East Haven’s Farm River trails eyed for restoration, redesign

EAST HAVEN — A design concept for a new greenway along the Farm River aims to increase recreation along the river while also restoring the waterway.

A presentation of the design concepts by the Southwest Conservation District and Fuss & O’Neill, a civil and environmental engineering consulting firm, described the proposed 1.5-mile trail across seven town-owned parcels.

Chris Sullivan, executive director of the Southwest Conservation District, said the idea for the trail came when several people were streamwalking — walking along a stream while assessing conditions and hazards — when they came across parcels that appeared to previously have been cleared.

The town-owned parcels showed a potential opportunity to benefit the community by increasing river access and improving water quality, presenters said.

“It did look like when we were at these sites that it’s already being used unofficially as a trail system and so you can just see that there’s a lot of people in the area that could, if there’s other pedestrian infrastructure, that they could quickly access these areas,” said Michael Soares, the lead consultant on the project.

The firm is proposing trail and restoration conceptions focused on improving water quality; increasing flood storage capacity along the river in wetlands and in floodplains; and improving/diversifying the habitats present in the area.

The work would be funded by the Greater New Haven Green Fund; costs for the project are not yet finalized.

There are five proposed areas along the trail, each with its own restoration plans and details.

Area 1: North of Corbin Road
This area would serve as a potential trailhead with parking off North High Street, which would allow nonresidents to feel comfortable parking in a non-residential area while also keeping parking separate from the neighborhood in that area, presenters contend.

The downside to establishing parking in this area is that a bridge would need to be built to cross the Farm River, adding to the cost.

This section of trail would include two of the town-owned parcels; they are separated by another property, however, requiring an easement. There also is an opening on this section of the trail that would allow users to see clearly into the unrelated private property, so Fuss & O’Neill is proposing planting or fencing so those property owners do not lose privacy.

The trail also would feature signage and boardwalks over wet areas, allowing year-round use of the trail.

In the future, other trails could stem from this trailhead, including trails north or connections to the neighborhood or recreation field, the presenters said.

Soares said a stormwater outfall concrete pipe failed in the area, forming a deep gully and resulting in erosion. The firm would repair this issue and restore the riverbank while also reducing the peak flows of water.

“We tried to bring the trail to these interventions because they can be designed in a way that its an exciting feature along the trail. They don’t need to be hidden away and stormwater doesn’t always need to be underground. It can be something that’s really exciting to come upon and see in action and to engage the trail with it so that its that point of interest,” said Beth Kirmmse, who is working on the project with Soares.

Area 2: Corbin Road to Hellstrom Road
This section of trail is narrow and neighbors may have privacy concerns as the trail may overlook fences, according to the design.

There is not a lot of access but a small path that could be used during the dry season to access Farm River was suggested.

No benches or gathering spots would created along this section to encourage people to move through the area. The firm suggested securing funding for privacy fencing or green fencing, such as hedges or vines, if that was what the community wanted.

“If it’s designed to encourage movement so that maybe long, linear, north-south-oriented curbing, keeping the path narrow enough so that it can allow people to move, to pass each other,” Kirmmse said. “The more narrow the path is, the faster people will move through it.”

Despite potential privacy concerns, the section of land is an important connection to the rest of the trail system because it is very level, presenters said.

To restore the area, the firm proposed repairing an outfall and stabilize banks where Maloney Brook joins the Farm River.

Area 3: Between Hellstrom Road and Hellstrom Road
East Haven owns a roughly 15-acre parcel in this area, mostly a forested bank along the river with about 12 acres of an agricultural field, partially owned by the town.

A trail crossing is not possible at Hellstrom Road as the site is steep, presenters said, and an easement would be needed to cross privately owned farmland.

“This is the biggest opportunity that we identified along this entire system for making some real improvements to the Farm River,” Kirmmse said.

Kirmmse said this area has potential for a park space with a a playscape, picnic facility or hammock village with additional parking.

The trail itself would continue south, with offshoots allowing for river access. Here, the river could be used for fishing or observing winter conditions, Kirmse said.

As for restoration in this area, the plan would be to phase out agricultural use of the land and reestablish the floodplain. Plans would allow for additional flood storage; improving water quality by increasing the capture and infiltration of runoff from the farm field; and increase area, connectivity and diversity of the wildlife habitat allowing for invasive species management, according to presenters.

Area 4: Hellstrom Road to Willow Road
In this area, the trail would go through the existing forested floodplain.

Boardwalks would be needed to get over low spots, Kirmmse said.

Proposed parking in the area could be an extension of the trail park system that would allow a destination to be developed, potentially with recreational opportunities, Kirmmse said.

For restoration, plans are to expand the existing wetlands to increase flood storage and intercept stormwater drainage. This section had less in the way of invasive species than others, but efforts would be made to improve the wildlife habitat.

Area 5: South of Willow Road
A southern trailhead is not recommended near this section of trail until parking and pedestrian access exist, according to presenters. Instead, the firm is proposing parking behind T & J IGA Supermarket be explored.

Much of the area is maintained for access to the sewer pipeline but, heading south, the area is less maintained, they said. The proposed plan is to clean up some of the invasive species and engage the river for fishing. Another idea is to loop the trail around.

Boardwalks also could be used to link high and low spots in the wetlands portion of the trail.

Toward the river bend, the firm is suggesting additional fishing access and benches for visitors.

The parcel to the south of this trail is owned by a shooting range and is a forested area, so in the future the trail could be extended with an easement, according to presenters. The trail also could be expanded to the east to create a point of entry to the neighborhood, which would require a footbridge over the Farm River.

Restoration plans include enhancing the system allowing for Grannis Pond’s outflow into the Farm River. This would be done by enhancing the wetlands and floodplains in the area and slowing the flow of water to reduce erosion and flooding issues.

These design concepts will be used to apply for other grants to expand plans along the river.

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