Last Friday, April 30, Wilton town officials publicly issued a stern warning to residents who have been forging unauthorized new trails in local parks and trail systems. The practice, they say, is damaging to the natural environment.
The statement from the town read:
“Over the past two years, individuals have created and marked ‘rogue’ trails in town-owned or managed parks, particularly in Bradley Park. The unauthorized work has resulted in the degradation of the natural areas within the park, including soil compaction and erosion, loss of habitat for native plants, and forest-block fragmentation that displaces wildlife.”
GOOD Morning Wilton reached out to Wilton’s Director of Environmental Affairs Mike Conklin, who said the unauthorized trail activity has been a problem for some time, but it seems to have increased since the COVID-19 pandemic began. As more people are getting out into nature, perhaps they are seeking to avoid other people on the main trails, or just trying, literally, to get off the beaten path and have more alternatives to the existing trails.
Whatever their motivation, “it cannot continue,” Conklin said very firmly.
As the town’s statement explained, the Environmental Affairs Department has made efforts to restore damaged areas and to shut down the unauthorized trails with signage, but some residents are not complying.
According to the town statement, “The department’s habitat restoration efforts have been met with resistance from certain members of the public who repeatedly destroy the restoration efforts and remove informational signage.”
GMW visited the trails on Saturday, May 1. Posted signage was visible along the trails, strictly prohibiting any “unauthorized modification,” reminding visitors to stay on marked trails, and giving notice about recently restored areas to be undisturbed.
Though the town statement also alluded to the problem in other town parks and trails, Conklin said the problem is most acute in Bradley Park. He emphasized the so-called rogue paths have been so heavily trodden they sometimes appear indistinguishable from designated routes. As a result, Conklin says, other hikers and bikers may not even realize they are off-limits.
Authorized trails are clearly marked at frequent intervals by colored symbols painted on trees, such as those seen below. (A trail map may be found online as well as on a kiosk just inside the park.)
Unauthorized paths, like this one below in Bradley Park, may appear well-traveled but town environmental officials say they should not be followed unless they have official trail markings.
Residents Push Back
GMW spoke with multiple town residents who strongly believe the town is being too restrictive when it comes to the trails.
One resident, who wished to remain anonymous and who is a frequent user of Bradley Park trails, commented that the “rogue” trails were merely intended to connect other existing trails and paled in comparison to the vast areas the town has given residential and commercial landowners permission to clear areas for their own purposes.
That resident also felt that the town would be better served by prioritizing the maintenance of the existing trails, which the resident claimed were in badly eroded condition in many places. “The Orange loop is absolutely beat to death — eroded, widening by the year, [with] exposed roots, rocks, etc.,” according to the resident.
Another Wilton resident, Jeff Woodring, made an inquiry with the town when he noticed some of the unauthorized trails had been blocked. In an April 9 email, Woodring wrote, “My name is Jeff Woodring and I have lived with my wife and three children [in Wilton] since 2007. We hike Bradley often with our dog (and I bike it often as well). Why has access to some of the trails been blocked? We usually do a few loops and try to not cover the same ground twice. Some of the paths we used are now obstructed. Seems like more work is actually being done to block access than would ever be needed to leave the trails open. Why? Please return Bradley to its original state.”
Zen Herter, an environmental analyst in the Environmental Affairs Department, responded to Woodring’s inquiry in an April 12 email. “The areas that have been blocked off are not trails… you may have been walking these areas for some time but that does not change that they are not authorized trails.”
Herter also offered a reminder that “the parks are primarily conservation areas intended to allow for open spaces within the community, as well as spaces for certain species to live and reproduce without the complications of human interference. This is why there are specific, designated trails that help to minimize the stress and issues that arise from wildlife interaction with humans.”
Woodring did not consider the town’s position to be reasonable. “No animals are being harmed nor pushed out [because] of a few trails,” he told GMW. He sees it as an overzealous “control issue” and, like the anonymous resident in this story, felt that maintenance of the main trails was more of an issue.
Both of the residents mentioned above and the town seem to agree on one thing: the rogue trailblazers simply didn’t have permission from the town.
That permission is something Conklin said was absolutely required for any “work” conducted in a town park, whether done in an official capacity or by a volunteer.
When GMW asked Conklin whether there would be penalties for rogue trail offenders, he avoided answering directly and said he hoped it wouldn’t come to that. Rather, Conklin said he preferred that those involved with the rogue trails “stop undoing the work of the town” and be more respectful of the town’s park rules.
The town is appealing to residents’ “shared sense of stewardship” and their interest in helping the town “avoid more costly and invasive” efforts to protect the environment.
They are also asking anyone who observes a problem on the trails to take a photo and report it on SeeClickFix.
What Else Not to Do
Need we say more… TAKE IT WITH YOU!
Wait… You Haven’t Been to Bradley Park?
Bradley Park might be one of Wilton’s best-kept secrets.
The nearly 83-acre oasis is tucked away from busy roads, though not far from Wolfpit Rd. It actually sits on the ridge above Wilton Center. The main entrance is located on Oak Ledge Ln., where there is on-street parking. Trails may also be accessed from Woodchuck Ln., Old Farm Rd., Graenest Ridge Rd., and River Road.
The longest trail, the Arboretum (orange) trail, is 1.16 miles, while several smaller trail sections (ranging from 0.3 to 0.65 miles each) provide various ways to extend the mileage.
In addition to the marked trails, the park features impressive rock ledges, rambling stone walls, babbling brooks and several wetlands, along with oak, maple and tulip poplar trees. Ferns, shrubs, and flowering plants such as sweet pepperbush and swamp azalea are abundant.
While the trails may not be as clear, wide or stroller-friendly as the Norwalk River Valley Trail, there are boardwalk footpaths present in several locations to help visitors traverse the wettest areas.
More information on the trails, including a trail map, is on the town website.