Heritage project continues to be topic of conversation

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The Farmington Canal Heritage Trail project has been a point of conversation for many residents for some time.

In the mid- to late-1800s, the Farmington Canal was built to expand the reach of water-based economics. Later in that century, the introduction of railroads left the canal obsolete, and once tractor trailers dominate transportation preferences, the railroad beds were left to sit.

Enter the FCHT—the rails to trails program. The program was designed to give those abandoned railroad corridors a purpose. But in Plainville the railroad track is still in use, which led the design team to settle on the current alignment for the trail.

Project manager Scott Bushee of the Connecticut Department of Transportation explained that the total FCHT will stretch for 85 miles, connecting New Haven to Northampton, Mass, with about 47 miles running through Connecticut.

The Plainville portion of the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail will span approximately five miles, connecting the sections of the trail that run through Farmington on the north end of town, to the section running through Southington on the south end of town.

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Currently, Plainville’s portion of the trail has been broken down into three sections. Bushee said that phase one will consist of the section spanning from Norton Park to Townline Road and the Southington boarder; phase two will connect the Farmington portion down to Camp Street and Route 72 area; and phase three will connect those two portions through town.

Town manager Robert Lee said current DOT has been working with the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and other agencies to ensure the project will have the smallest environmental impact as possible.

The construction team will be beginning the southern portion, where the trail will run parallel to its namesake—the Farmington Canal. Between the old canal and the protected wetlands areas is what’s known as the old tow path, and currently Lee explained, the trail may incorporate the tow path.

Town planner Garrett Daigle said the tow path was historically used for mules and horses to pull barges up and down the canal.

“In speaking with DOT, they see the restoration of the tow path as one of the goals of this particular section of the trail so that people can see or envision what the tow path actually was between 1840 and 1860,” said Lee.

Both Lee and Daigle said that as construction work begins and continues on the first phase, town officials and members of the Plainville Historical Society will be working together to establish historical markers to be placed along the trail, highlighting the history of the canal as well as the tow path.

Construction on phase one is slated to be completed in 2021-22, and town and DOT officials anticipate holding a public information session in the fall of this year to present their designs to the public.

To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Taylor Murchison-Gallagher, email her at News@PlainvilleObserver.com.