Wilton’s sections of the Norwalk River Valley Trail (NRVT) soon will be growing again, according to a presentation made by Patricia Sesto, chairman of the NRVT steering committee, to Wilton’s Board of Selectmen on Tuesday evening, Jan. 19.
Sesto said Wilton has done “beautifully” in the last couple of years building 1.5 miles of trail on the East side of the NRVT’s Wilton loop. Her presentation covered two areas of upcoming progress: more immediate work that will be done to build a boardwalk continuing the East side of the Wilton Loop (near Twin Oak Ln.); and incremental steps forward on a crucial segment joining Wilton and Norwalk, that would run between Wolfpit Rd. in Wilton and Grist Mill Rd. in Norwalk.
The town is now in the process of completing the connection between the East and West sides of the trail, as Wilton’s Department of Public Works is constructing the trail that runs along the bottom of Horseshoe Pond.
The eventual plan is for the network of 38 miles of trails to connect Danbury to Norwalk.
Sesto described a $1.1 million grant from the CT’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) that would fund 80-percent of what’s required to build a 3-mile-long section between the commuter parking lot at Wolfpit Rd. in Wilton and Grist Mill Rd. in Norwalk, to link the two towns.
On Tuesday night, the selectmen voted to approve Wilton’s first selectman Lynne Vanderslice to sign a memo of agreement between the Wilton, Norwalk and the NRVT in order to secure that grant.
The DEEP reimbursement grant of $1.1 million, is what Sesto called, “a lovely, lovely amount of money to get this section built.” The 20-percent that the Wilton, Norwalk and the NRVT would be responsible for is $275,000 that would need to be money raised or in-kind service donations.
Wilton would act as a “keeper” or host of the grant and the memo of understanding would ensure that both towns pledge responsibility. It would also allow the DEEP and any other state entities that have to be involved to move forward, and the fundraising arm of the NRVT (the Friends of the NRVT) to begin fundraising.
Sesto said the agreement outlines that the NRVT would handle fundraising and that Wilton and Norwalk would provide in-kind services, acknowledging that the communities are “different in what those in-kind services might be. Norwalk has a larger engineering department and can bring to bear some of those services; they are also in a position to get other grants that Wilton is not eligible for.”
She also confirmed that the town would have no direct financial responsibility. Instead, in-kind services could be counted against the 20-percent obligation (or $275,000). For example, the first draft of the memo of agreement was drawn up by Wilton’s town counsel Ken Bernhard. The dollar equivalent of his time would be put toward that 20-percent.
“The literal dollar amount is $0. The success that the trail has experienced thus far is because we have had such a good support from Town Hall. There is recognition that there will have to continue to be a department in the town help us. It’s too large for volunteers to organize. [But] it’s in-kind,” she said, pointing to even the time spent discussing it at the BoS meeting that night could count toward that responsibility. What’s more, the town could look back over 18 months and find appropriate time to apply toward its part of the responsibility.
However, fundraising definitely still needs to happen in order to practically cover the hard costs of building the trail.
“Even if we could get $275,000 in volunteer hours, we still have to bring some cash to the table–the $1.1 million is not enough to pay for the trail itself,” Sesto said.
She explained that, as has always been the NRVT’s practice, no contracts or steps will be committed to unless they provide evidence that matching funds exist through their own fundraising efforts. “For the Friends of the NRVT, we don’t want to extend ourselves personally for commitments we can’t meet, and Wilton doesn’t want to be entering into agreements with entities where there is exposure. We think this helps both side to go forward.”
The grant contract is for 3 years.
Prior to the meeting, the agreement was drafted by Wilton’s counsel Bernhard and looked at by his Norwalk counterpart; Norwalk’s Town Council had already approved it, as had the Friends of the NRVT.
One large (and costly) hurdle will be navigating the trail either under or over the Danbury Branch railroad line. In all likelihood, it will be impossible to complete this segment of the trail without crossing the line at some point.
Sesto said that the Department of Transportation has been part of initial conversations and are “very much on-board” and “willing to have the discussion” about such a crossing.
“I think the state is very much behind the NRVT, but it’s a big hurdle,” she said, adding, “The conversation was such that it was about making this work. I have faith in the attitude that was brought to the table.”
Sesto also asked the selectmen to approve signing vendor contracts to allow work to start on the next section of the East side of the Wilton Loop. That section, a 230 ft. long boardwalk, is at the north end of that side, near Twin Oak Ln.. The selectmen approved the execution of contracts with the vendors to start work on the footings of the boardwalk.
“We have raised sufficient funds to install the helical anchors,” that would anchor the support footings of the boardwalk, Sesto said. The work will be done by Timber & Stone, the current trail builders who have designed and built the completed sections of trail, and Conti Construction.
The total needed to execute the contracts is $60,000.
NRVT already has the money in hand, raised entirely through private donations from the community.
“People make donations to NRVT, where we have a 5-town account, and those are split into individual town accounts to support particular projects. Presently, the Wilton account has $168,000,” in contributions from Wilton donors, Sesto explained. These are all donations from the community, “A very generous community.”
Following the BoS members’ unanimous vote to approve, selectman Dick Dubow said, “It’s with sincere thanks to donor community that has made this possible.”