Merritt Parkway Trail
When the Merritt Parkway was constructed, the State of Connecticut acquired a right-of-way approximately 300' wide. The Parkway was, for the most part, constructed on the northern one-third to one-half of of the right-of-way, leaving the southern part free of development.
In 1994, Jennifer Aley prepared a study for the Regional Plan Association of the possible development of a multi-use trail along this 37½-mile swath of land, concluding that it was feasible. It would be the only continuous trail running in an east-west direction the length of Fairfield County and would facilitate alternative methods of transportation as well as provide a recreational amenity to the region's residents. The trail would also fill one of the key missing links in the East Coast Greenway connecting Key West and Canada.
Efforts to develop the proposed multi-use trail have been spearheaded by the Merritt Parkway Trail Alliance (MPTA), an umbrella group of state and local organizations which is a collaborative project of the Connecticut Forest and Parks Association. Despite support by the City of Stamford for construction of a demonstration trail in that city, these efforts have been resisted by the Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT), which owns the right-of-way. However, with the appointment of a new Commissioner in 2008, ConnDOT seems to be receptive to an application for permission to develop a hiking trail along the Parkway, without ruling out a multi-use trail at a future point in time. Additional impetus has come in the form of a letter of support from the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection.
To permit the improvement and use of the proposed hiking trail, an "encroachment permit" from ConnDOT is required. To apply for this permit, the proposed route of the trail must be determined. During the period from late April to late July 2009, I participated in an effort to locate and flag such a route and make it passable. I began at the Connecticut/New York border and worked east to Black Rock Turnpike, while another group worked west from the Housatonic River, where the Merritt ends. The flagged route has been mapped using a GPS unit which is capable of recording the location of the route followed by the unit's operator. The route thus recorded will be superimposed on a map of the Merritt right-of-way, and the map will be part of the application for an encroachment permit.
I used red surveyor's tape to flag the route I located. Flagging is a temporary way to blaze the route of a prospective trail, easily removed. Even before the GPS mapping was accomplished, flagging in two areas had been removed, apparently by abutting property owners who oppose the trail, and individual flags had been brought down by storm damage, in one case by a large tree falling across the flagged route.
It is anticipated that the permit will grant some latitude as to the final route of the trail, i.e., it is unlikely that the flagged route will be followed exactly. Indeed, Conn/DOT may require that it be re-located in some places. The permission of third parties will be required if the desired route leaves the Merritt right-of-way, and if permission cannot be obtained a less desirable route within the right-of-way will have to be used. In many areas, the proposed route is at the base of the berm that carries the Parkway across a wetland or a low area that is poorly drained and/or floods easily, and a suitably improved trail (e.g., using a boardwalk) closer to the center or the boundary of the right-of-way may be preferable. Finally, how a trail will cross four rivers that I believe require bridges will have to be determined.
In this effort, I acknowledge the assistance of the following, who accompanied me on the trail at one time or another: Alice Bloomer, Damon Hearne, Linda Hoza, Kevin Kromash, Deborah Lewis, Marci Miller, Peter Moss, Ray Rauth, Jill Smyth and Pete Sofman.
The following is a description of the route I have hiked and flagged as part of this effort. It is an edited version of a record I was asked to maintain in the expectation that it would be useful when the time comes to convert the vision to a real trail. It is organized from west to east, with the segments described generally corresponding to segments that I hiked and flagged on a particular day.
Greenwich: CT/NY Border to Riversville Road (Mile 1.7)
I flagged no route over the short section from King Street (the CT/NY border) to the gas station/rest stop about .2 mi from King Street. The right-of-way is relatively narrow here, but perhaps half of the width is mowed grass adjacent to the highway; the wooded area is impassable due to thick stands of bamboo. Food and drinks are available at the rest stop.
Throughout the portion of the Merritt right-of-way that I hiked and flagged, I often followed animal trails, presumably mainly deer trails. Animals frequently don't agree on the best route for a trail. In places where they have reached a consensus, I think the route can be considered the best way. But in many places, a seemingly well-used trail simply disappears, and another trail can sometimes be found paralleling it a short distance away. Where this occurred, I made decisions on how to connect the two animal trails.
The flagged route begins at the base of a steep slope on the east edge of the Parkway rest stop. It is an artificial slope, presumably created when the site of the rest area was leveled, and is thickly vegetated. The animal trails peter out in a wetland at the base of this slope. Nearby there is a steep bank that is clear of vegetation, because it is being used as a dump for leaves and grass clippings. This bank can be used to get from the level of the rest area to where the flagged route begins. The top of the slope is a grassed field that is kept mowed but is not part of a home site. It is unclear whether or not it is private property. If it is and permission cannot be obtained to use it for a short distance, a hiking trail will have to find its way up the artificial slope.
