$280K to enhance trail networks on NCLC lands

The Kent-based Northwest Connecticut Land Conservancy, the largest land trust in the state, protects and maintains recreational trails throughout its 22 public nature preserves in Northwest Connecticut.

Jerry Monkman

$280K to enhance trail networks on NCLC lands

KENT — Not long ago, people headed for the hills and trails at nature preserves in unprecedented numbers as hiking became an antidote to the global pandemic. Although COVID-19 has subsided, trail usage in the Northwest Corner and throughout Connecticut continues to climb as residents and visitors seek outdoor recreation and a connection to nature.

In response, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) is investing in those natural resources to the tune of $10 million in funding aimed at supporting the planning, building, expansion and improvement of 45 multi-use trails throughout the state.

The state’s largest land trust, the Kent-based Northwest Connecticut Land Conservancy (NCLC), is one of the grant recipients of the CT DEEP Recreational Trails and Greenway Grant Program and the CT Greenways Council. NCLC has 22 public nature preserves open to the public in 11 towns.

The nonprofit organization applied for, and was awarded in June, $280,000 to enhance trail networks on its protected lands, improving access to nature in Northwest Connecticut.

Its preserves are located in Canaan, Cornwall, Brookfield, Kent, Litchfield, New Milford, Newtown, Roxbury, Sharon, Sherman and Torrington, and serve the region.

Catherine Rawson, NCLC’s executive director, said she is “incredibly grateful” for the funding, “which will be used to develop a master plan for improvements and infrastructure at each of our 22 public nature preserves as well as five new potential preserves that we are seeking to open to the public.”

The assessment and planning process, said Rawson, will focus on safety and multi-use options for hikers, bikers and nature enthusiasts.

“We’re seeing, since the pandemic, a continued and very strong interest in the use of our nature preserves in our region, and that has not abated post-pandemic. It’s still quite strong,” Rawson noted.

The Connecticut Trail Census, a project of the UConn Center for Land Use Education and Research (CLEAR), recorded more than 2.7 million trail users at 42 trail counter locations across Connecticut in 2023. Average daily uses increased by 28% in 2023 compared to pre-pandemic (2017 to 2019) uses.

Rawson said the master plan will also identify locations for ADA-accessible trails, helping NCLV connect more people to the land.

“This funding will significantly boost our efforts to provide high-quality, accessible trails that allow residents and visitors to experience the natural beauty of Northwest Connecticut,” said Rawson. “It perfectly aligns with our mission to conserve land and water resources while promoting public enjoyment of these natural areas.”

Rawson said the first round of funding will be used to assess each of NCLC’s preserves for what their infrastructure needs are, including how to improve access and create more multi-use options. That step, she said, will begin in the fall and serve as the framework for a multi-year process focusing on project implementation and fundraising.

Among popular NCLC trails in the Northwest Corner are the 64-acre Alice McCallister Memorial Sanctuary and the 20-acre Cobble Brook Vista, both in Kent, as well as the 163-acre Sharon Wildwoods Nature Preserve. NCLC is seeking to open five new potential public nature preserves in Canaan, Cornwall, Sharon, Kent and Litchfield.

Additional Litchfield County grant recipients include the Friends of the Litchfield Community Greenway, Inc. ($320,000); Goshen Land Trust ($89,744); Town of Salisbury ($50,000) and Steep Rock Association ($60,000).

“These projects represent an investment in our communities, connecting our residents and visitors with open spaces, and providing equitable and accessible outdoor recreation opportunities,” DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes said in a statement announcing the trail grants. “Connection to Connecticut’s natural resources benefit everyone physically and mentally and enhance our state’s overall economy.”

According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, outdoor recreation in 2022 contributed nearly $4.5 billion to the state and supported more than 45,000 jobs.

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