Years ago, when The Bulletin had a staff of lowly copy editors and I was one of them, my car died a swift, lemony death and I took to walking from my apartment on the far end of Greeneville to our Franklin Street office. It made me feel for all those workers for whom walking is not a fallback but a daily norm. I recall almost being run down by erratic drivers, accosted by tenuously restrained dogs and heavily rained on, sans umbrella.
There is a (much) better way to walk Norwich, though, and its creators and supporters marked the season opening last week — and noted plans for future expansion.
The Walk Norwich launch celebration, along with the season opening of the Norwich Heritage & Regional Visitors’ Center, attracted a who’s who of greater Norwich personalities and playmakers to celebrate the Norwich Historical Society and how it “ensures the highlights of Norwich’s historical assets are accessible,” Mayor Deb Hinchey said.
There are two operating self-guided Walk Norwich trails, complete with interpretive and wayfinding signage and information-packed glossy brochures available at the Heritage Center. Both are listed as two miles in length and low in difficulty. In the weeks to come I plan to take a couple long lunches and get the full experience — and, I’m sure, improve my less-than-favorable impression of the Norwich-on-foot experience.
I encourage anyone interesting in learning more about the history of the Rose City to give the trails a try, too, especially with the weather lately taking a dramatic turn for the better. The 69 East Town Street Heritage Center is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday until Oct. 30.
The Benedict Arnold Trail, a stroll through historic Norwichtown that comes with an audio component available at walknorwich.org, focuses on the native traitor, several of his contemporaries and the architecture and trappings of the Revolutionary era.
The Uncas Leap Trail, with information provided by the Mohegan Tribe Council of Elders, highlights the history of the tribe and its leader, Sachem Uncas, who allowed English colonists to settle here in the 17th century.
Regan Miner, the widely loved historical society consultant credited with the trails’ success, said the society wants to add two more: The Freedom Trail, celebrating the city’s Civil War and abolitionist history; and the Millionaire’s Triangle, featuring the history of “Norwich in the Gilded Age.”
Any of you current Norwich millionaires out there: The chief hurdle to making these two additional trails a reality is money, said historical society President Bill Champagne. He told me it takes as much as $20,000 to $30,000 per trail, between signage and brochure creation and printing. And even with funds in hand, it would take six months, and probably more, to get a trail up and running, Champagne and Miner said.
In the meantime, history buffs within and without the city can enjoy the two existing offerings, as well as the heritage center, which is marking one year in operation. Miner estimates it drew about 1,000 visitors over that time — 600 or so that signed in, and many more who opted not to. She said the center has had visitors from as far away as Hawaii.
The Walk Norwich trails and Heritage Center go a long way toward validating all the talk about the city’s historical pedigree and its potential as a tourism destination. And with the sustained effort and innovation of the historical society — Miner recently was named a Tourism Rising Star of Connecticut by Governor Malloy and the state Department of Economic and Community Development — Norwich’s capacity to draw visitors will only grow.
I’ve remarked before that an inordinate emphasis on tourism over economic development, particularly downtown, is putting the cart before the horse. I stand by that, but there’s no reason the two can’t happen concurrently, and kudos to the society for doing its part. You can even make a Dunkin’ Donuts run on Town Street on the way to the Heritage Center — just not downtown.
Brendan Cox is The Bulletin’s opinion page editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @bcoxNB.