Save the MDC Trails!

I just returned from a vibrant public hearing at West Hartford Town Hall. To make a long story short, in May, a jury awarded $2.9MM verdict to a woman who was injured while mountain biking at the West Hartford (Connecticut) Reservoir in 2002. The Reservoir is a Metropolitan District Commission (the water company) property. The biker struck a gate, injuring her back. The jury found the MDC liable. Fearing more lawsuits, the MDC has threatened to close all of its land to public access. This would be a huge blow for the outdoor recreation community in Connecticut.

The furor over the potential closings and the legislative loophole that doesn’t provide liability protection to municipalities and non-profit municipal corporations (like the MDC), has galvanized the Connecticut land/trail community like never before. Even advocates of tort reform have jumped on the bandwagon. Many of Connecticut’s not-for-profit conservation/recreation/outdoor education organizations have rallied to keep the MDC lands open, to support the lawsuit appeal, and to change the law so that MDC and municipalities are protected in the future. I strongly believe the MDC should keep the trails open, appeal the lawsuit, and pursue the legislative reform needed to protect themselves in the future.

Leading the charge on behalf of the conservation and recreation community are the Connecticut Forest & Park Association and the Connecticut Chapter of the  New England Mountain Bike Association. I am a member of the CFPA Board of Directors, the Livingston Family is long-time CFPA members, and we are long-time NEMBA members. CFPA and CT-NEMBA came together to form a new organization, Save the MDC Trails. If it wasn’t for bad timing (maybe good timing!) I might have been on the trails at Winding Trails tonight, doing the summer off-road triathlon series. However, I’m a bit under the weather, so I skipped the race and went to the hearing. I’m glad I did. CFPA Executive Director, Eric Hammerling, asked me to say a few words.

I filled my three minutes at the podium with a pump-up-the-crowd reflection on why land access and the trails are so important to our communities. I spoke on behalf of Horst Engineering where I “spend my days” and on behalf of CFPA and other organizations that we support. Horst Engineering is headquartered in East Hartford, a key MDC town. We are close to the Connecticut River park system and depend on MDC for our water.

Something was pulling me to West Hartford tonight, so I’m glad I followed my instincts. I had a great time and I saw dozens and dozens of people who I know. CFPA and CT-NEMBA were out in force, but we had ample support from so many organizations that I love, including: the Appalachian Mountain ClubShenipsit StridersSilk City StridersHartford Track Club, BikeWalk Connecticut, and Riverfront Recapture.

In addition to many of these non-profits, there were high schoolers and college students from the area towns who run and race cross-country in the park system. There were senior citizens who rely on the reservoir system for a place to safely walk. There were business community leaders, such as the local REI store manager, who spoke about the revenue generated by trail users. Many people spoke about the positive impact that the trails have on area youth, who depend on the open space to stay active and fit. I’m sure the MDC doesn’t want to be threatened for contributing to the nation’s obesity crisis. There was even a cardiac rehab patient who spoke of how he stayed fit by strolling the trails.

Many area politicians and legislative leaders also spoke, making their plea directly to the MDC commissioners. CT Attorney General and U.S. Senate candidate, Richard Blumenthal, spoke forcefully about the issue and stressed that legally, it can be resolved, but that the trails should stay open. I owe thanks to the Attorney General because I made my way through the crush of people trying to get into the auditorium by sticking to his coat-tails. Fortunately, we are on good terms! The mayors of West Hartford and Bloomfield also spoke in support of keeping the trails open.

Outside on the lawn, the overflow crowd mingled and spent time together. CFPA, NEMBA, and others had outreach displays and passed around the petition. I’m confident that there will be many positive outcomes as a result of this situation. I’m stoked that so many people came together to support a common cause. Ironically, it was a 90 degree (Fahrenheit) evening filled with glorious summer sunshine, when many of those folks would be on the same trails that they came to fight for. Thankfully, it was one night when people realized that a little community sacrifice would pay off in a big way.

1 Response to “Save the MDC Trails!”


  1. 1 freelancerjobsitelocation 22 July 2010 at 7:57 am

    Great post. Very informative. Site has been added to my RSS feed for later browsing for my [ triathlon bike ] site and [ triathlon wetsuit ] site. Thanks for sharing.


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