The Shoreline Greenway Trail will traverse a section of the Connecticut shoreline – from water’s edge and approximately 12 miles inland – that is geographically unique and distinct from the shoreline of Rhode Island to the east and the coast, from New York to Mexico, to the west. Protected by Long Island Sound, the Connecticut shore consists of numerous inlets and harbors, tidal rivers and fecund marshes, and magnificent glacial rock formations. Historically, this shore-bound landscape defined the boundaries of towns, shaped the economy, and greatly influenced the development of coastal villages. The underlying geology of the Connecticut shoreline also informs the biological environment, creating the variety of distinct ecosystems we find in wetlands, open fields, secondary growth forests, and the abundant glacial rock formations. We will honor and celebrate all of these environments, both the biological habitats and the underlying geology with its stories told in stone. Our goal is to inform people about the distinctive ecological character of the shoreline and create a Greenway community devoted to maintaining and supporting all of these environments.
Recreation trails are for people. They allow us to get back to our roots. Trails help humans make sense of a world increasingly dominated by automobiles and pavement. They allow us to come more closely in touch with our natural surroundings, to soothe our psyches, to challenge our bodies and to practice ancient skills. In North America over the past 30 years, trails have evolved from primarily wilderness settings to become integral parts of communities, ranging from hamlets to large cities.
The Shoreline Greenway Trail will be very much part of shoreline communities. As the Shoreline is a densely populated corridor intersected by water bodies and transportation features, the Trail must thread a needle many times to link Madison with New Haven Harbor.
A Balancing Act
Developing trails in natural settings creates contradictions and demands a balance of conservation, recreational and transportation needs. Done well, a trail disturbs the natural setting very little. Trails, by definition, change the natural environment. The question for land managers is, “Can the land accommodate a trail without compromising the natural resources of the corridor?”
Put simply, trails do not belong just anywhere. We build a trail for human use, both as a guide to get from one place to another and as a way to transport us through the natural world. We must build the trail to exist within nature so that, by its shape and design, it can withstand the human and natural forces upon it while still remaining as natural as possible.
Sources of Expertise
Trails have existed throughout human history, so it’s not surprising that there is much accumulated wisdom about sound trail design. Along the Shoreline Greenway Trail, we take advantage of the skills and knowledge that are available through written references and hands-on advice from experts. We use a set of trail building and maintenance references that are recognized standards. As needed, we also engage consultants from trail-building firms as well as engineering and landscape architecture firms with trail design experience.
The Art and Science of trail building is based as much on art as it is on science. It lacks the need for identical features and strict standardization. Even after years of negotiation to develop accessibility standards for the disabled, allowances for variation remain, reflecting the varied needs of users, the varied natural landscape underfoot and the widely shared desire for varied trail experiences.
Underlying the variety of designs and situations, there are still certain guiding principles that are common denominators in conservation-based, functional and beautiful trails. We are committed to the application of these principles in the development of the Shoreline Greenway Trail:
1. Begin all consideration of trail sections by first understanding landowner stewardship practices and goals, and the carrying capacity of the land;
2. Build long-term working relationships with land owners and managers based on openness, honesty and trust;
3. Protect existing soils and geological features from compaction and erosion;
4. Focus activity within the desired trail corridor and discourage the creation of side trails that widen the corridor of impact on new trail sections, preserve natural drainage patterns by maintaining sheet flow across slopes and free flow of water courses on existing trail sections, maintain drainage patterns for sheet and free flow. Where necessary, repair the trail to restore healthy drainage;
5. Minimize the disturbance of native vegetation, remove invasive vegetation whenever possible and plant only state-approved species;
6. Manage vegetation to protect privacy, provide for vistas and to enhance public safety;
7. Respect mature trees and stone walls;
8. Design trailheads and parking areas consistent with intended intensity and types of use;
9. Promote clear expectations among users to tread and ride “softly” and to respect the environment and one another through signage and brochures, etc.
10. Maintain trails to correct unsafe conditions and to protect natural resources.