After more than seven years of planning and coordinating, The Ives Trail is close to taking the final steps of its completion – but the trail won't cross into Bethel as had been originally envisioned.
The initial plan was for the 15 mile hiking trail to be part of 2,700-acre greenway that cut through the Terre Haute land in Bethel, across Tarrywile Park and Wooster Mountain State Park in Danbury, to Pine Mountain and Bennett's Pond State Park in Ridgefield. Early on, planners also decided to have the trail cross into Redding. Though the trail organizers are hopeful the trail, which is named for famed Danbury composer Charles Ives, will be completed by Spring or early Summer, it won't cross into Bethel, at least not at first.
“After Bethel didn't want to talk to us about going through the Terra Haute property we rerouted the trail so that it goes from Ridgefield through Danbury and into Redding,” said Mike Cunningham, of Danbury who is Chairman of the Ives Trail Task Force.
He added: “We have completed as far as we're going in Redding and in Ridgefield, and the rerouting in Danbury, (to avoid Bethel) required easements from about half a dozen different private property owners. We have secured the easements from several of those we have three easements that have been negotiated but have not been signed yet. Once those are in place the trail will be theatrically completed although not completely on the ground yet.”
Though Cunningham said the trail might be completed by the Spring he's quick to add there's been so many delays and setbacks with the project that he's “not making any promises. We were hoping to have it done by 2006 but every time we think we have a good handle on it something else comes up.”
Right now Cunningham said, “Everything from Bennett's Pond to Route 7 are complete, the portions in Tarrywile Park are pretty much complete. Much of the rest of it has been marked although the trail itself is not complete.”
With the route currently planned the trail will come within feet of the Bethel Town line, and Cunningham and other organizers are still hopeful that eventually they'll be able to add a branch of the trail that will loop through Bethel.
“We have routed it close to Bethel so that if Bethel changes its mind and allows us to use a section of Terra Haute we would be able to go through there,” he said. “We would love to have it go through Bethel because the property there is absolutely fantastic, but that's on hold until somebody can actually do something about it.”
Cunningham said that the current Bethel First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker and his three predecessors have all voiced support of the trail but they have never been able to finalize plans with the town of Bethel.
“All four of them have said they are in favor of the trail but when it actually came to allowing the trail to go through or granting an easement so that the trail could go through, nothing ever happened,” he said.
John O'Neil, the treasurer of the Bethel Land Trust and a member of the Ives Trail Task Force, was also hopeful that the trail could eventually loop through Bethel.
“One of the concerns of the town (of Bethel) has always been liability,” he said. “Now, private landowners assuming that they do not charge for use of their land for paths of recreation, in other words bird watching hiking etc. are not liable for accidents on their property. There's been an argument for some time over whether municipalities were (liable) and the legislature this year has extended that (protection) to municipalities.”
As a result, O'Neil said he believes the town of Bethel's concern about liability is “going to go away in terms of the possibility of suing.”
O'Neil said that once the liability concerns are cleared up “what we'd love to do is go ahead and do the Terra Haute route, it would end up going to the same point which would now give you a loop at the end of (the trail) so you'd come out of Tarrywile and be able to make this loop and then come back to Tarrywile.”
Efforts to create the Ives Trail first began in 2003 when Danbury's then City Planner Dennis Elpern come up with the concept for the trail as a way to utilize vast areas of public land in Danbury and surrounding towns. The large portions of the trail that have been completed provide hikers an opportunity to experience the area's natural beauty.
“It can get you into pretty much wilderness,” O'Neil said. “A good portion of this trail you are not going to see houses or roads or anything else, you could be anywhere. There are a couple of spectacular views. Pine Mountain gives a great view of the (Danbury) Airport and the (Danbury Fair) Mall and a great view of the airplanes because they're fairly low when they come over the top of Pine Mountain.”
Sandy Moy, executive director of the Tarrywile Park Authority and a member of The Ives Trail Task Force said it was great that the trail is finally nearing completion. She said ultimately they hope to link the trail up with others in Norwalk and Wilton and create a vast network of trails.
“We're hoping at some point in time to have a trail that runs from the sound in Norwalk in a big horseshoe back to the sound in Fairfield,” she said.
Though there have been setbacks along the way, she said she was encouraged by the progress of the Ives Trail and she was optimistic about the much bigger trail throughout Fairfield County.
“It's a great dream and hopefully people pick up different sections as we go along and continue to add to it and it will be a great greenway. You take two steps forward and one step back, but as long as we're still moving forward, that's the best part.”