The state Department of Transportation is beginning to study whether a long-discussed multi-use trail along the Merritt Parkway, stretching from Greenwich to Stratford, is feasible.

The proposed trail would be located within the undeveloped highway right-of-way and would use the wooded buffer that now exists between the road and abutting properties. In the planning stages for about two decades, the trail would span more than 37 miles from the New York state line to the Sikorsky Bridge in Stratford and serve as a bicycle and pedestrian path along the historically designated highway.

DOT officials said this week that an extensive public outreach campaign will be undertaken in each of the eight communities along the parkway. They plan to hold a series of public meetings for the study, which is being paid with a $1.096 million grant from the National Scenic Byways Program and $274,000 in state funds.

The study's duration will be impacted by feedback received from stakeholders along the route, but is expected to take a couple of years, DOT spokesman Judd Everhart has said.

The DOT says it also plans to document environmentally sensitive areas and come up with options for avoiding them, possibly diverting the trail onto local loads in certain locations.

The study will also consider including information on the parkway's historically significant features at spots along the route to develop it as a tourist destination.

Supporters of multi-use paths in Connecticut have since the mid-'90s touted the trail concept as a link in the East Coast Greenway, a 2,750-mile network of trails from Florida to Maine.

Cycling and pedestrian advocates have said that the study shows that state leaders are finally serious about developing amenities for non-motorized travel. Past efforts to get the DOT to vet the concept were given less consideration because the engineering challenges of routing the path past major intersecting roads and waterways such as the Saugatuck and Mianus rivers were considered too extensive based on the perceived demand.

Now, heavy automobile traffic and a younger generation of professionals interested in bicycling to work has given greater impetus to efforts to develop trails.

Preservationists who are protective of the parkway's bucolic atmosphere, particularly its forested medians, will likely keep a close eye on the DOT study.