week period with each linear walk being approximately 4 miles in length. Upon the 28 mile completion, participants are awarded a "Walk the Branford Trails" patch. Part of the program includes presentations conducted right on the trail by guest speakers with environmental, natural science and educational backgrounds. This program has engaged trail advocates and support throughout the area.

Initial Steps

One of the key components of the program's success involved private land owners since much of the trail crosses private property. Permission from these property owners had to be given to administrate the program. Mr. Blomquist made a diligent effort to get the landowners to allow trail thoroughfares who were concerned with liability issues.

Program Partners

Many public agencies, private organizations and individuals have contributed time and energy to this trail program. The following list identifies partners involved with sponsoring the program:

  • Boy Scouts and Eagle Scouts - coordinated clean-ups and trail projects.
  • Branford Recreation Department - provide free transportation to trail heads.
  • Branford Recreation Walkers
  • Branford Public Works Department - provides trail map guidance.
  • Branford Senior Center
  • Branford Land Trust
  • Branford Conservation Commission
  • Branford Parks and Open Space Commission
  • Ecclesiastical Society, Church of London - provide accessibility to specific trail sections.
  • Evergreen Woods, a local retirement community - provide accessibility to specific trail sections.
  • New Haven Regional Water Authority - provide accessibility to specific trail sections.
  • Yale University - allow trail projects on their land.

Partnership Accomplishments

  • Mr. Blomquist and the City of Branford were Honored by the State Forest and Park Association as a trail town.
  • Granted accessibility rights on town property by electman.
  • Transportation from trail heads to parking provided by the Senior Center, Department of Parks and Recreation. Since the trail routes are linear, participants needed transportation back to their starting point.
  • The Ecclesiastical Society has given free access permission to the Branford Walks Program.
  • The New Haven Regional Water Authority has provided discount permit passes to the Branford Walks Program.
  • Through scouting efforts, a historical monument was created made by selectman stones
  • Through boy scout efforts, a pond adjacent to the trail is being cleaned and improved

Obstacles

One of the most challenging efforts of this program has been dealing with the Regional Water Authority which has a special permitting process. Through many lengthy discussions, the Authority finally reduced their passage rates to participants of the "Branford Walks" program.

The other obstacle is assigning responsibility for completing this long range vision. Mr. Blomquist is limited in his capabilities for land acquisition and development and needs more support from the local municipality.

Future

One future goal that has been identified is the need for an advisory task force to broaden trail representation. Some areas of further discussion might include liability concerns and easements; and, the potential development of a descriptive trail guide. According to Mr. Blomquist, he has done was he is capable of doing as a private citizen, public agencies must step in and take ownership for final trail completion.

Another goal identified by the Parks and Recreation Department is to include participation by nonresidents. Currently, only residents of Branford are covered by insurance to participate in town recreation programs including "Walk Around Branford". The department would like to see visitors from outside areas benefit from the environmental, historical and recreational features of the community.

Jointly produced by the American Hiking Society and the National Park Service, this publication contains an introduction and ten case studies showing partnership strategies of communities from Anchorage, Alaska to New York City. One of these case studies in draft form was featured in the Summer 1997 Trail Tracks.

 

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Updated March 16, 2007

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