The route of the existing trails came out to grassed areas adjacent to the highway in three places, one of them to get around a stream. The stream is a small one, and we cut a path through heavy vegetation and across the stream, thereby moving the flagged route away from the roadway.
The Byram River, however, will require a bridge if this segment of a trail is used by the public. On three of the four days when I crossed the river, it was possible to hop across on stepping stones at the water levels on those days. The fourth day was after a period of considerable rain, the water level was 4-6” higher and the stepping stones were covered; we crossed it using the Parkway bridge where there is a wide shoulder. The river is about 12' wide at this location, and it could be forded, although there is a fast current.
The right-of-way in this section is close to subdivisions and being used as a dump, not just for yard waste but for old refrigerators, car parts, Christmas decorations and construction materials (all of which are found here).
This segment passes two ponds, known as the Toll Gate Ponds, that were created because material was quarried for use in building the Parkway. The Byram River's course was then diverted to flow through the resulting excavations, creating the ponds. The ponds are popular with local fishermen. Both because of the ponds and the nature of the topography, this segment has the potential to be one of the most attractive along the proposed Merritt Parkway Trail.
Greenwich: Riversville Road to Round Hill Road (Mile 3.4)
The East Branch of the Byram River crosses the entire width of the right-of-way just at the Riversville Road. The East Branch is not a large stream nor does it have a fast current at this point, and it would probably be possible to place stepping stones across it. Without them, it could be forded, at least if the water level and flow were as I found them on the several occasions when I observed them.
To reach the flagged route from Riversville Road, it is necessary to cross a building site adjacent to the right-of-way where a new house is nearing completion. There is heavy vegetation along the bank of the East Branch that would have to be cleared once the way of crossing the river is determined.
About a half-mile from Riversville Road the right-of-way reaches the Seton Scout Reservation, which is separated from the right-of-way by a wire fence. The fence is down close to an open, leveled field where various Scout activities take place. The flagged route crosses onto the Reservation where the fence is down and follows a roadway within the Reservation for a few hundred yards, past an underpass that connects portions of the Reservation north and south of the Parkway, to where a gate provides access back to the right-of-way and an equestrian trail that leads northeast. I found no No Trespassing signs, but some arrangement with the Reservation may be necessary.
I revisited this area at a time when Scout activities were taking place on this field. A counselor informed me that there is a shooting range on the field that is used by the Scouts to fire 22 caliber rifles into an embankment close to where the flagged route crosses onto the Reservation property. The line of fire is in the direction of the right-of-way and the Parkway. I hiked through the same spot five days later (at an hour before any Scout activities had begun there), and I found signs that were not in place previously prohibiting access to the area of the shooting range. All signs were on Reservation property away from the right-of-way boundary, and they faced in all directions (not just in the direction of someone emerging from the right-of-way). There still were no No Trespassing signs.
The point where a trail comes onto the Reservation from the southwest could be moved away from the shooting range if a gate were placed in the fence separating the right-of-way from the Reservation, similar to the gate a short distance away where the equestrian trail leaves the Reservation to the northeast.
After leaving the Reservation, the flagged route coincides with an active and well-maintained equestrian trail past a point where another equestrian trail joins it after crossing under the Parkway through another underpass. Shortly after this trail junction, the equestrian trail heads southeast and the flagged route follows a disused equestrian trail for about a half-mile to Round Hill Road. The flagged route leaves the woods along the eastbound exit ramp, about 30 yards from Round Hill Road.
Greenwich: Round Hill Road to Lake Avenue
This section begins with a steep descent down the abutment leading to the Parkway bridge. The area immediately east of Round Hill Road has a lot of dead falls, and clearance of a route through some of them would permit a more direct trail. The flagged route follows an old road bed for a short distance before reaching a stream bordered on both sides by heavy vegetation. The problem is the vegetation, not standing water or ground too soft to walk on.
To get through this area would have required clearing a lot of vegetation, so the flagged route detours around it next to the highway, where there is a guard rail. The flagged route leads to points on either side of the heavy vegetation before detouring, on the assumption that the trail will follow a course through the vegetation away from the highway.
From this stream to Old Mill Road (which serves as the eastbound exit and entrance ramps for Lake Avenue), the flagged route follows an obvious animal trail. There are a few damp areas, easily traversed, but most of the distance is dry. It emerges from the woods onto grass near the end of the exit ramp.
It re-enters the woods about 40 yards along the entrance ramp. There is no clear animal trail through the short section from here to Lake Avenue, just a frustrating collection of animal trails that take form and then dissipate in ground that becomes increasingly boggy towards the middle of the section. The flagged route uses firm ground as much as possible, but portions of this stretch will require stepping stones or boardwalks to be an enjoyable hike. The final .1 mi. of the section is dry as it rises from the wetland at a gentle gradient to where the flagged route climbs steeply up the abutment of the Lake Avenue bridge over the Parkway.
