Shelton recreation path earns statewide conservation award

A vision of connecting Shelton and Huntington centers by a recreation path two decades ago has led to statewide recognition.

The Shelton Conservation Commission and the Shelton Trails Committee will receive the 2013 Excellence in Conservation Award from the Connecticut Land Conservation Council (CLCC).

The award honors completion of the Shelton Lakes Recreation Path and Greenway, a four-mile-long multi-use path and surrounding open space that connects various city-owned undeveloped parcels and intersects with many hiking trails.

The path is handicapped-accessible and is open to such uses as bicycles and baby carriages. It was completed in October 2012.

Envisioned 20 years ago

The path was first envisioned about 20 years ago by Conservation Commission leaders Terry Jones and the late Harriet Wilbur. Back then, the city owned little of the needed land and didn’t have money set aside to make it happen.

But through the next two decades, with various open space purchases, about 450 acres was acquired by the city.

Some federal and state grants helped, including to help construct major pedestrian bridges. City money played a major role, as did the active involvement of volunteers.

The path traverses some of the most rugged terrain in the city, which is a reason why much of the land had been left undeveloped through the years.

Members of the Conservation Commission and its subcommittee, the Trails Committee, will receive the award at the CLCC annual conference on March 23 at Wesleyan University.

Development plans provided motivation

In the early 1990s, proposals to build a 210-unit condominium complex and 400-unit housing complex along what became the eventual route served as motivation to push forward with the project.

“We had no funding,” remembered Teresa Gallagher, the city’s conservation agent and a former Conservation Commission member. “We had no property. And the land involved was cliff, swamp, cliff, swamp — but we found a route that would work.”

Gallagher said the project “kept moving along” because it was made part of the Shelton Open Space Plan and gained the continual backing of city officials and residents.

“Every piece was a big battle — we had to get the support, we had to get the grant, we had to get the volunteers,” Gallagher said. “Every piece was a victory.”

A symbolic connection

Bill Dyer, vice chairman of the Conservation Commission, said connecting downtown Shelton with Huntington center was considered symbolically important.

Dyer said the recreation path is different from a hiking trail, which might be used by only a limited number of people, because it is accessible to many more people as a mostly level eight-foot-wide path with crushed stone and asphalt surfaces.

“It winds through a good portion of the population in Shelton, so people can just start walking from where they are,” said Dyer, who also serves as Trails Committee chairman.

Cost lower than similar projects

Gallagher said the Shelton path was completed for much less than many comparable recreation paths in other towns, partly because of all the volunteer efforts.

According to the city’s CLCC award nomination, the cost per mile was $151,000 in Shelton compared to about $1 million in most other places.