Festivities planned around Yantic River's greenway designation

Norwich - A weekend-long celebration of the Yantic River's designation as an official state greenway started Friday with the city hosting the Governor's Greenways Council annual meeting and awards ceremony.

It will continue with walking tours today and Sunday.

The Yantic River from its headwaters in Lebanon running through Bozrah and Franklin to Norwich Harbor was one of three rivers added to the state greenways system during Friday's presentation. The towns of Colchester, Salem and Montville were added to the designation as part of the broader Yantic River watershed.

With the designation, towns within the greenway will receive placards to place along public parks, walking trails and parking areas for recreation spots. Laurie Giannotti, state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Trails & Greenways program coordinator, said the designation could help bring additional dollars to the host towns.

Giannotti said having greenway status would "elevate" a grant application for certain programs, such as the state Department of Transportation enhancement grants, the state's Small Town Economic Assistance Program grants and recreational trails grants.

Giannotti said the state designation does not create any land-use restrictions on properties within the greenways, except as called for by individual town regulations and plans of development. State projects, such as road work, and large projects needing state environmental reviews, including upgrades to sewage treatment plants, would receive "an extra level of attention," she said. Norwich Public Utilities plans a major upgrade to the city's sewer plant located on the Yantic River near Norwich Harbor.

Jason Vincent, vice president of the Norwich Community Development Corp., said it was a goal of the Norwich Plan of Conservation and Development to designate the Yantic River as a state greenway. Vincent, who coordinated the city's effort, said he contacted the towns along the river and received enthusiastic response.

Norwich wanted the Yantic River designation to increase public recreational opportunities, promote historical features, including the Uncas Leap waterfall area, and protect the natural resource.

Lebanon First Selectwoman Joyce Okonuk said she grew up near the Yantic River, which runs parallel to the Route 2 highway and Old Route 2 through town.

"It is an absolutely beautiful river," she said. "I have fished on it since I was a child. Jason came to us a month ago and talked to us about the Yantic. I was very excited the Lebanon piece of the Yantic would be part of the greenway."

Nancy Taylor, a member of the Bozrah Conservation Commission, said her town, too, is excited about the new designation. She said the greenway would help connect all the smaller towns along the Yantic to the city of Norwich.

Following Friday's ceremony, Vincent led several greenways commission members and river advocates for a walking tour up the Yantic River Heritage Walkway, which runs from Howard T. Brown Memorial Park at Norwich Harbor along the river and streets to Uncas Leap.

This morning, Mayor Peter Nystrom will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the trail entrance at 8 a.m. at the start of the annual Riverfest event at Brown Park. A walking tour up the trail to Uncas Leap will begin at 9:30 a.m.

A second walking tour will be held at 2 p.m. today running from Brown Park through downtown to the city's former train station behind Main Street.

On Sunday, Vincent will lead a walk to Uncas Leap starting at the Norwich dog park on Asylum Street at 10 a.m. Walkers with dogs on leashes will go down Asylum Street to the Upper Falls Heritage Park on the Yantic River, through the Yantic historic mill village and to the Uncas Leap falls.

c.bessette@theday.com

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