Greenwich: Lake Avenue to North Street (Mile 5.5)
The flagged route leaves Lake Avenue by following an animal trail down the steep abutment, directly opposite where it reaches Lake Avenue from the east. It then follows the animal trail to a Parkway underpass that presumably had been constructed for an equestrian trail but now appears to be used only by wildlife. From the underpass, the flagged route follows an old trail a short distance to a broken gate at Butternut Hollow Road. The flagging of this segment ends here.
Beyond this point the proposed route is a road walk along an undeveloped section of Butternut Hollow Road east of the underpass -- there is a cell tower, but no houses. Beyond the cell tower the road is no longer maintained, and there are No Trespassing signs. The old roadbed of Butternut Hollow Road continues on a causeway that crosses a reservoir, Putnam Lake, to the Parkway. (Butternut Hollow Road was cut into two segments by the construction of the Parkway, and it continues on the north side.) The proposed route follows a well-used trail along the causeway and, upon reaching the Parkway, between the roadway and the reservoir and enters the woods east of the reservoir. Permission to use the causeway would, of course, be needed. If granted, this would be a particularly scenic section of the trail. Without permission, getting past the reservoir would be difficult.
There is no obvious trail east of the Lake, which is overgrown with vegetation and littered with dead falls, although the terrain is not a problem. The land owner east of the Lake has erected a designer fence along the property line separating his property from the Merritt right-of-way, which can be followed to North Street, avoiding the heavy vegetation and dead falls. At a point well away from the road, there is a gate which appears to be used solely to dump yard waste on the right-of-way.
Greenwich/Stamford: North Street to Guinea Road
The flagged route begins along the eastbound entrance ramp, about 30 yards from North Street. After crossing a couple of small streams, it follows an animal trail, at first relatively close to the roadway and relatively level, avoiding some hills, and then out of the woods onto a wide area of mowed grass. It re-enters the woods a short distance before descending about 60' to Taconic Road, which it reaches at a point about 40 yards south of the Parkway bridge (just south of a speed limit sign).
Immediately east of Taconic Road there is a wetland, which required locating the flagged route close to the bridge abutment on that side. There evidently once had been a trail here, but it was seriously overgrown. I reopened the old trail by cutting through the vegetation.
East of this wetland the flagged route climbs over a rocky ridge and then descends to a stretch of about a half-mile where the right-of-way is bordered by the golf course of the Burning Tree Country Club. Most of this area is passable, although I used the golf course for about 50 yards in the vicinity of Lake Brook, including a bridge over the brook. Very civilized. Stepping stones would be sufficient for hikers to cross the brook at the water levels on the two occasions I observed it. Most of the route adjacent to the golf course is a succession of low ridges or rock knobs, separated by level areas and passable wetlands.
However, at the east end of the golf course there is a more serious wetland, which the flagged route avoids by passing it to the north. At the head of this wetland, there is a low ridge, and the flagged route leaves the woods for about 100 yards and uses a mowed, grassy clearing alongside the highway. East of this clearing, beginning about .2 mi. from Stanwich Road, there is an impassable wetland, with standing water and very soft ground. This wetland extends across the Merritt right-of-way to well south of an old fence that presumably marks the right-of-way boundary, beyond which is a house. Consequently, the only way around it was alongside the highway, behind the guard rail. This is clearly the way the animals go.
There are wetlands close to the road on both ends of the segment between Stanwich Road and Guinea Road which are best avoided by using grassed, mowed areas adjacent to the highway. These have the advantage of affording good views of two historic Parkway bridges; the Guinea Road bridge is noteworthy as it is one of the few stone-faced bridges on the Parkway. Between the two wetlands is higher ground, rolling with some rocky outcroppings, but the terrain is easy. The flagged route follows an old road for a short distance.
Stamford: Guinea Road to Den Road (Mile 8.9)
A well-used trail leaves Guinea Road and descends through a pleasant, open hardwood forest towards the Mianus River. The river passes under the Parkway in a large culvert through the berm that carries the roadway across the river valley, and I flagged a route that leaves the trail at a point where it is roughly level with the roadway. (I have canoed the Mianus River from upstream of this culvert many times, and at canoeable levels it would be difficult to ford due to its size and rapid flow.) There is ample space to cross the river comfortably alongside the roadway for about 200 yards, outside the guard rail, to a point past the steep east bank of the river. Here a conspicuous wildlife trail ascends a slope into the woods. After crossing a smaller stream, the flagged route climbs easily to Riverbank Road.
