Get to know the Greenway: Bruce Donald

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Bruce Donald (left) and fellow Revolutionary War reenactor David Packard (right) stand in front of Pettibone's Tavern in Simsbury for the Sons of the American Revolution Connecticut Board Meeting in fall 2019. Donald is President of Col. Wadswork Branch #7 in Greater Hartford, Connecticut.

By Jessica Reid, Communications Intern

Bruce Donald brings value to the East Coast Greenway with his expertise and passion, and, in turn, his work is valuable to him. 

As Tri-State Coordinator, he spends most of his time connecting with planners, engineers and government officials in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. An integral part of his job is mentoring area bicycle and pedestrian advocates and connecting the dots about who they should talk with in order to make the changes they hope to see.

Thanks to a grant from the 1772 Foundation, Donald also is the project manager for an upcoming historical and cultural guide on the portion of the Greenway between Providence and New Haven.

One of Donald’s main focuses is helping to secure funding to move projects forward. The densely populated Tri-State region offers a lot of resources, but it can be very competitive to gain access to necessary funds, he explained. 

Fortunately, Donald has experience with finance. He started out as a stockbroker in Boston and then became an investment banker in New York City. He also worked in Beijing, where he made sizable deals with energy and engineering companies. Most importantly, he learned how to interpret a spreadsheet and understand cash flow, he said.

Yet he is multifaceted in his skills. Donald, who earned a degree in political science at Middlebury College in Vermont, considers himself a “quasi-political animal.” He testifies at the legislative building in Connecticut a few times per year on issues like recreational trail bonds. 

Donald also earned a master’s degree in history from Trinity College.

“[My degrees have] helped me enormously in thinking about how to deal with people and institutions and what has gone on before, which of course is history, and learning from it,” he reflected.

His passion for history runs deep. Donald is a published author. His master’s thesis was on his great-great-grandfather’s letters to his mother and sister from the New York 21st Cavalry in the Civil War. He turned those letters into a book. He said writing a book was “a lot of fun [and] an enormous amount of work.”

From researching family history Donald has learned he had family members fight in every major American war, including the American Revolution. He also had a distant cousin burned in the Salem witch trials and a relative in the 1740s, who was captured by Native Americans, brought to Canada, and later recaptured by British troops and brought home. 

Donald carries his passion for understanding the history of the northeast into making parts of that region a better place to live by promoting greenways and the outdoors. 

“Ever since I was a kid, I really valued the freedom of getting out on my bike,” said Donald, who grew up in Farmington, Connecticut. But when he moved back to his hometown with his young sons years later, he realized it was no longer safe for them to ride since there was traffic in place of trails. 

He then started advocating for trails and became the President of the Farmington Valley Trails Council for 12 years. “I found an enormous amount of like-minded people that believed in building a separated bike-ped facility,” said Donald. 

Today, his work with the Greenway allows him to plan and develop improved biking and walking facilities. The Farmington Canal Heritage Trail in Connecticut, which he has worked on for 19 years and is over 80 percent complete (48 of 56 miles are off-road), is his favorite spot on the Greenway. 

“I get an enormous amount of good feeling and accomplishment from seeing these pieces of trails get built over the years, and knowing I had a hand at doing that really is pretty cool.”

In addition to giving him meaning, he said his friendships are one of the best parts of his job. He has met “amazing people that have become fast friends.”

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