OK, I'll admit it. A few years ago, I was losing hope that the gaps along the Charter Oak Trail and Hop River Trail would ever be filled.
But then, in fall 2011, a section of the Charter Oak Trail, a multiuse path through East Hartford and Manchester, was extended.
And last spring, a long-anticipated covered bridge, more than a decade in the making, was lifted into place by a crane over Route 316 in Andover, bridging a gap along the Hop River Trail, a multiuse path from Vernon to Willimantic. Both events provided a little hope that the state's portion of the 3,000-mile-long East Coast Greenway will someday be completed.
Now an exclamation point of sorts is an $11.4 million plan by the state Department of Transportation to bring the Charter Oak Trail from its present terminus in the Highland Park section of Manchester out to Bolton Notch State Park and to the Hop River Trail in Bolton, perhaps with a fall 2014 start date.
Earlier this week, I spent a half hour going over the project map with DOT Principal Engineer Will Britnell. The plan is relatively simple, with the 10-foot-wide paved path remaining mostly on DOT right-of-ways and on Manchester Water Co. land along I-384.
When completed, eastern Connecticut will be relatively gapless, part of the state's 198-mile portion of the East Coast Greenway, a combination of off-road and on-road paths snaking from Maine to Florida.
According to the greenway, approximately 28 percent of the path through the state is along traffic-free trails, with another 28 percent in development.
The focus remains on the larger gaps in the state, including a proposed Merritt Parkway Trail in Fairfield County and portions of the Farmington Canal Greenway between Southington and Farmington and Simsbury and Hartford.
The Charter Oak Greenway proposed extention will start at the current terminus, a parking area at Porter Street. The trail would continue east along Camp Meeting Road and under Interstate 384. A loop ramp will be built where a dirt parking area for Case Mountain is now located and take travelers up to a pedestrian bridge over Camp Meeting Road.
The trail will continue through the woods along the northern side of Camp Meeting Road, cross Finley Street and then travel through the woods into Bolton and along the wooded right-of-way along the eastbound lanes of Interstate 384 to the Route 85 exit ramp. Trail users would cross the exit ramp at its junction with Route 85 and across the bridge over 384 on a 2-5-foot-wide elevated sidewalk separated from the road by a barrier.
The trail would then cross Route 85 and parallel the westbound lanes of I-384 to a right of way just to the west of Georgina's Restaurant and across Route 6/44 on a second pedestrian bridge. Although the exact path still has to be determined, the greenway would go behind the DOT maintenance facility and abandoned drive-in to Bolton's Freja Park. The path would continue along a sewer and water pipe right-of-way to Bolton Notch.
"It's a very popular trail now," Britnell said. "You see a lot of people out, especially on weekends. And it's not only bicyclists, it is everyone of all ages. It is going to create a lot of connections out into eastern Connecticut. And it's going to get people there safely."
Britnell pointed out the proposal isn't cast in stone – yet.
"If anyone has any problems with the proposal or thoughts about it, we want to hear from them. We are flexible. Both towns have been great during the planning process," he said.
If this project is approved, eastern Connecticut will no longer be known as the home of the trail gaps. It will be held up as a shining example of what can happen when state agencies, trail enthusiasts and towns along the trail work together to fill the gaps.
A public information hearing on the project will be held Jan. 22 at 6:30 p.m. at the Lincoln Center Directors Room, 494 Main St. and Jan. 23 at 6:30 p.m. at Bolton Town Hall, 222 Bolton Center Rd. Visit http://publicworks.townofmanchester.org/engineering/documents/PublicInfoColorPlan100sc.pdf for a color map of the route. Peter Marteka can be reached at 860-647-5365, at email@example.com or at The Courant, 200 Adams St., Manchester, CT 06040.