Although Connecticut may be the fourth most urbanized state in the nation, it also boasts more than 825 miles of trail and ranks first in the nation’s urban forests, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Much of the responsibility of maintaining the state’s trail system and outdoor spaces falls to the Connecticut Forest & Park Association (CFPA). Every year, CFPA volunteers put in more than 25,000 hours—most of which is spent on local trail maintenance.
REI has been a longtime partner of CFPA and supports more than 400 similar nonprofit organizations across the country. As REI re-opens its West Hartford store in a new location on April 27, the co-op is celebrating by collaborating with local Hanging Hills Brewing Company on a limited edition brew—Old New England Trail IPA—in honor of Connecticut’s New England Trail. 10 percent of sales from the beer will go to the CFPA*.
We caught up with CFPA Executive Director Eric Hammerling and CFPA Trails Stewardship Director Clare Cain to learn about their valuable work to steward Connecticut’s trails and public lands, and see how your support can benefit their efforts.
Can you give us some background on CFPA and the organization’s mission?
Eric: CFPA was established in 1895 to connect people to the land, protect forests, parks and trails. In 1895, we didn’t have the parks and trails piece, but that’s evolved over time. Today, we are best known for maintaining the 825-mile trail system in Connecticut. Advocacy is the other piece we’re working on, in an effort to make sure that Connecticut has strong environmental laws and encourages people to get outside.
What are some of the highlights of the 825-mile trail system?
Clare: The crown jewel of our trail system is the New England Trail, which is the newest National Scenic Trail in the country. We maintain the 120 miles of the trail that’s located in Connecticut [the rest of the trail stretches through Massachusetts]. This trail is accessible to lots of people from cities and the views off to the west are beautiful.
Other significant trails in the state include the Shenipsit Trail on the eastern side of the Connecticut River, which connects to many state forests and parks, the Quinnipiac Trail, which connects to local population centers, and the Mohawk Trail, a remote and scenic 40-mile backpacking loop that connects to the Appalachian Trail.
REI West Hartford’s new location is only a short drive from the New England Trail. Why is this trail important to Connecticut, and specifically, to the people of West Hartford?
Clare: Particularly in West Hartford, the trail runs right through the West Hartford Reservoirs. This is the closest access for folks in town and they can easily head north or south. This is also a beautiful section of the trail, and just within that small region of the trail, there are some spectacular sections with easy access and convenient parking.
Eric: I live in West Hartford, and there’s very little protected space in town. The Metropolitan District estimates that at least 250,000 people use the reservoir system every year. It gets a ton of use and is highly valued.
What work is CFPA doing on the New England trail?
Clare: Right now, we’re working to clear the trail after recent winter storms and get the trail open and clear for spring hiking season. We have some major [trail] relocations—one down in Durham where we’re moving 2.5 miles of the trail off the road and to the backwoods.
We’re also working on a new trail—that is in its concept phase—that would connect the New England Trail to the Appalachian Trail. This will be a totally new trail across the Northwest tier of the state, and it will be pretty neat to link the two National Scenic Trails in the state.
You mentioned advocacy is also an important part of CFPA’s mission—what are you currently doing on this front?
Eric: Right now, we’re working to try to protect Connecticut’s public lands from what’s called the conveyance process in the state’s General Assembly. Every year, the general assembly has a bill with the purpose of selling, trading or giving away public lands owned by the state. This is an ongoing issue and the process always starts just a few days before the end of the legislative session.
What we’re calling for is an amendment to the state constitution to remedy this, SJ 35. We’re proposing that before public lands could be traded, sold or given away, a public hearing would be required in the General Assembly. And if it involves lands held by the State Department of Energy and Environmental Protection or Agriculture, it would require a two-thirds vote, rather than a simple majority, to give away state parks, forests or agricultural lands. We’ve got good bipartisan support for this—including support from REI and over 130 different organizations.
What can people do if they want to get outside with CFPA?
Clare: We host a number of events throughout the year, most notably, is our National Trails Day program, which is the first weekend in June [dedicated to stewarding local trails]. Connecticut leads the nation in the number of National Trails Day events, and we already have over 240 events registered for this year. These events run the gamut from family friendly hikes to birding walks to longer challenging hikes to paddling—anything you can imagine doing in the woods. These are all volunteer-led and they’re free.
For more on CFPA, National Trails Day and how to get involved, visit ctwoodlands.org. To try Old New England Trail IPA, and support CFPA, visit Hanging Hills Brewing Company April 27 to May 6. The beer will be exclusively available at Hanging Hills’ tasting room from April 27 to May 6. It will then be released to select distributors throughout the state for the month of May.
REI West Hartford will host a grand re-opening in its new space at Corbin’s Corner Shopping Center April 27 to April 29. For a suggested donation of $5 to CFPA, customers will receive a limited edition pint glass and a token for a pint of Old New England Trail IPA to be redeemed at Hanging Hills Brewing Company (valid 4/27 – 5/6).
*Details at rei.com/west-hartford
Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.