Action: Secure the legacy of the Blue Trails by working with landowners to achieve long-term protection of the Trails.
What is it?
There are 825+ miles of Blue-Blazed Hiking Trails (Blue Trails) to enjoy in Connecticut thanks to hundreds of private, municipal, and state landowners who have agreed over time to host them. However, the vast majority of Blue Trails are not permanently protected and properties these trails traverse remain vulnerable to a multitude of economic and social pressures that lead to subdivision, changes in ownership, and changes in land use that disconnect trails. To date, CFPA holds interests in land (trail easements, fee properties, and conservation easements) that together protect almost 16 miles of trail – but this means that on ~330 miles of trails hosted on private lands, less than 5% of the Blue Trails are legally protected, and more than 95% rely on hand-shake agreements with various landowners.
Why is it important?
The most vulnerable Blue Trails are those hosted by private landowners. Whereas state lands and municipal lands are often set-aside for recreational use to benefit the public, trails on private lands can be subject to a multitude of financial and personal family considerations that can result in trail closure. Trail closures can quickly turn a beautiful walk through the woods into a non-scenic walk along a busy road. Since private lands host ~40% of the trails and are critical to keep the Blue Trails connected across the landscape, CFPA must build long-term partnerships with landowners, and always look for opportunities to protect trail corridors over time. Building these partnerships can be very time intensive when trails cross many small properties as rural and suburban areas become more thickly settled, and the pace of development is likely to increase as the economy improves. Providing a dedicated point-of-contact for landowners is fundamental, but just as important is providing landowners with knowledge about topics such as forests, trails, and wildlife that both enhances their interest in the stewardship of their properties, and nurtures their commitment to long-term protection and management.
What will the impact be?
To fully protect the legacy of the Blue Trails, many more miles of trail must be protected either through acquisition, easement, or signed landowner agreements. The first priorities in the Strategic Plan are relationship-building and information-sharing with landowners along the New England Trail, the Nipmuck/Natchaug Trail complex, and the Shenipsit Trail. Along these priority trail corridors, significant funding is necessary to 1) offset due diligence expenses (legal review of easements, land surveys, etc.), 2) ensure monitoring and maintenance of current properties, 3) conduct landowner outreach and education (through programs like Coverts), and 4) grow and replenish the Hibbard Trust for Land and Trails to acquire trail corridors and working forests.