The Naugatuck River Greenway (NRG) is a planned 44-mile long regional greenway and trail that will extend from Torrington in the north to Derby in the south, passing through eleven communities. In Spring of 2015 the Naugatuck River Greenway Steering Committee, with members from each of the eleven NRG communities, and the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments approached the University of Connecticut to assist to better understand potential economic impacts of the proposed trail as well as best practices for helping local communities capitalize on the trail when it is completed. To date, a literature review regarding trail impact studies and background on the NRG has been completed and partners have co-designed the economic impact analysis and trail user survey that will be assessed this fall. Read the newly public literature review here.
It is exciting when community partners, municipal officials and universities have an open dialogue regarding projects that will affect the towns and cities in which we reside. The proposed Naugatuck River Greenway has become a focal point for governmental agencies, non-profit organizations, and the University of Connecticut. Interest in greenways and multi-use trails has been growing in recent years, and many studies of their potential benefits have been conducted, usually from an economic perspective. The economic impact study of the proposed Naugatuck River Greenway which was initiated over the summer is a collaborative effort between UConn and the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments and is partially funded by the Connecticut Community Foundation. The Naugatuck River Greenway Steering Committee members represent the eleven communities through which the completed greenway would pass. They hail from a variety of backgrounds. Some are parks and trails professionals while others represent organizations working toward the economic and environmental well-being of the Naugatuck Valley communities.
On Thursday October 22nd from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Torrington City Hall, trails professionals will host the Let’s Talk Trails event, a panel discussion on the benefits that trails can provide the communities through which they pass. Presenters will use existing Connecticut multi-use trails and the blue-blazed hiking trail system as examples to discuss best practices for trail design, construction and maintenance. The panel will include John Monroe, the Director of Rhode Island and Connecticut projects for the Rivers and Trails Program of the National Park Service; Clare Cain, the Connecticut Forest and Park Association Trails Stewardship Director; Bruce Dinnie, the Director of the Parks and Recreation Department of Vernon; Beth Critton, an attorney who serves on the Board of Directors of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Laurie Giannotti, the State of Connecticut DEEP Parks, Trails and Greenways Program coordinator and DEEP liaison to the Connecticut Greenways Council; and Bruce Donald, who is President of the Farmington Valley Trails Council, Chairman of the Connecticut Greenways Council, and Chair of the Connecticut Committee of the East Coast Greenway Alliance.
I will be attending the event and will post a complete summary afterward.
-John McDonald, Extension Intern
The Romans advanced the concept of the genius loci, or protective spirit dwelling in a certain place. The same idea, minus the superstitious trappings of polytheism, is today reflected in the notions of spirit and sense of place. Spirit of place is more often used with unspoiled or rural locations, and references the aesthetic properties of these locales. Romantic poetry and landscape paintings attempt to convey these qualities. Sense of place refers mostly to domestic and urban sites and their psychological and social significance. It is important to understand how we are affected by the spirit of the places that we cherish and how we come to develop a sense of place through residency and habit. Many places in rural, suburban, and urban areas are under constant pressure of being redeveloped or otherwise changed due to fluctuations in the economy. In fact, it is important to realize our environment as a palimpsest, or canvas that has been painted and painted over many times throughout the course of history.
It is not necessary to look too deeply into the surrounding landscape to see vestiges of former patterns of land use. The rocky fields that broke the backs and hearts of Connecticut farmers have been reclaimed by second growth forest or transformed into pretentiously titled suburban developments. The industrial complexes that once brought money pouring into municipal coffers stand forlorn and affronted, weather beaten and vandalized, if, in fact, they have not already been torn down to make way for malls and shopping centers. I have explored the Connecticut landscape at large and chronicled my investigations into the past and present spirits of the places that I have found. I have examined my own sense of attachment to the places where I have lived, worked, and played. I have connected these experiences with what I have learned as a student.
From all these studies, both informal and academic, I have taken away the notion that changes to the landscape can be positive if well-directed and funded. True to New Urbanist principles, we can have a smoothly functioning relationship between our urban centers and their peri-urban and rural hinterlands. Open space preservation and infill development have been two of the most promising trends in modern planning work. Greenways and multi-use trails fulfill both these missions. This can be witnessed across Connecticut, but most emphatically in the Naugatuck River valley, where the interplay between the newly restored river, the abandoned industrial and transportation infrastructure, and the health and aesthetic needs of the residents of the distressed Valley municipalities has created a situation where the completion of the proposed 44-mile Naugatuck River Greenway should be seen as an imperative.
The forthcoming environmental impact analysis of the Naugatuck River Greenway has, by intention and design, a directed focus. Preservation values, health benefits, and aesthetic values are difficult to quantify. Measures such as recreation expenditures, property values, and jobs created make more sense to the municipal governments of the strapped Valley towns. It is important to note, as many researchers have pointed out, that greenways and multi-use trails are not “a panacea for economic growth” (Bunting & Briand, 2003). Unfortunately, this is how the proposed greenway must be pitched. The literature review portion of the study attempts to situate the Naugatuck River Greenway within the regional history and the history of greenways themselves. It is necessary to make these connections in order to get the full picture of how the proposed Naugatuck River Greenway will affect the Naugatuck Valley cities and towns. By considering this information and supplementing it with survey data, it is possible to capture the genius loci of the Valley and to understand how area residents may positively identify with the greenway, creating a stronger sense of place and community.
