They say that every dog has his day, but rare is the man who can claim that he’s had a day dedicated specifically in his honor by the town’s , who are publicly endorsing recognition for his lifetime of achievements. Chet Blomquist is one of those rarities.
You may know Chet personally or you may have never heard his name, but if you are one of Branford’s near 30,000 inhabitants, then you have likely been a beneficiary of his services to the town. To quote minutes of the Board of Selectmen meeting, Chet has “worked tirelessly over many years to develop recreational activities that help make the Town of Branford a great place to live… Chet created The Branford Trail, a 28 mile course around the perimeter of Branford, giving the Town an unusual and very special recreational asset.” They recognize his contribution to the health and well-being of young Branford students during his lengthy career as a physical education teacher, in addition to his 50-plus years in the service of parks and recreation. He has also worked to develop the scenic Branford River Gateway, and is Co Chairman of the Shoreline Greenway Trail in Branford. The Shoreline Greenway Trail - his most current project - will be a 25 mile hiking and biking trail extending all the way from Lighthouse Park in New Haven to Hammonasset State Park in Madison.
Like the trees lining his trails, Chet takes root deep in Branford soil. He began his ascent to Branford notoriety as a physical education teacher at 59 years ago. He retired in 1986 and began a group called Branford Walkers: essentially a group for people who wanted to maintain their health via lengthy walks or hikes throughout town.
When I asked Chet what inspired him to create the group he explained that when he retired, he began to time his one-mile run every day. He wanted to improve his mile time. “After a few days I told myself ‘This is crazy!’ and threw away my stopwatch.” It was then that he got the idea to find people who would want to walk with him. Church was his first recruiting pool, and it was here that he found what he refers to as “the original five”–the first Branford Walkers. Over the years the group has grown tremendously; it consists mostly of those who are already retired. Bemused, Chet tells me that some of the retiree participants are actually former students of his.
In 1988, Chet began work on the Branford Trail, which carves its way along the perimeter of town. He explained to me that the trail has eight sections, each about three miles or so. Twice a year (once in Spring, once in Fall) the Branford Walkers hike the entire trail. They do one section each week over the course of eight weeks. Members of the group who complete the whole tour are awarded a patch. Chet tells me that over 250 patches have been earned so far.
Chet feels that the group brings more to its participants than good health and exercise: it is a place where people go to get connected to the Town. For Branford natives, it is an opportunity to see parts of Branford that they’ve never seen before, and it is a place where newbies can learn about their new home and neighbors. “It’s a very social group.
Though Chet still walks, he turned the group over to Geoffrey Smith four years ago.
Ten years ago, the Shoreline Greenway Trail project got underway. The trail will pass through New Haven, East Haven, Branford, Guilford, and Madison. Though he believes that the project has been progressing slowly, he is very excited about it, and to be a pioneer in its construction. “It’s unique,” he tells me. “There aren’t many trails like it in the country.” Anyone who has biked along Route 146, camped in Hammonassett State Park, or hiked some of the shoreline trails, can back Chet’s statement: the scenic shoreline is a place of privilege for outdoor enthusiasts. This trail will give you a taste of all of it.
Today commemorates the remarkable services of the man who has touched Branford residents by making the town such a beautiful place to live. Chet’s recognition takes place at the Branford town Green, but–appropriately–will be preceded by a four mile walk from Stony Creek. The walk is open to everybody. On the green, the Board of Selectmen (many of whom are also former students of his) will proclaim today as Chet’s Day and name Tabor Property pond “Chet’s Pond” in his honor. Check back for photos and a story from the days festivities.