The section between Riverbank and Den Roads wins the prize as the most abused section of the Merritt right-of-way that I have encountered. It is being used by all-terrain-vehicles, who appear to be gaining access from south of the right-of-way, not from the roads on either end of the section. The routes used by the ATVs are, naturally, easy to hike. At the east end of the section there is a wetland with heavy vegetation which the ATVs don't use, and here I flagged an animal trail, in the woods but close to the grassy margin along the highway, emerging from the woods onto the grass along the exit ramp to Den Road.
Off Den Road, a short distance from the exit but within the right-of-way, there is a short unpaved driveway leading to an unattractive dump used for yard waste, old Christmas trees and building materials. The immediately adjoining homeowner has put a high, solid fence along the property line which screens off the dump, but the fence has a gate allowing access to it. Conn/DOT appears to be aware of this dump because it has placed a No Trespassing sign where the driveway leaves the road and, indeed, may itself be using it, because it has not erected a barrier to access to the dump.
Stamford: Den Road to Newfield Avenue (Mile 11.3)
East of Den Road there is a wide, unmowed field which gradually converges with the highway. After following the field for a short distance, the flagged route enters open woods and descends to a small stream. Continuing east, the open woods give way to heavier vegetation. The flagged route follows an animal trail which meanders through the right-of-way as it begins to narrow where a new exit ramp was built in 2006; the animal trail ends at a point well along the exit ramp and away from the main highway. The flagged route follows a grassed margin adjacent to the exit ramp the rest of the way to Long Ridge Road (Mile 9.4). There is a stream just before the road is reached, which could be easily be crossed on stepping stones (if placed across the stream) at the water level I encountered, but I flagged the way above the culvert through which the stream flows under the exit ramp.
Long Ridge Road is a busy four-lane state highway. There is a traffic light where the exit ramp reaches Long Ridge Road, and there is a median divider between the north- and south-bound travel lanes, so crossing is no problem. There is a small grocery store on High Ridge Road just north of the Parkway bridge.
The entrance ramp from Long Ridge Road to the Parkway was built over a former pond and an adjoining wetland. The flagged route follows the ramp just outside the guard rail to a point where higher ground is reached and then enters the woods. After a short distance the right-of-way descends to another wetland, with standing water. I cleared and flagged a route at the base of the berm that carries the highway, following what had once apparently been a trail but was now heavily overgrown. The flagged route moves away from the highway when higher ground again is reached. It then follows an animal trail, ultimately reaching an old road just west of a stream which it follows a short distance to reach Wire Mill Road, near its intersection with Cedar Heights Road and within sight of the Parkway bridge.
It might be possible to avoid the walk along the entrance ramp and the two wetlands if permission were obained to route the trail along an old road or driveway that leads north from Wire Mill Road about .1 mi. from Long Ridge Road. This road is located between fences that presumably mark the boundaries of the properties on either side and appears not to be seeing more than occasional use. There is a gate at the end of the road that leads to the back yard of the property to the right, but the road also affords access to the woods behind both properties, beyond which is the Merritt right-of-way and the flagged route.
The flagged route continues east beginning on the abutment of the Parkway bridge, from which it descends steeply. I did not flag a route across the Rippowam River, which I crossed using the Parkway bridge just outside the white line marking the right-hand travel lane. Not recommended. At the water level as I found it on two occasions, the river could probably be forded over a rocky shoal area located about 90 feet downstream of the bridge where the river is about 30 feet wide. For a trail usable by the public, a bridge will be required. A possible alternative would be to cross the river on Cedar Heights Road, then follow Rapids Road to where it ends at a fenced electric transformer complex and find a route around the complex through the woods back to the right-of-way (I have not reconnoitered this alternative); permission from the owner(s) of the property between Rapids Road and the right-of-way would be required.
The bridge that carries the Parkway over the Rippowam River is a hidden gem. Unlike the box culvert through which the Mianus River flows, the Rippowam River has an historic (and very beautiful) Parkway bridge, with a stone facing and an arched span, none of which is visible from the road. In addition, after flowing under the Parkway, the river turns and flows parallel to the right-of-way for about .1 mi. The area is wooded, with no houses in sight; the nearest structure is the electric transformer complex, which is directly south of the bridge screened from sight by the summer vegetation. To judge from the position of an old fence, the river may lie just outside of the right-of-way, but if a trail from Wire Mill Road to a bridge over the river were located close to it and also afforded a view of the bridge, it would be one of the most beautiful stretches of the entire trail.
