TORRINGTON — Since they founded the Torrington Trails Network in 2009, members have worked tirelessly to provide healthful ways for people to make their way around town.
This week, the trails network gathered at the Sullivan Senior Center for an informational meeting to share its work and encourage people to get involved. About 60 people attended, including center members and interested residents as well as state Rep. Michelle Cook, D-Torrington, and Rep. Maria Horn, D-Kent, and Mayor Elinor Carbone.
A panel with members of the network and special guests shared facets of the trails projects and their progress, as well as explaining the economic and health benefits of “a walkable community,” according to TTN member Kathy Ross, who served as moderator.
To date, the group has cleared areas in and around Torrington to connect the city to the Sue Grossman trail in Winsted, a 3-mile greenway that draws thousands of people to its paved surface annually. The Buttrick Trail is a loop that connects to the Grossman trail near the town line. Using grant money from the state, the TTN recently purchased an abandoned railroad bed nearby and plans to clear it and connect it to the larger Buttrick Trail.
The group has also mapped a plan to connect Torrington to the Naugatuck River Greenway, and portions of that trail are completed or under construction. Once the whole trail is completed, pedestrians, runners and cyclists will be able to travel from Torrington to Derby. Torrington has applied for and received grants for this project, but more money is always needed as the trail is developed by the members, section by section. Property easements and obtaining the necessary permits to extend the trail have slowed the project, but members said they are undeterred.
According to city Economic Development Director Rista Malanca, the economic benefits to a trails network in a municipality are numerous.
“Just by being more walkable, a city’s more healthy, and it receives more support,” Malanca said. “People want to walk. They want to be healthy. Families are looking for things to do together, outside.
“There’s also direct consumer spending ,which reflects an increase when people are walking (to work, shopping or other local destinations),” Malanca said. “When more people are walking, they stop and spend money. The (Connecticut) Council of Governments did a survey on consumer spending, and it’s estimated that (in a walking community), a town receives about $200,000 in direct consumer spending. That increases if they stay overnight”
Malanca pointed to Collinsville’s popular river greenway, much of which is located in the center of the village’s business district.
“It’s busy every day,” she said. “The businesses around the greenway say they have seen a 200 percent increase in business — stores, restaurants, activities — people want to have places to go with their families, to see each other and support the community.”
Greg Brisco, director of the Northwest Connecticut YMCA, said the trails have made a positive impact on the Y’s growing community fitness programs and initiatives.
“I represent Fit Together, which was formed by the YMCA to foster health and active living in Torrington and Winsted,” he said. “We wanted people to think about how to be healthier, and so with a grant from Sam’s Club, we focused on healthy eating. We began working with early childhood centers, businesses, schools and senior centers, to help people meet healthier standards and eat healthier food. In the schools’ case, they receive more money from the government if they serve healthier food.
“We’re here to inspire and keep the ball rolling,” Brisco said. “In the fall, a linear fitness trail is being put into the Grossman Trail in Winsted. Torrington Middle School has its own fitness trail on its campus, using a grant from the YMCA ... we’ve funded bike trails, and we have programs for weight management for children who need it, and their families. And if you’re active, you’ll be healthier.”
Judy McElhone, executive director of the upcoming Five Points Center for the Visual Arts at the old UConn campus as well as Five Points Gallery and the Five Points Annex, and Mark McEachern, executive director of the Torrington Historical Society, said having the Torrington Trails Network in place was an asset for both their organizations.
When the Five Points center opens on the former college campus, McElhone said, more trails and opportunities to enjoy the property outdoors will develop. “The center itself will address art, be a think tank for sustainability ... it will take time, but it’s an opportunity to create something special there,” she said. “How to get people there? With festivals, events, and trails.”
McEachern discussed a nature trail on the society’s John Brown property, where the abolitionist’s home once stood.
“We’ve owned the property since 2000, and in 2013, we created a 2/3-mile loop nature trail,” he said. “We’ve worked to invigorate the site, and a second trail is planned with interpretive signs and markers. It’s a way to combine exercise with the education we want to provide.”
In the future, Malanca said, the Grossman Trail would be expanded another five miles, and members hope to someday connect downtown Winsted to downtown Torrington.
“Our goal is to connect (the Grossman Trail) to the Naugatuck River Greenway,” she said. “People want longer trails, to get around town for work, school, events. We’d like to continue this all the way to Canton. That’s the vision.”
Carbone, who was also a panelist, is an enthusiastic partner of the network. “In 2007, I was appointed to the Torrington Development Corporation, and I had an opportunity to participate in a healthy communities forum in Washington, DC. If you’re creating healthy communities, you need to be walkable We needed money to do that. I’ve committed money in a (annual Torrington) budget line for more sidewalks, and to develop a master plan for downtown Torrington.”
Carbone, who grew up in Torrington, called herself “an original free range kid.”
“When I was growing up, we walked everywhere,” she said. “The trails network requires real leadership, and I want to pay homage to the work of the people on this panel, for what they’ve already begun. This is going to take time, but it’s a way for families to spend time together.”
Mark Linehan, a founder of the 15-member trails network, encouraged interested residents to get involved by becoming volunteer members, or just sign up or show up for a work day. “We need your ideas ... please get involved,” he said. “You can help by writing a grant, with trail maintenance, adopt a trail (or) sponsor a sign or a bench.”
Donations and volunteers are always welcome, members said. A cleanup day is planned on Sept. 29, with a rain date of Oct. 6. Residents can learn more on the group’s website or Facebook page. For information, call Kathy Ross at 860-482-6385, or Mark Linehan at 860-482-3952.