Mill River Trail’s Phase One Approved

J. R. Logan photoBy the end of this summer New Haveners will be able to walk and bike along a short, refurbished trail that runs adjacent to the Mill River, and get a sense of what it may be like to travel from East Rock to Criscuolo Park without needing to get in a car or bus.

That future inched a little closer to reality on Wednesday night when the City Plan Commission voted unanimously to approve the site plan for the first phase of the Mill River Trail project during their regular monthly meeting on the second floor of City Hall.

Advocates for the Mill River Trail envision several miles of riverfront walking and biking paths that connect the Whitney Dam on Whitney Avenue to Criscuolo Park on James Street. The stretch that commissioners cleared for construction this summer covers a fifth of a mile on the east side of the river from 451 Grand Ave. up north to 90 John W. Murphy Dr.

Thomas Breen photoTrail advocate and Make Haven Director J.R. Logan has worked on this trail project since 2014. He said a dedicated group of volunteers has collaborated closely with the City Plan Department, the Engineering Department, and the Urban Resources Initiative (URI) over the past few years to beautify the existing riverfront property, and to develop a vision and a plan for converting an overgrown and uneven riverfront trail into a lush, durable, and continuous connector of two adjacent but disparate neighborhoods.

“People are very excited about the prospect of being connected to the river,” Logan said, “both for historical and environmental reasons. But they’re also excited to get that connectivity, of being able to connect from Criscuolo Park all the way up into East Rock park.”

City Plan Senior Project Planner Donna Hall and Beka Sturges, associate principal at the local landscape architecture firm Reed Hilderbrand, explained that this first section of the trail will help test the viability of the Mill River Trail as a whole, presenting a scenic and accessible riverfront biking and walking path that stretches just north of Grand Avenue.

“You have a sense of getting closer to the water here than you do almost anywhere else in the city,” Sturges said. “We thought that this was a place where we could really gather enthusiasm for this project.”

This first stretch of the trail will be 1,023 feet long and eight feet wide, with access points on Grand Avenue and John W. Murphy Drive. It will run through riverfront public easements granted through city land agreements with the adjacent companies Radiall and Grand Paint, and will consist of a path formed by chip and seal, which is a topcoat pressed into an asphalt base (all of which sits on top of a compacted aggregate base), that will be lined with trees, shrubs, and wetland seed mixes.

Hall said the city was recently awarded nearly $290,000 in Connecticut Recreational Trails Grant funding for the project from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEO). She said the trail advocates plan to hire a contractor this summer to build out the trail at grade, and that the trail should be open and the vegetation planted by early fall.

Hall explained that the goals and design of the path are consistent with the city’s 2004 Trails and Greenways Plan, which identifies a number of other important citywide walking and biking paths, such as the Farmington Canal, the Harbor Trail, and the Fair Haven Trail. She said the fact that this trail runs through easements already requested and received by the city means that this first phase of the Mill River Trail is building off of a foundation of past intentional city planning.

“We are taking a public access easement that is already recorded,” she said, “that was already required as a condition of prior approval that you gave, and we are enhancing that trail and that public access through this project.”

Acting City Plan Director Michael Piscatelli pointed out that the DISTRICT high-tech hub project at 470 James St. is under construction as well, and that that project also requires its developers to build a part of the Mill River Trail.

“I’ve been on that stretch of trail with my bicycle,” Westville Alder and City Plan Commissioner Adam Marchand said with a smile. “A little rough in places, but it was fun. What is the maintenance plan for this stretch of the trail.”

Logan said that there are existing maintenance obligations that come with the easements from the abutting properties, and that the current group of dedicated volunteers should only grow when the trail is refurbished and active and open for use.

Hall confirmed that basic maintenance responsibility for most of the first stretch of the trail does indeed fall to Radiall, which she describes as a “huge supporter of this trail.”

“They are very excited to have something to maintain beyond just weeds,” she said. “They’re definitely on board with this sort of thing.”

“It’s eroding quickly and it has some moments where it feels sort of like a wasteland right now,” Sturges said about the current state of the Mill River Trail, and about the importance of beginning construction on it this summer. “This is trying to turn it into something that’s stabilized and lovely where people want to be, and then we’ll build off these improvements going forward.”

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posted by: Paul Wessel on April 19, 2018  8:08am

Thank you J.R. Logan for your passion and steadfastness on this.

posted by: robn on April 19, 2018  8:46am

So I guess the Phase 2 trail still going under the DeChirico rail bridge on Humphrey means that Amtrak wouldn’t play ball and allow the trail to go under their river bridge. What a bunch of jerks.

posted by: Fairhavener on April 19, 2018  10:02am

Should be more of this—Fair Haveners looking to stay active would benefit

posted by: __quinnchionn__ on April 19, 2018  12:50pm

It would be smart to give users of the trail access to the new “DISTRICT” tech hub. Hopefully that’s likely the case when the next phase of the project is explained. I like how the trail would connect and provide easy access for pedestrians and bicyclists to get around without having to rely on transportation. I believe that making it easier for people to get around by building paths and trailways is good development for the future of towns and cities. Exactly how many miles is the proposed trail anyway?

posted by: wendy1 on April 19, 2018  2:00pm

I wish biking to FairHaven either up Grand or Chapel could be made smoother and cleaner.  This section of New Haven is tank farms, mountains of ??, and waste removal sites.
Meanwhile, Robert Greenberg’s priceless city museum may open on this trail in the near future on Grand Ave.  I hope NHI looks into this.

posted by: JCFremont on April 20, 2018  8:47am

Wendy the tank farms, the area of east and chapel is just about the last area remaining portion of New Haven’s industrial base. Want that closed and moved out? Hey there might be some “Dreamers” working in those jobs. I know you don’t like the cities largest employer what is exactly your vision for a city? Senior housing and A Pie in the Sky Rehabilitation Garden and of course Yale, minus the SOM of course?

posted by: wendy1 on April 21, 2018  11:38am

JCFremont, I realize these sites are here to stay on our “Main St.”  I live near them and hack up copious “air pollution phlegm” every AM.  My perfect NH would be an attractive and well designed batch of buildings on River ST. for homeless and working poor with gardens and small meeting rooms and a free medical clinic staffed by Yale Med School.  I would like to see less building projects and more rehab of existing buildings including 3 big ones on Greene St. which could become apts. for homeless and carless individuals with subsidized rents.  Many of NH buildings are empty or partly so and could become affordable housing.  I would like all to be non-smoking and managed by SOM students with 24/7 reception staffed areas for safety and emergencies.  I would like to see more bikes, less cars and parking lots/garages built, but easier on street parking for shoppers and the elderly until cars die out.