The section between the Rippowam River and High Ridge Road (Mile 10.6) is remarkable only for the amount of trash (items not seen before include a bicycle and a cash register). The section ends with a steep, high bedrock outcrop immediately adjacent to the exit ramp. To avoid this, the flagged route leaves the right-of-way at Dunn Avenue, to which it is contiguous; hikers can walk from there to High Ridge Road. This is another busy, four-lane highway, but there is a traffic light and a median divider to assist a pedestrian in crossing. This is a major shopping area with a variety of shops and eateries.
The stretch from High Ridge Road to Newfield Avenue is a proposed demonstration trail supported by the City of Stamford and was the subject of a plan professionally prepared in 2000 for Regional Plan Association. I used Buxton Farm Road and Turn of River Road to reach a highway maintenance area that is within the right-of-way next to the eastbound entrance ramp (there is a park-and-ride lot next to this ramp). From there, the flagged route follows the short trail I had cleared several years ago in connection with an MPTA event held at the Italian Center, which is immediately adjacent the right-of-way along the eastern part of this stretch. I found that much of the formerly-cleared trail had been colonized by saplings of the invasive, Norway Maple, and at one point was blocked by a large dead fall.
Stamford/New Canaan: Newfield Avenue to South Avenue (Mile 14.1)
The section between Newfield Avenue and Ponus Ridge Road consists of alternate areas of upland and wetlands with small streams. It had rained the day and night before I hiked the section, but most of the low areas were nonetheless passable over relatively firm ground covered with skunk cabbage, and there were few patches of standing water. However, many of the low areas, as well as some higher ground, were covered with small boulders, making hiking difficult. The flagged route may stray outside the right-of-way in places.
The flagged route east of Ponus Ridge Road ends on a private road that leads west from Old Stamford Road (Mile 13.2) adjacent to the eastbound exit ramp from the Parkway (where the road turns away from the right-of-way about .1 mi. from Old Stamford Road). The right-of-way between the exit ramp and the private road becomes quite narrow. In addition to avoiding the difficulty of locating the trail within this narrow strip of right-of-way, using the private road would also take advantage of the road's bridge over the Noroton River. Permission to use the private road presumably would be needed.
To get from Old Stamford Road to where the flagged route resumes requires a road walk on Talmadge Hill Road across the railroad tracks and into the station parking area. There is a Coke machine on the station platform. The flagged route begins at the third tier of parking uphill from the station. It ends at Lapham Road where an old, unpaved driveway reaches the road; this driveway is edged with stone bricks and ascends at an easy gradient to the level of the road; it is presently impassable in places due to dead falls and vegetation, but once cleared would make a truly classy bit of trail. (The old driveway may be just outside the right-of-way, in which case the property-owner's permission would be required.)
To reach South Avenue from Lapham Road, I propose that the initial hiking trail switch north of the Parkway and use Waveny Park, a 250-acre park which is contiguous to the Parkway and has a variety of recreational facilities including 3½ miles of trails. The Merritt Parkway Trail would then continue east from South Avenue back on the south side.
The Park can be entered immediately north of the Lapham Road bridge over the Parkway. There is a trail that parallels the southern perimeter of the Park, alongside the Parkway, and continues north along South Avenue. There is a chainlink fence between the trail and both adjacent roadways, but there is a gate in the fence along South Avenue, which appears to be left open permanently, about 75 yards from the westbound entrance ramp. This gate is approximately equidistant to the South Avenue bridge over the Parkway as the point where a trail south of the Parkway would reach South Avenue. It might be possible to persuade the Town of New Canaan to allow a gate to be installed close to the entrance ramp, where there is a traffic signal that would assist hikers to cross South Avenue; in this case hikers would reach South Avenue closer to where the Merritt Parkway Trail would continue east than if it remained south of the Parkway.
Here are a few reasons for using Waveny Park:
- No improvements would be needed; the trail is there and in active use (dogs must be kept on leashes).
- This is a pleasant park, with various amenities in addition to its trail network.
- Hiking through the Park would afford a contrast to the sections of the Merritt Parkway Trail to the east and west.
- Maintenance would be courtesy of the Town of New Canaan.
I did not flag a route either through the Park or through the right-of-way south of the Parkway between Lapham Road and South Avenue.
New Canaan/Norwalk: South Avenue to Silvermine Avenue
There once were hiking trails over much of the right-of-way between these two roads.. Only a trail between Marvin Ridge Road and the Five Mile River appears currently to be getting some use; other old trails, although visible, are blocked in many places by large branches and other yard waste presumably put there by adjoining property owners.
Food and drinks are available at the Parkway service area/rest stop just east of South Avenue. The width of the right-of-way behind the rest stop is very narrow. Directly behind the rest stop building I found a flow of fetid water which smelled like the overflow from a septic tank; heavy rain the day before may have been a contributing factor.
