Feds call Naugatuck River greenway project promising

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An artist's rendering of Waterbury's greenway on Railroad Hill Avenue looking south from Washington Street. The proposed Naugatuck River greenway will stretch from Torrington to Beacon Falls and include a portion in Naugatuck. CONTRIBUTED

WATERBURY — A regional greenway, one day expected to hug the Naugatuck River from Torrington to Beacon Falls, has been named one of the nation’s most important projects by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The proposed 44-mile paved recreational trail is included in the agency’s report highlighting the top 100 “most promising” projects that will promote conservation and outdoor recreation.

“In general terms, it raises the visibility of the Naugatuck River greenway in giving it a greater ability to move forward,” said Peter Dorpalen, executive director of the Council of Governments of the Central Naugatuck Valley.

Although being included in the report does not provide specific funding for the regional greenway, it’s a distinction that shows the project is in line with national priorities, he said.

The overall effort is much larger in scope. Dozens of municipalities are involved, and each one is at a different stage in the planning and development process.

Torrington’s planned downtown redevelopment will incorporate the greenway, and Harwinton’s recent purchase of five acres along the river shows its commitment to the idea.

In Beacon Falls, work is currently underway on a new streetscape downtown to be included in the greenway.

In Greater Waterbury, the Council of Governments of the Central Naugatuck Valley is coordinating efforts among the five river-abutting towns it serves, but each municipality is pursuing funding on its own.

The benefits of a greenway are multifaceted, including economic and quality-of-life improvements. The projects listed in the Department of the Interior’s report are investments that “support a healthy, active population, conserve wildlife and working lands, and create travel, tourism and outdoor-recreation jobs,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, according to a press release.

The report, which names two projects per state, is part of President Barack Obama’s “America’s Great Outdoors” initiative. The Department of the Interior says it will appoint a department official to lead each project and offer technical expertise, while helping states and communities obtain grants, private funding and other resources.

As reasons for choosing the Naugatuck River greenway, the agency points out the river has “undergone a rebirth” with millions of dollars invested to improve water quality.

The other Connecticut project named is an effort to improve access to the Connecticut River by building new launch sites for canoes and kayaks, more trails and camping areas, holding public events and preserving open space.