Students Develop Plan to Light Up Dark Tunnel on Bolton's River Hop Trail

Two UConn students are making improvements to a well-traveled path, applying what they've learned in the classroom to a community in need.

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If you like to walk or bike Connecticut's trails, your travels make have taken you through a dark tunnel in Bolton. However, two UConn students are working to brighten it up.

Lacking inside the 800-foot tunnel on the Hop River Trail is light. The trail spans 20 miles, making up part of the 3,000-mile East Coast Greenway.

"I'm a little surprised that this is so dark," said John Ywarsky of Brooklyn.

Another avid biker, who frequents the trail three times a week, says the tunnel is a dangerous part of the trail.

"It's more of a danger than an annoyance. Putting signs up doesn't really help bikers," said Brenda Conti of Vernon.

Signs might not be doing the trick, but students Sumeet Kadian and Rob Avena have spent the last couple years in their community-engagement classes finding a solution.

"As a freshman, I was interested in taking different kinds of courses. I took a course called Anthropology 3340E, which is culture and conservation. Part of the course involves this service-learning component, and that's where the Bolton Tunnel came in because that was one of the proposed projects that students could take on," Kadian said.

Now as incoming seniors, the two students who double as the project leaders and roommates, hope to install 10 lights to the tunnel's ceiling by the end of the year.

"Eight lights spaced apart evenly with two on the ends that could point inwards would light up the tunnel properly," Avena said.

In their 30-page feasibility report, the students say it would cost between $20,000 and $30,000 to install the lights, and between $200 and $250 every month to keep the tunnel lit - expenses that the state Department of Transportation and DEEP would cover since they oversee the tunnel and trail, respectively.

Not only is lighting a concern, but people say they're uncomfortable with the unlevel ground, ditches, and jagged rocks inside the tunnel. Despite a sign with the warning: "dismount bicycles," travelers say the low visibility still poses safety risks.

"You know, we've seen accidents, we've seen people panic about going in there," said Barbara Amodio, co-chair of Bike Walk Bolton.

Amodio heads the nonprofit to make the trail safe and accessible. Thanks to surveys and a trail counter, which recorded more than 200 daily visitors through the tunnel in 2021, people have voiced their concerns.

"Between counts and the surveys, we began to see a pattern of people requesting light in the tunnel and also ADA access to the trail," Amodio said.

Bike Walk Bolton brought this information to UConn to help with funding and planning efforts, which may very well provide light - not at the end of the tunnel, but throughout it - very soon.

"When you go to school students might often think that it's boring or that it's only classroom work, but there are ways to use the knowledge in the classroom and really apply to the community and the community's needs," Kadian said.

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