BENNINGTON -- Discontent with a lack of trails and walkways for pedestrians and bikers, a volunteer group of local officials, fitness enthusiasts and community-minded individuals are taking action on their own.
A "ninja path" that will eventually extend from downtown Bennington into North Bennington is being patched together with existing public infrastructure and private land to connect the two communities, said Joann Erenhouse, the executive director of the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce.
Bike path system
"It's kind of like phase one of our Bennington bike path system," she said. "We hope to eventually have some really nice scenic loops."
Town officials have discussed and sought a bike pathway for years. But so far, the town has failed to accomplish that goal. Erenhouse said she and others are taking a "ride it now approach." They have created a route that connects existing sidewalks and trails with privately owned land. The private landowners have agreed to allow paths to be widened and cleared, she said.
"We just want to get something done that we can get done," Erenhouse said.
The patchwork trail system begins along the river walk in downtown Bennington. It follows along Benmont Avenue, where sidewalks are expected to be added in the future and across the Hunt Street Bridge to Hicks Avenue. Erenhouse said the path will include cleared trails behind Walmart and Price Chopper, and continue on to the Hannaford shopping plaza.
"Eventually we're going to do a little bit of clearing behind the Hannaford. Nothing dramatic, just going to spruce it up a little bit," Erenhouse said.
For now, that is where the trail will end. "We're not quite sure where we're going to be crossing people over, but we will be crossing them over to Bennington College," Erenhouse said.
Route 67A is a busy stretch of road and careful consideration will be given to how bikers and pedestrians can safely cross the roadway. Once across the street, existing paths and trails will lead into North Bennington, Erenhouse said.
"It's a nice way to link up everybody. We think that Bennington College students are going to be happy to link up with Bennington without having to ride Northside Drive the whole way," she said. "It's a nice way for people to get out and see their community, enjoy the fresh air and get out and pedal around."
The idea has been pushed by the Bennington Economic Development Task Force, which created subcommittees with special initiatives. Erenhouse said she has been focused on the bike path, as well as a new welcome center now under construction and passenger rail service, among other goals.
Volunteers spent last week clearing a trail behind the Monument Plaza shopping center on Northside Drive. Additional work sessions will be planned in the future, Erenhouse said.
"We have a lot of community support and a lot of community volunteers. Everyone that was out there clearing comes from different community groups," she said. "This isn't costing anyone anything."
Mark Anders, a transportation planner with the Bennington County Regional Commission, said those working on the pathway are not currently seeking funding, but may in the future if it is necessary. "We don't have any money for it right now. If we need some large piece of infrastructure at some point, we may apply for grants," he said. "We're just building it in bits and pieces as opportunities arrive."
Anders said organizers must figure out how to cross a brook along the path, and how to bring the path under Route 279 because the state controls the right-of-way, he said.