Supporters of a proposed recreation path that would travel 44 miles from Derby to Torrington hope pedal power can someday be an economic engine in the Naugatuck Valley.
The Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments in Waterbury has obtained three community grants which will pay for a yearlong study of the potential economic impact of the Naugatuck Valley Greenway.
“We want to look beyond this as just recreational and see it more as an economic development opportunity,” said Aaron Budris, the council’s regional planner.
Roughly four miles of the 44-mile trail along the Naugatuck River have been completed so far: two miles in Derby, half-mile sections in Ansonia and Beacon Falls, and a 1.1-mile stretch in Naugatuck.
From May 14 to June 11, the council set up an infrared counter on the Derby trail and received 32,960 hits. Figuring that people trip the counter on their way out and back, that means more than 16,500 used the greenway in those four weeks.
“What we want to figure out is how towns and businesses can take advantage of that traffic,” Budris said.
Waterbury expects to construct its initial 2.2-mile portion north from the Naugatuck border in 2017. Thomaston and Ansonia both have plans to construct short stretches in the coming year, Budris said.
Other, unimproved sections of the trail route are already open in other towns. When finished, the greenway is envisioned to be a patchwork of paved and crushed-stone surfaces suitable for hiking and cycling.
With each of the 11 towns along the meandering trail route pursuing their individual sections of the project, it’s difficult to determine the exact total cost for the greenway, but it could be about $60 million.
“It’s usually $1 million to $1.5 million per mile, and ours will definitely be at the high end,” Budris said.
He acknowledges it will likely be many years before the trail is constructed, but remains enthused about what it can do.
“This trail is going to connect several downtowns. That’s what will make it great,” Budris said. “A lot of bike paths don’t really connect places. This will connect the whole valley.”