State engineers are seeking the public's feedback on the Merritt Parkway bike and pedestrian trail to help plot a potential path for the design of the 37.3-mile path later this year.

"During the first phase we're actually trying to obtain information from local residents and business owners about what types of access they'd like to see," said Will Britnell, principal engineer for the Department of Transportation's state highway design.

The state DOT will hold a series of public workshops in the eight municipalities along the route to gather input for a $1.4 million study of the envisioned path, which has been discussed by cycling enthusiasts for nearly 20 years.

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MERRITT TRAIL WORKSHOPS • Stamford: March 22, Stamford Government Center, 5:30 p.m. • Greenwich: March 26, Greenwich Town Hall, 6 p.m. • New Canaan: April 3, Outback Teen Center, 6 p.m. • Fairfield: April 10, Osborn Hill School, 6 p.m.

One of the workshops is planned in Fairfield, at 6 p.m. April 10 in Osborn Hill School.

After gathering feedback from residents and officials from Greenwich to Stratford, engineers this summer will attempt to plan a path for the trail and assess logistical challenges involved with building it, Britnell said.

Franklin Bloomer, president of Greenwich Safe Cycling, and Josh Lecar, program coordinator for the Merritt Parkway Trail Alliance, said a cultural shift in which residents seek better pedestrian and bicycle access explains the DOT's willingness to pursue the study. "I feel like the DOT, as an internal policy, has accepted the idea that this is something that should happen," Bloomer said.

"There has always been a concern about it from the standpoint of feasibility but you need to do this work to understand the true feasibility of overcoming the obstacles," DOT spokesman Kevin Nursick said. "We're fairly optimistic here of seeing a positive result."

Lecar, the former transportation planner for the city of Stamford, said it is likely the state designers would reduce the financial and environmental impact of the work by routing users of the trail onto major roads in areas where uneven terrain or water pose challenges.

"I expect that there will be some sections that will be able to accommodate bikes, pedestrians, and in some cases, maybe equestrian traffic," Lecar said. "Other sections will be limited because of the topography where the streets will become part of the trail."

The DOT is conducting the study with a $1.096 million grant from the National Scenic Byway Program, with the state putting up $274,000 for the work.

David Kooris, vice president of the Stamford-based Regional Plan Association, said that in concert with other trail projects, the Merritt Parkway trail and work to establish bicycle routes closer to the shoreline could help establish a nearly comprehensive and economically important network for non-motorized travel.

The Regional Plan Association hired a consultant in the early 1990s to conduct the Merritt Parkway Trail Feasibility Study, which argued for creating the trail, which could also become part of the East Coast Greenway, a 2,750-mile network of trails from Florida to Maine.

"It's important to not think about the trail in isolation because when you couple it with projects in Stamford and the Norwalk River Valley trail it becomes part of a system that links suburbs and suburban neighborhoods with downtowns," Kooris said. "It would be incredibly cool to have this phenomenal greenway network that would add a ton of value to our residential neighborhoods."