The previous day's rain was undoubtedly the reason for the high level of the Five Mile River that I encountered. I crossed the river alongside the Parkway behind Jersey barriers that are temporarily in place while maintenance is performed on the large culverts through the earthen berm that carries the roadway across the shallow valley of this river. It appears that, once the maintenance work is completed, there will be plenty of room to locate a hiking trail on the berm well away from the travel lanes. I returned to the river in drier conditions and found the water level much lower; I was able to cross the river on stones downstream from where the trail continues east.
To avoid a wetland and a stream immediately east of Marvin Ridge Road, the flagged route begins after a short road walk on Nursery Road, next to second telephone pole from Marvin Ridge Road. The old trail is discernible over much of the distance from here to Route 123 (Mile 15.8), most of which is close to the right-of-way boundary. Unlike many properties bordering the right-of-way, the properties here have no fences which apparently makes it even easier to dump yard waste – leaves, grass clippings, branches and the inevitable Christmas trees – in adjacent areas of the right-of-way. The sheer quantity of dumped waste along the route is unattractive as well as obstructive, and even if it is cleared, without a fence there can be no assurance that the adjoining property owners will not continue to dump waste on the right-of-way. A trail could be located farther from the boundary in the second half of this section, which is mainly open hardwood forest, but the first half has frequent wetlands, which are best avoided by locating the trail where I have flagged a route.
Upon reaching Route 123 (where there is a park-and-ride lot), to avoid crossing the eastbound entrance and exit ramps a road walk of .2 mi. is necessary along the west side of Route 123 to a traffic signal and then along the east side of the entrance ramp in order to reach the continuation of the right-of-way. The flagged route enters the woods about half way along the eastbound entrance ramp. The section from here to Comstock Hill Avenue is alternately wetlands and higher ground.
The short section from Comstock Hill Avenue to Silvermine Avenue is unusual for the narrowness of the right-of-way. It also has a relatively wide area of mowed grass adjacent to the highway, which I used for part of the flagged route. The section ends at a steep embankment from the level at which a bridge carries the Parkway over Silvermine Avenue.
Norwalk: Silvermine Avenue to West Rocks Road
The Silvermine River flows under the Parkway about 50 yards east of the Silvermine Road bridge, and the western bank of the river slopes steeply down to it from the road. I hiked the section between the river and Perry Avenue from east to west (about .3 mi.), ending the flagged route on the eastern bank of the river. The last flag is visible across the river from a point a few yards into the woods from Silvermine Avenue across the road from where the flagged route reaches it from the west. I placed no flags between the west bank and Silvermine Avenue.
The Merritt right-of-way at Perry Avenue is fenced off by a chain link fence, which I had to scale (with assistance from a tree). Except for within the Seton Scout Reservation in Greenwich, this is the only place where I found a barrier to accessing the right-of-way. The flagged route follows an animal trail which, in turn, appears to follow an old road. It passes an attractive pond before reaching the river. The Parkway crosses the river on a bridge (not an earthen berm) which has no shoulder and hence would be dangerous for a hiker to cross. The river could possibly be forded at a gravel bar about 30 yards downstream of where the trail reaches the river, but otherwise a trail bridge will be needed to cross this river.
About 150 yards downstream of where the flagged route reaches the river, it is crossed by a bridge over which a short road, Washington Avenue, leads from Silvermine Avenue to a complex of industrial or commercial buildings and parking lots that abuts the right-of-way on the east side of the pond. If permission were obtained, it might be possible to route the trail across the river on Washington Avenue and through this complex of buildings back to the right-of-way.
East of Perry Avenue the Route 7 Expressway and Main Avenue (old Route 7) both cross under the Parkway, each with a set of entrance and exit ramps. In addition, the Parkway crosses the Norwalk River and the Danbury Branch Line of the Metro-North Railroad. Intersection improvements being developed by Conn/DOT will accommodate the proposed multi-use trail along the Merritt, but before these improvements are in place, hikers will have to walk south on Perry Avenue to its intersection with Main Avenue and then north on Main Avenue back to the Parkway (Mile 17.5), a distance of about a mile. Until there is a way to cross the Silvermine River and a gate through the fence at Perry Road, hikers will have to walk south on Silvermine Avenue and east on James Road to reach Perry Avenue, adding another .8 mi. to the road walk. I placed no flags along this road walk.
To reach the Parkway right-of-way from Main Avenue while avoiding a wetland, the flagged route follows the eastbound entrance ramp, which is very narrow. The flagging begins at a point where the entrance ramp has become a third, acceleration lane of the Parkway, descends steeply from the level of the road and then climbs to more gently sloped land which continues almost until West Rocks Road is reached.
The Merritt right-of-way from Main Avenue to West Rocks Road is bordered on the south by a utility right-of-way. As a result, there are no residential properties bordering the section and, happily, no dumping of yard waste.
