Town Engineer Russ Arnold and Town Councilor John Vibert held a meeting Wednesday night to ask residents how they feel about Farmington’s trails, what they would like to see in the future and how they would like to get involved.
The event was well attended, with the more than 50 chairs filled with all ages of people who use the trails for recreation, exercise or to get around town.
While supportive of the trails system and the town’s efforts, the crowd spent much of the meeting discussing maintenance concerns.
Among the highest concerns was deteriorated fencing, for which Arnold said the town had received a grant from the trails council that would fund the replacement of 2,500 feet.
One resident said that debris from the October 2011 storm still litters the trails, though town staff went through the trails to remove debris and make them usable again. Arnold said that more attention would be devoted to further cleanup after the fall leaf pickup.
A woman suggested that the town put rubbish bins and dog waste bags along the trail to encourage people to take responsibility for cleaning up after themselves.
Arnold said that there had been trash bins along the river trail and in parking lots but that they were overwhelmed with use during the summer and they became unmanageable.
“With the abundance of people we had and a couple of garbage cans down there, it became a dump,” Arnold said. “We ended up pulling the garbage cans from everywhere but Brickyard. People would come and have picnics. It was out of control. We had police go down with bike patrols telling people they couldn’t do certain things.”
Arnold said the town was working on the garbage issue. Vibert said the Green Efforts committee was looking at how to put garbage cans and recycling bins at key points along the trail.
Another man complained that branches were growing over some areas of the town’s trails and that calls to the Public Works Department sometimes took weeks to get the work done.
“It’s very easy to overlook and put this kind of foot trail on the back burner,” another man said. “If you encourage people to use the trails and they see the shabby condition they’re in, it’s not fair.”
Arnold explained that how much maintenance the trails received was simply a matter of budget constraints, though his staff went through the trails every few weeks and worked to ensure safety.
“What you’re bringing up are issues that should be routine maintenance,” Arnold said, noting that sports fields are a priority that demands a great amount of time. “I’m not whining about what we don’t get but we make do with what we get. We’re putting our best effort forward on that… but at some point we have to say what is really necessary and what can we let go.”
A resident objected to the fields being given precedence but Arnold said there are many other obligations for his staff in town.
“When we built the trials, no one had a handle on what the actual maintenance costs were going to be. How do I dedicate the people, when do I dedicate the people when we have the same issues with the roads? I have roads in worse shape than our trails,” Arnold said. “We make sure the trails are safe. They may not look how we want them to look - I want the whole 6 miles to look brand new every day - but it’s tough.”
Residents raise the possibility of organizing work days to clean up the trails. Some offered to bring chainsaws. While a few organizations have such days a few times a year, Arnold said, liability limits the work so that no equipment can be used.
Some groups have taken ownership of small sections of the trail, too. The UVIA, Union School PTO and Cut Scouts have adopted sections that they maintain.
Ted Sanford said scouts had previously done work on the Farmington Memorial Forest trails and would continue to help in the future.
“The trail system is fabulous, in my opinion, …we’re trying to get other people to take pride in the trail,” Arnold said. “It takes everyone to be a community not just the town highway department workers. I go out with my kids and we stop and pick up branches and they’ve learned they get off their bikes and help. They’ve learned that’s what we do - not just because I work for the town – it takes everyone’s effort to make this thing what we need to make it.
“It’s the Land Trust with their volunteers that makes their properties as valuable as they are. That’s why we’re here tonight - to start the evolution of this and get everyone to help.”
Maps of Farmington trails are available at the Town Hall.