Commuters will bike along the shoreline to New Haven from as far away as Madison. Boy Scouts and other kids will have new access to nature.
A rare salt marsh sparrow will be scared away. Rowdy beer-drinking adults will fall off the boardwalks late at night, with no cops around to help.
Those two starkly different visions emerged Wednesday night about the idea of putting in a new biking and walking trail on the East Shore.
Thirty people gathered at the Nathan Hale School for the first public information meeting for a proposed half-mile trail from Lighthouse Point Park’s butterfly garden through the salt marsh and nature preserve and culminating at the bridge on South End Road spanning Morris Creek by the East Haven City line.
The spur would be New Haven’s portion of a proposed Shoreline Greenway Trail, 25 miles of continuous pathway for non-motorized travel along the shoreline. The aim is to link Hammonasset with Lighthouse Point Park, the way the Farmington Canal Trail connects New Haven with Cheshire.
Planners have been trying to make this project happen for ten years. So far some small sections near Hammonasset Beach State Park and in East Haven are complete.
The proposed trail would pass from the butterfly garden, over a small dam, by an osprey platform along Morris Creek. From there, it would follow a raised berm and then through a long boardwalk over the delicate salt march that lands on narrow Cart Road. Then it would loop to its terminus up by the South End Road bridge, where the “hand off” occurs to the East Haven section.
Almost all the land belongs either to the New Haven Land Trust or to the city. Total estimated cost: $795,000.
The committee moving this project along has consisted of Morris Cove Alderman Sal DeCola and John Cox, a Morris Cover and member of the Shoreline Greenway Trail advisory board. Not a dollar has yet been raised to build it. That can’t happen until a viable plan has been agreed on, said Cox.
Last year the city spent $7,000 to hire the Stantec consulting firm, which has been working on sections of the trail for the other towns, to take a first shot at a feasible route and to solicit the public’s opinion and ideas.
Bad For The Osprey?
Morris Covers weren’t shy about expressing theirs, evenly split between pro and con.
“My mother gave that [land] to the [New Haven] Land Trust three years ago, with the understanding nothing be built,” said Susan Neal, who lives on South End Road. That “nothing” includes the trail and the boardwalks that will traverse the marsh.
“You gonna get people walking there one-two in the morning? It’s [already] a big party all night long at the bridge on South End Road,” she said.
Her neighbor Tracy Fiorillo, whose house also faces the bridge, agreed. “Alcohol, diapers, condoms, we clean up all the time,” when people use Lighthouse Point Park. “If someone gets rowdy and falls off your boardwalk on our property, who’s responsible?” she asked.
Parks department Director Bob Levine, who had convened the gathering, replied, “The more good stuff [good behavior] that goes on, the less bad stuff.”
That didn’t mollify Charles Cheslock, who lives on Cart Road, where the proposed over-the-marsh boardwalk lands and the balance of the trail moves along on the narrow rustic lane out to South End Road.
He was so upset that when he got wind of the proposal a month ago, that he hired attorney Keith R. Ainsworth and together they formed The Salt Marsh Conservancy. Ainsworth termed the group a voluntary association whose aim is to raise serious concerns about the plan every step of the way.
Those concerns include the fate of the salt marsh sparrow, a not-so-rare bird that he claimed might not survive the changes, and not so rare young humans who might disturb the night and endanger the neighborhood.
Cheslock brought with him photographs of sections of the trail in East Haven. It had large boulders that were defaced by graffiti. Brandishing color photographs of the defaced rocks, he said, “I’ve been in business in the inner city. I know the Hill, Newhallville. Are these [tags] gang related?” he asked.
Barbara Brown, chairwoman of the East Haven section of the greenway, reassured Cheslock the graffiti will be removed and a robust police presence is involved in supervising the trail.
In a slew of other concerns, Cheslock added: the dangerously swift current in Morris Creek could sweep away visiting kids. The extreme narrowness of Cart Road, with new parkers lured by the trail, will make it impossible for emergency vehicles to arrive. Most of all the osprey, and their nests, have to be moved if the trail as proposed comes to pass.
“[That prospect] puts tears in my eyes. I watched two baby osprey take their first meal,” he recalled.
Good For The Boy Scouts
Ned Taylor supported the plan for its beauty and increased access, especially its value for kids. He lives on Townsend Avenue and has supervised Boy Scouts constructing sections of the trail in East Haven.
He responded to Cheslock and the others concerned with safety, graffiti, sparrows, and garbage: “If you do it right, it works. You get new birds. I put Scouts out there. It can be done. [Regarding bad behaviors] Make a pest of yourself with the police.”
Cox characterized the meeting as “a good dialogue. People expressed their views and we’ll work with them. We’ll do the best possible job of accommodating them.”
Attorney Ainsworth vowed that he and Cheslock will be “at every future meeting and permitting opportunity.”