STAMFORD -- Celeste Johnson, president of Reinventing Stamford, a group of residents seeking input into long-term planning efforts, said state engineers should route a Merritt Parkway Multi-Use Trail for bicyclists and pedestrians that could link to similar projects in the city.

"Neighborhoods are talking about their various plans for ways to make their neighborhoods more pedestrian and bicycle friendly and it should be considered if it will fit into a larger network of trails," Johnson said.

About 50 city residents, bicycling advocates and planning professionals showed up at the Stamford Government Center Thursday to offer ideas and raise concerns about the concept of a 37.5-mile Merritt Parkway Multi-Use Trail, which would stretch from Greenwich to the Stratford town line.

The meeting is the first of a series of sessions to be held by the state Department of Transportation as it begins a $1.4 million federally funded study of the proposed path, which cyclists have championed for nearly 20 years.

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Have your say Three public information sessions on the state Department of Transportation's Merritt Parkway Multi-Use Trail Study have been scheduled; Greenwich: Monday, Greenwich Town Hall, 101 Field Point Road, 6 p.m. New Canaan: April 3, Outback Teen Center, 71 Main St., 6 p.m. Fairfield: April 10, Osborn Hill Elementary School, 760 Stillson Road, 6 p.m.

Will Britnell, principal DOT engineer on the study, said engineers and planners will incorporate input from the sessions into a more complete conceptual design of the trail to be presented in public hearings in the fall.

Jill Smyth, president of the Merritt Parkway Conservancy, a group dedicated to the protection of the parkway's landscaping and historic elements, said she could not offer support or opposition to the project because of unanswered questions about how many trees could be removed by its construction and the impact it would have on the parkway's network of historic bridges.

David Kooris, vice president of the Regional Plan Association, said some trail intersections could result in an increase in economic activity from path users.

"The inner section of High Ridge Road, and Main Street in Norwalk, and maybe Black Rock Turnpike in Fairfield are places where you could actually take advantage of that kind of economic spin-off activity," Kooris said.

"... I think it is really kind of interesting that we're finally having these discussions that are real and tangible after 20 years."