Norwalk: West Rocks Road to Saugatuck River
The utility right-of-way continues contiguous to the Merritt right-of-way east from West Rocks Road to a point east of Grumman Avenue. Between West Rocks Road and East Rocks Road is an open hardwood forest with only one significant wetland which is easily bypassed. Perhaps because of these conditions, the section is apparently used by offroad motorcycles who have developed a system of trails that can be joined immediately below the abutment leading down from West Rocks Road.
At East Rocks Road there is a well-used, unpaved driveway that leads east from the road from within the Merritt right-of-way, curving to the right to cross the utility right-of-way where trucks and other equipment were visible. The flagged route begins off this driveway about 20 yards from the road, heading initially towards the Parkway. The section from here contains several wetlands, one of which contained extensive standing water; to avoid this wetland, for a short distance the flagged route is along the adjacent grassed area next to the Parkway but behind a guardrail. I did this hike after a period of considerable rainfall, and this wetland might be passable in drier conditions.
Another, more extensive wetland is immediately west of Grumman Avenue, which also has a steep abutment at Grumman Avenue. Because this wetland and the area around it are heavily vegetated, I flagged a route that briefly uses the grassed area next to the Parkway and, just before reaching the Grumman Avenue bridge, enters the woods and climbs steeply through the vegetation to reach the road.
The utility right-of-way turns away a short distance east of Grumman Avenue, and backyards and dumping are once again in evidence. For the first time I observed an automobile abandoned on the Merritt right-of-way and, some distance along, what presumably had been its battery. This section consists alternately of wetlands and higher ground. Over much of this section, the flagged route follows an animal trail, ending after crossing a stream at a pullover off Chestnut Hill Road (Mile 19.5) just south of the Parkway bridge, where there are some utility boxes.
The topography of section between Chestnut Hill Road and Newtown Turnpike is generally level, but I found it wet with standing water in places, presumably as a result of recent heavy rains. I flagged a route that, for a considerable distance, follows an animal trail at the base of the berm that carries the Parkway through the area, above the outflows from several culverts which discharge storm runoff from the Parkway and/or small streams that flow under the highway. Wherever along the Parkway storm runoff from the roadway discharges onto the adjacent right-of-way, it carries with it unsightly roadside debris such as plastic bottles and packaging; such debris is found at surprising distances from the culvert through it was carried.
For perhaps .1 mi., the flagged route follows an old road that cuts diagonally across the right-of-way. Where this old road formerly crossed Poplar Plains Brook, there are stone abutments that presumably had supported a bridge across the brook, and there are notches in the abutment into which the bottom of a wooden bridge deck must have fit. Someone has placed some fresh-looking logs into these notches, spanning the brook, a nice indication that the right-of-way is being used.
The section between Newtown Turnpike and Wilton Road ends at Spring Hill Road, a private road, about 50 feet from its intersection with Wilton Road, where there is a traffic signal to aid in crossing. Directly across Wilton Road is a park-and-ride lot.
The Parkway entrance and exit ramps are off Sunny Lane, a road that parallels the Parkway just outside the right-of-way from Wilton Road to the bluff 35' above the Saugatuck River. At the end of Sunny Lane is Camp Mahackeno, a 32-acre facility that features a 12-acre canoeing pond. The canoeing pond is formed by a dam that impounds the river to a point north of the Parkway. (The camp's parking lot at the end of Sunny Lane appears to be within the Merritt right-of-way.) The camp is owned and operated by the Westport Weston Family Y, which I was told plans to move its main facility to a location on the camp property.
Sunny Lane is private beyond the entrance and exit ramps, but assuming permission is obtained, routing the trail along the road would seem to be the best option. I placed no flags along the road walk on Spring Hill Road and Sunny Lane.
Westport/Fairfield: Saugatuck River to Redding Road (Mile 24.7)
Because crossing the Saugatuck River would have required a swim, I hiked the section between it and Clinton Road from east to west, ending on dry ground in the floodplain just short the river. Most of the flagged route follows an animal trail which, in turn, follows an old road until it reaches a bluff where a scenic overlook might be established. The flagged route traverses this slope down to the level of the floodplain.
The section between Clinton Road and Weston Road (Mile 21.5) contains what I suspect is a kettle hole, a glacially-formed depression created when a buried block of glacier ice separated from the main glacier melts. The depression is treeless and is visible in the aerial photograph I have of this location (Photomapper 2006 Aerial Imagery), which does not show the depression as filled with water. But that is what I found, after a period of considerable rain. If my supposition can be confirmed as correct, providing access to an unusual but well-preserved geological phenomenon is an added reason for a trail in this area. The flagged route leaves Clinton Road near the southern boundary of the right-of-way and passes the depression using the grassed margin adjacent to the Parkway behind a guard rail before re-entering the woods.
