It started in 2001 when a group of outdoor enthusiasts from Guilford hatched an ambitious plan to build a system of interconnected jogging, hiking, and biking trails along the Shoreline. They envisioned a continuous trail way starting from Lighthouse Point Park on New Haven Harbor and meandering for 25 miles east, through East Haven, Branford, Guilford, and Madison, culminating at Hammonasset Beach State Park.
A dozen years later, what’s grown into a grassroots, nonprofit volunteer organization has completed more than a quarter of the Shoreline Greenway Trail, comprising a scenic patchwork of sections here and there. Yet it’s already a unique coastal Connecticut gem if not also a proud testament to volunteerism and persistence— destined to be cherished for generations.
A good place to start is the recently opened mile-long walkway that begins just inside the entrance to Hammonasset State Park on Boston Post Road in Madison. After ogling the verdant vista of tidal marshlands bracketed by lush forests from a set of benches (the Eagle Scout project of aptly named Eric Marsh), proceed across the sturdy bridge constructed of wooden railings and a perforated decking composite called ThruFlow. This leads onto a hard-packed, crushedstone trail (milled from pink Stony Creek granite), plenty wide enough for hikers, joggers, strollers, and cyclists to spatially coexist.
The trail abuts the north edge of Hammonasset for a few hundred yards before curling into the woods, with the marshlands to the left, popping out for a brief peek at the Post Road, then undulating back into the wilds, often with the Long Island Sound glistening along the horizon. This picturesque stretch epitomizes the Greenway Trail, not only for the Shoreline’s why-we-live-here blend of seaside and woodland beauty but also for the complexity of the project.
“The bridge had to be approved by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the federal Army Corps of Engineers,” explains Chip Angle, a Guilford resident and chair of the Greenway Trail board. The Army Corps had originally wanted it to be much higher, to protect the marsh below, until they learned that ThruFlow lets 80% of sunlight through so the grasses can flourish. This section of the trail also had to pass muster with the federal Department of Transportation, because it borders U.S. Route 1, as well as Madison’s wetlands authority and a governmental council that coordinates transportation throughout the region.
“There are a gazillion permits required,” says Angle, a veteran of these types of projects as a longtime board member of the national Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, famed for transforming dormant railway beds and towpaths into similar public pathways. Besides navigating the gauntlet of federal, state, and county bureaucracies, the Greenway Trail troupe had to mollify each of the four towns’ governments and, in some spots, convince private landowners to grant easements.
“We have a couple of lawyers and other volunteers who’ve sloughed through the procedures,” Angle says, adding that dozens of volunteers are also responsible for most of the heavy lifting involved in building the trail. Design engineers have donated their talents, professional contractors their equipment, and individuals their brawn. John Monroe, a trail-construction consultant with the National Park Service, donated his expertise.
Oh, yeah, and then there’s the little matter of raising the $12 million originally budgeted in the engineering master plan, another arduous undertaking. The biggest chunk, $2.5 million, has come from the feds, 20% of which was matched by the state, stuffing another $50,000 in the coffers. A $100,000 grant from Connecticut Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield and a major contribution from the Madison-based Dorr Family Foundation financed most of Hammonasset’s magnificent mile. More than 2,600 dues-paying Greenway Trail members have each donated an average of $50 annually. “We’re about to access more of the federal and state funds, because we’re now in the design phase for projects in all four towns,” Angle reports.
As of mid-November, besides the Hammonasset walkway and a lovely stretch near DC Moore School in East Haven, five other separate trail sections are now open in three of the four towns, the exception being Guilford, though work there is reportedly imminent. In Branford, a popular trail winds for a mile from Stony Creek to the Tilcon parking lot in Pine Orchard. (For details, check out their website, shorelinegreenwaytrail.org.)
“I’m not sure there are any trails in the country, as long and complex as ours, that don’t have a predetermined corridor like an old railroad track or towpath,” Angle claims. “I haven’t come across one.”
The Shoreline Greenway Trail is bound to be both a benefit and a legacy for the Shoreline community, attracting visitors and businesses into the community, raising real estate values, and offering a huge public health benefit. “It isn’t just about having fun out on a trail,” Angle states. “It’s also about getting people out into nature and to appreciate our fabulous environment.”