Bunting, D. & Briand, G. (2003). Impact of trails and greenways in Spokane’s Great River Gorge. Eastern Washington State University Institute for Public Policy and Economic Analysis. Retrieved from http://friendsofthefalls.org/documents/EWU-ecostudy.pdf
– John McDonald, Extension Intern
Naugatuck River in Waterbury, photo by John McDonald
Greenways are multi-use trails that act as linear parks, often following the course of a river or former right-of-way such as a canal, railway or trolley line, or abandoned road. The Greenway movement gathered momentum in the United States through the 1980s and ’90s, and in 2001, the Naugatuck River Greenway was conceived. As of September 2015, there are only four unconnected, short segments totaling 4.1 miles in length. Completion of the greenway requires buy-in on behalf of the Valley municipalities and, with this in mind, an economic impact analysis was proposed by the Naugatuck River Greenway Steering Committee. The economic impact analysis will be a collaborative effort between the University of Connecticut Extension, UConn’s Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis, and the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments.
This study will be the first economic impact analysis of a Connecticut greenway or multi-use trail. To date, a literature review has been drafted examining similar studies and situating the project within its historical and regional context. Trail user intercept studies are planned for fall 2015, and focus groups with administrators of existing Connecticut trails will follow in the spring of 2016. The data gathered by these methods will supplement the formal economic analysis done by CCEA and the end result will be a comprehensive evaluation of the impact that the construction of the Naugatuck River Greenway will have on the Naugatuck Valley. It is hoped that the findings will encourage Naugatuck Valley municipalities to invest in the construction of the greenway, which has the potential to be beneficial in many ways to the communities it will pass through.
Potential monetary benefits include jobs added, increases in property values and, by extension, property tax revenue, and recreational expenditures by trail users which is hoped will stimulate more purchases in the Naugatuck Valley. CCEA will conduct a formal economic analysis using existing economic data and an economic simulation model called REMI, designed by Regional Economic Modeling, Incorporated. This analysis will examine regional trends and the impact that the construction of the Naugatuck River Greenway will have on the regional economy. This, however, is only one part of determining the value of the greenway. Non-monetary benefits include health benefits due to increased physical activity, preservation value due to the conservation in perpetuity of the greenway as open space, and the sense of the greenway as a community resource with aesthetic and social significance.
– John McDonald, Extension Intern
The concept of a network of trails in the state of Connecticut dates back to 1929, when the Connecticut Forest and Park Association established the blue-blazed hiking trail system (CFPA, 2006). In many cases, these trails follow steep ridgelines in their quest for the most commanding views. They are accessible only to those who are able-bodied and reasonably fit. The relationship between the blue-blazed trails and Connecticut’s municipalities centers on the essential compromise between development and conservation. They are not urban trails and do not function as unifying elements in the built environment.
Greenways and multi-use trails are gently graded and often paved or surfaced with gravel. These trails are widely accessible, often to the handicapped. They often follow obsolete rights-of-way such as disused railway lines, trolley lines, roads and canal beds as they wend their way through the rolling hills typical of Connecticut’s landscape. Many greenways follow the course of rivers, as did the old railways. As rivers, railways, and canals have served and, in some cases, still serve as transportation networks, they connect cities and towns. It stands to reason that greenways and multi-use trails can link communities in a manner that hiking trails cannot.
In 1995 the Connecticut General Assembly passed Public Act 95-335, which institutionalized Connecticut’s greenways program, and the Connecticut Greenways Council recognized the state’s first greenway in 2001 (DEEP, 2015). This governing body acknowledges that greenways allow for the preservation of urban and suburban open space and provide connections between these. The linear nature of greenways and multi-use trails offers multiple points of access. Greenways provide a truly public place in areas where open land is hard to come by. They can and do function as urban parks, and encourage passive recreation.
Outdoor recreation has recently seen an overall increase in participation. Jogging, biking, and hiking are among the top five recreational activities nationwide (Outdoor Industry Association, 2013). Greenways and multi-use trails are mainly used by walkers, with bikers and joggers making up a smaller percentage of users. Many researchers have examined the relationship between greenway-related user expenditures and local economies and their findings are varied. Many studies do not differentiate between types of trail users, and caution is needed when estimating the sales revenue generated by multi-use trails and greenways. These trails may not provide the economic infusion desperately needed by many Connecticut communities.
Perhaps the most optimistic view of these trails is that through the provision of a physical connection between communities they will encourage individuals to explore their surroundings and give them a safe place to walk, jog, and ride, which in many areas is sorely lacking. Greenways and multi-use trails can also take their users back in time. In the Ruhr Valley of Germany, planners have tapped into the industrial heritage of the region. They have added to a greenway network that has been in existence since the 1920s, providing links to former industrial sites that now serve as museums and cultural centers (Bailey, 2014). In a once heavily industrialized state such as Connecticut, this strategy could be quite successful.
Bailey, H. (2014). Seeds of the future in icons of the past. Connecticut Post. Retrieved from http://www.ctpost.com/local/article/Seeds-of-the-future-in-icons-of-the-past-5940386.php.
Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. (2015). Connecticut greenways. Retrieved from http://www.ct.gov/deep/cwp/view.asp?a=2707&q=323858&deepNav_GID=1704%20
Connecticut Forest and Park Association. (2006). Connecticut walk book: West. Rockfall, CT: CFPA.
Outdoor Industry Association. (2013). Outdoor participation report. Retrieved from http://www.outdoorindustry.org/images/researchfiles/ParticipationStudy2013.pdf
– John McDonald, Extension Intern