As temperatures begin to rise, the traffic on public recreational trails across the state will also increase.
The paved trails don’t face as much harsh damage, such as potholes and major cracks, as the roads traveled daily by automobiles. But they do have their own, mostly minor, issues that are revealed after the winter months.
Thanks to volunteers across the state and collaboration with town and city workers, those issues are attended to and the trails are widely kept clean and open to the public.
“For many, many years now, we have had an adopt-a-trail component to our organization,” said Farmington Valley Trails Council President Bruce Donald. “We currently have somewhere between 50 and 60 adopt-a-trail volunteers that have a piece of each of the sections of the trail.”
The Farmington Valley Trails Council is involved with the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail, the Farmington River Trail and the East Coast Greenway in Farmington, Avon, Simsbury, East Granby, Suffield, Burlington and Canton.
In Southington, the linear trail is being cared for by staff with the Parks and Recreation Department and residents will soon have access to an extended trail with the official opening of a new section which extends from downtown Plantsville through Milldale and to the Cheshire town line.
The new trail extends the existing trail nearly 2 miles, although a third portion that will connect to the Plainville line has not yet been completed.
Donald said the second annual trailwide cleanup day will be held May 1, which will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Last year, approximately 80 volunteers helped to clean the trails; Donald said he expects about 100 this year.
Volunteers cover about a one mile stretch of the trail from three different starting points: the Brickyard Trail Shelter on Brickyard Road in Farmington, Iron Horse Boulevard in Simsbury and the River Trail Pavilion at Route 4 in Unionville.
Even though the annual cleanup is more than a month away, Donald said some volunteers have already been on the trails.
“Our major effort is certainly May 1, but our adopt-a-trail volunteers have already been out working,” he said.
Unlike the council, the Farmington Canal Rail-to-Trail Association does not have a formal adopt-a-trail program, but Executive Director Norm Thetford said there has been some discussion about it.
“As a general rule, most users of the trail are just passing through and don't leave litter,” Thetford said. “We have had more problems with litter blowing onto the trail from adjacent parking lots and businesses, especially in the more urban areas.”
The Farmington Canal Heritage Greenway covers roughly 84 miles from New Haven to Northampton, MA, with a finished section running through Hamden to New Haven and an unfinished section running through Southington and northward.
Thetford said that it is the responsibility of each town, usually the parks and recreation department, to handle cleanup on the paved trail during the year.
As far as any winter damage to the trails, Thetford said he has not been on the trails yet this season, and does not know the status of any damage.
So far, Donald said he hasn’t heard that any parts of the trail are impassable. Even as the snow piles on the trails and the temperatures drop, Donald said the trails remain active and are used by cross-country skiers throughout the winter months.
Simsbury resident Cindy Tran spent Friday afternoon walking on the trail along Iron Horse Boulevard with her two Chihuahuas. Tran said she uses the trail all the time, both for the dogs and also to reach the Performing Arts Center at Simsbury Meadows.
"I like it in the winter," Tran said. "They plow it. It's nice, especially for the dogs."
When it comes to larger maintenance issues, such as downed trees, Donald said the contact in each town is reached. Sometimes that entity is the town garage, while other times it is the department of transportation.
"The town of Farmington Department of Public Works typically starts its spring cleanup and maintenance of the Rails to Trails when the snow melts, as this is when people start using the trails again," said Russell Arnold, Jr., director of public works. "We clear the trails from debris on a regular basis using a sweeper and/or blowers."
Robert Martin, director of public works in Canton, said the department has already started to sweep the areas of the trail located near the parking areas using a streetsweeper.
Unlike the roads, the rail trails have very few potholes, Donald said, because they don’t see the “heavy loads of street traffic” and therefore last longer.
“What we do have though is root incursion pushing up the tar,” Donald said.
Currently, this is a problem in Burlington on the river trail and in Simsbury. Root barriers are put in place to remediate the situation, he said.
“One of the issues moving forward is that some of the towns are much more proactive cutting back the incursion of undergrowth and the canopy, and some aren’t,” Donald said.
But all of the underlying issues, Donald said, are not just characteristic to this state.
“These are all things that across the nation everybody’s working with,” he said.