Have you noticed the new four-foot by four-foot Branford River Gateway signs along Montowese/South Montowese Street at the Branford River? The subject of our weekly photo hunt, , several readers including and were among the first to recognize the location of these two new signs, which were erected in the last week or so. Though the signs, which cost $390, are new, restorations to this area have been decades in the making.
Janice Plaziak details the Branford River Gateway project has been in the works since the late 1990s. Over the years, the project has included the creation or renovation of the Montowese Street Bridge, the north and south parking lots off Montowese Street, the sidewalks along the roadway on both sides of the street before and after the Montowese Street bridge, the overlook at the south parking lot and the boardwalk at the area of South Montowese and Tabor Drive.
When the project began, Plaziak was the Assistant Town Engineer for Branford (1994-1999) and helped write a grant for the work, which she said was in part funded by the Scenic Highway Grant. Route 146 (Montowese Street) was designated as a Scenic Highway in the 1990s, she detailed, and a Corridor Management Plan was developed along with the Route 146 and Route 77 (Guilford) Scenic Highways Advisory Committee.
The Branford River Gateway Project involved the cooperation of Connecticut Department of Transportation, Amtrak, the Town of Branford, neighbors, the Department of Environmental Protection, and Cemetery and the . If all these groups could work together, the 1996 Corridor Management Plan plan detailed “the result of such an effort would be an important community asset for both resident and visitor alike.”
Over the years, several grants and many people have made the beautification of the Branford River Gateway possible and one consistent presence through the process has been local volunteer activist Chet Blomquist.
An Indian Neck resident for more than 50 years, he frequently walks the area, caring for the marsh and river and he’s still active in looking for funding to do more.
Originally, he said $256,000 was granted for the Gateway Project. He’d like to see additional funds for creating sections of boardwalk along the river, parallel to the Amtrak tracks connecting Montowese Street to Indian Neck Avenue. Like the Gateway project, Blomquist faces getting multiple entities to agree to work together to make this possible. At the moment this plan is on the back burner.
Right now parts of this Branford River area are maintained by the town, the Branford Land Trust and the state, which has Department of Transportation jurisdiction over the roadway. Also, Blomquist details that the , an organization that he co-chairs, is looking to utilize the Gateway as part of their trail.
Many layers, people, organizations and money over the years have added up to make the Branford River Gateway a place for passive recreation. The two new signs, said, Blomquist, serve as a bold reminder to the public that this is the case.
The signs he said, will hopefully calm drivers along the roadway and encourage slower speeds. He also hopes they remind residents that there are two great areas to pull off and enjoy one of Branford’s real treasures.
“The whole project was to make this road more accessible to bikers an walkers and handicapped people,” commented Blomquist.
On any given day you can find Blomquist walking along the shoreline picking up debris and tending to the phragmites – an invasive species he’s tasked to eradicate over a three-year process (funding for this comes from the Branford Land Trust).
Bending over to collect litter along the riverbank, Blomquist said he has been passionate about the preservation of this area for many years. After retiring from Branford schools as a longtime physical education teacher, Blomquist said the Branford River has been one area of interest for him; he’s also spent more than a decade creating a 28-mile walking trail along the perimeter of Branford. After much progress has been made to the Branford River Gateway, he said he’s still adamant about making sure the area stays free of litter and that new initiatives are pursued. Why is he still so passionate after all these years? Blomquist said his late wife Daryl Blomquist (1927-1996) is buried in nearby Tabor Cemetery and someday he plans to join her; he hopes to continue to look over the Gateway, he said, for eternity.
To learn more about the improvements to the area and the acquisitions, please check out the captions in the attached photos.