BEACON FALLS — Imagine hopping on a bicycle in Torrington and riding it south along the Naugatuck River all the way to Derby, cutting through Naugatuck and Beacon Falls along the way, crossing pedestrian bridges over the river and highway, the path beneath your wheels alternating between asphalt sidewalks, dirt paths, gravel access roads and even “catwalk trails” built into the side of a cliff.
Sound impossible? It’s not—at least not according to Council of Governments of Central Naugatuck Valley (COGCNV) planner Sam Gold and his design team from Alta Planning + Design, who envision such developments along the river as part of a long-term regional greenway project.
Gold and representatives of Alta held a public forum Tuesday night for Naugatuck and Beacon Falls residents at Woodland Regional High School, where local officials and taxpayers had the chance to share input, voice concerns and learn more about a preliminary feasibility study, which outlined how exactly the greenway might eventually be routed.
“We’re at a point now when you can start to visualize where this trail might go,” said Jeff Olson, an Alta consultant. “We’re past the railroad era and the highway era. We are now in the greenway era.”
Alta planner Phil Goff explained to attendees the possible routing of the trail from Thomaston to Beacon Falls, a section that would be called the Naugatuck River Greenway. He glossed over the Thomaston, Watertown and Waterbury segments and imparted some of the unique challenges of snaking such a trail through Naugatuck and Beacon Falls.
One of the most unique challenges, he said, is getting a trail to run adjacent to the river in the Naugatuck State Forest, along the section of Route 8 between the two towns girded on either side by cliffs.
One option for that stretch would be to construct a bridge from the east bank all the way over Route 8, the river and the railroad tracks to the west bank, where there would be ample space for a trail alongside the tracks. The bridge would likely cost between $10 and $15 million, he said, but would be “spectacular, the valley’s version of the Golden Gate Bridge.” The preliminary study calls for the construction of as many as five more, smaller bridges throughout the two towns, which Goff said would cost anywhere between $2 and $10 million.
The other option for the stretch between Naugatuck and Beacon Falls would be to keep the trail on the east side of the river and highway and actually build the trail into the side of the cliff—both by constructing “catwalk” platforms, carving a shelf out of the rock in some steep areas and reutilizing the old Route 8 roadbed.
The greenway would also run parallel to Main Street in Beacon Falls, alongside Breen Field and Linden Park in the borough and provide spur connections into downtown Naugatuck and through a more challenging portion of the state forest.
Among those present at Tuesday’s forum were Beacon Falls Selectman Mike Krenesky, Naugatuck Mayoral Aide Ed Carter and state Sen. Joseph Crisco.
Residents seemed chiefly concerned about how the project would be funded. Gold said it was a “vision plan” and conceded it could take “decades” and that the “total price tag is going to be high.” He said the short-term goal is to find certain sections that might not take as much funding or alteration and work on those first.
Olson noted the plan is in keeping with federal Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood’s planning philosophy, and planners would strive for federal funding.
But some worried that new development, like large bridges, could become eyesores and towns would be tasked with paying for their upkeep.
Carter said the greenway would only drive potential consumers into the downtown borough area, which could use a fresh injection of new business.
“Naugatuck has always made money from the factories along the river,” he said, “and now we’ll have the potential to make money on tourism.”
He added that the beauty of the riverbed area is belied by the cityscape directly surrounding it.
“I’ve got pictures [taken by the river], when you see them, you think you’re in New Hampshire or Vermont,” he said. “But no, you’re in Naugatuck. That’s the river. That’s the river we grew up fearing.”