NORWALK, Conn. — The long-awaited effort to connect Norwalk River Valley Trail segments just off Route 7, eliminating a “missing link,” has finally begun. But the joy is tempered for some proponents because workers, in clearing a large swath of land alongside Riverside Avenue, have cut down old-growth oak trees, said to be to be key to the environment.
One lone oak was saved at the behest of Council member Lisa Shanahan (D-District E), although after visiting the site, self-styled “environmental stewardship advocates” Audrey Cozzarin and Diane Lauricella told NoN that the surviving oak might die from faulty pruning.
Shanahan said she contacted Norwalk Tree warden Chris Torre in response to constituents’ concern about the tree removal, one of whom urgently pointed out Tuesday that a 30-inch oak was marked for removal. Torre, she said, “was extremely responsive and went directly to the site.” He told her that the trees were on “property that is either owned by the State or where the State has a right of way… therefore, the State was the decision maker about what trees were to be removed for the building of the trail.”
“I was told that the State did not consult Chris before they began the tree removal,” Shanahan said.
Norwalk Communications Director Josh Morgan described the project as a partnership between the State, the City, and citizens group Friends of the NRVT, with the ongoing work occurring in the State’s right of way. The ultimate goal for the NRVT is a trail that extends northward from Calf Pasture Beach through Wilton, Ridgefield, and Redding to a terminus at Danbury’s rogers Park.
“The vision for the trail along the river goes back decades – at least to the 1970s – and has been a part of several Plans of Conservation and Development,” Morgan said. “This 1.2 mile section – commonly called the missing link – connects two sections of trail which will provide 4 miles of continuous off-road multi-purpose trail from the Maritime Aquarium to Broad Street.”
Shanahan stressed that City leaders are “all very excited about and totally supportive of the expansion of the NRVT, which is just a fantastic project for both our City and our region.”
Conservationists will tell you that “oaks are highly prized trees here in Connecticut as they feed many species of insects, birds and animals,” she said. “Oak trees also sequester a high amount of carbon, especially large and old ones such as this tree. A tree this large and old is very expensive to replace.”
Lauricella and Cozzarin suggest more oversight on potential tree removals on public property. The Tree Advisory Committee and the Conservation Commission should have at least a month to review potential tree removals, Lauricella said.
The Conservation Commission issued a wetland permit for the NRVT “missing link” work about three years ago, Norwalk Senior Environmental Engineer Alexis Cherichetti said Wednesday. She had just heard about the work and hadn’t yet determined if Deering Construction, the State’s contractor, was in compliance.
Morgan said the trail has to be ADA (American Disabilities Act) compliant.
“The area cleared (more than 5,000 feet) included approximately 10 mature trees, but it was mainly invasive vines, intrusive smaller trees, and overgrowth,” he wrote. “… Given the time of year and with additional fill and grading work still to be conducted, the area looks more cleared than what will be the final result. It’s also important to note that as part of this project there is funding to plant additional trees in appropriate places along the trail. The NRVT is a real gem of Norwalk, and when the missing link is completed, there will be miles of off-road trail in Norwalk for residents to enjoy.”
The sight of heavy construction equipment alongside Riverside Avenue “seems overwhelming,” Beth Merrill, NRVT executive director, acknowledged in an email to Cozzarin.
“We’re so thrilled that the City of Norwalk has taken on this project for the NRVT,” Merrill wrote to NancyOnNorwalk. “The trail, which runs between the Norwalk River and Riverside Ave., is a very challenging, narrow piece of land which has to navigate the constraints of the nearby road, the floodplain, and the river itself. Importantly, this new trail will connect two already existing parts of the NRVT and create a beautiful new outlet for the people of Norwalk to enjoy nature. We are especially proud of showcasing the beauty of the often overlooked Norwalk River.”