Upon reaching Weston Road (where there is a park-and-ride lot), a road walk of about .1 mi. is necessary to avoid crossing the eastbound exit and entrance ramps. I did not flag this short road walk, but I did flag a route to Easton Road in the narrow right-of-way adjacent to the entrance ramp, a distance of another .1 mi., beginning along the entrance ramp about 20 yards from Weston Road.
There are two wetlands immediately east of Easton Road, both easily avoided by passing close to the right-of-way boundary. (These two wetlands, and one north of the parkway just west of Easton Road, may also be kettle holes, but each has been partially covered by the Parkway.) East of these wetlands is mostly open forest and quite hilly; I found a fire ring in one particularly pleasant spot. The property owner adjacent to the right-of-way at North Avenue appears to have encroached substantially on the right-of-way, if the boundary is where it shows on a survey provided to the MPTA by ConnDOT; the apparent encroachment is clearly evident on the 2006 aerial photograph of the location. In any event, the useable right-of-way adjacent to this property is very narrow.
The section between North Avenue and Bayberry Lane is relatively level, but there is a large wetland immediately west of Bayberry Lane. I found a well-defined animal trail in this location and used it for the flagged route except for about 20 yards on the grassed margin alongside the Parkway. The section reaches Bayberry Lane where Dead Man's Brook crosses the right-of-way; there is a sign identifying the land to the south as the Wolfson Streamside Preserve.
The section between Bayberry Lane and Cross Highway is hilly. It begins with a climb at an easy gradient to grove of white pines adjacent to the Rolnick Observatory, which is located on highest point in Westport . The flagged route then passes through a succession of breaks in stone walls, suggesting that it follows an old road. The section ends with a climb to a steep bluff, which the flagged route traverses down to the level of Cross Highway, very near the Parkway bridge.
Sasco Brook, which crosses the Parkway east of Redding Road, meanders south of the Parkway along much of this segment. As a result, there are wetlands on both sides of Merwyns Lane, with the wetland east of Merwyns Lane being both larger and wetter. Indeed, wetlands occupy most of the distance between Merwyns Lane and Redding Road, with the result that the flagged route is close to the roadway. About .1 mi from Merwyns Lane, the flagged route crosses a good-sized tributary of Sasco Brook over the culvert through which it flows under the Parkway and then remains in grassed margin for about 100 yards before moving into the woods where it follows an animal trail at the side of the highway berm until higher ground is reached near Redding Road. In this section, I frequently found myself following old flagging which used yellow flags. The flagged route ends opposite where the continuation of Cross Highway intersects with Redding Road.
Fairfield: Redding Road to Black Rock Turnpike (Mile 27.0)
The flagged route begins on the east side of Redding Road much closer to the Parkway than where the route ends on the west side. From here to Congress Street is hilly, mainly in open forest. Cross Highway parallels the section, close to or immediately adjacent to the right-of-way. Sasco Brook crosses the right-of-way from a culvert under the Parkway to a bridge over Cross Highway, and because of the proximity of the road, the flagged route crosses the stream using this bridge. After crossing the brook, the flagged route follows a very distinct old road for a short distance.
A short distance east of Congress Street, a two- or three-feet high barrier consisting of branches laid on top of each other, which is approximately 100 yards long and parallels the Parkway, has been erected in approximately the middle of the right-of-way. South of this barrier there is evidence that four-wheeled vehicles have passed. While I was able to flag a route on the south side of this barrier, it necessarily was close to the right-of-way boundary and the back yards of adjoining properties. Much of the section from here to Hillside Road is a wetland.
Much of the section from Hillside Road to Burr Street is also a wetland. It is adjoined to the south by two preserves owned by the Aspetuck Land Trust. Closer to Burr Street the flagged route crosses a stone wall and joins a well-used trail that presumably is part of the trail system of one of two Aspetuck Land Trust preserves. The final .1 mi is hilly open forest and follows a less distinct old road for a short distance. On the north side of this section, the Parkway is contiguous for a distance with the Larsen Sanctuary.
The section from Burr Street to Black Rock Turnpike slopes downhill. At the point where it begins to slope more steeply there is an area of heavy vegetation. To avoid this, the flagged route uses the grassed margin alongside the Parkway for about 40 yards, about half of which is behind a guard rail and half is not. To avoid a wetland, a parking area and a Conn/DOT storage or staging area, the flagged route ends on Congress Street (which here parallels the Parkway) about .1 mi. from Black Rock Turnpike. There is a Parkway interchange and a park-and-ride lot at Black Rock Turnpike.