Grassroots Go-Ahead: Massachusetts Communities Take On Their Rail-Trail Ambitions

Posted 03/07/12 by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy in Taking Action, Building Trails

Photo of the Danvers Rail Trail sponsored mile-marker © Danvers Rail Trail Advisory Committee

Undeterred by all the debate about trail funding at the federal level, local communities continue to let their trail-building actions do the talking.

Flicking through local newspapers out of Massachusetts during the past week, it is great to see local agencies and community groups rolling the sleeves up to advance their rail-trail ambitions. This grassroots energy speaks volumes about the demand across America for trail networks and bike and pedestrian infrastructure that better serve residents and local businesses.

In the state's northeast, the Danvers Rail Trail Advisory Committee has launched a mile-marker sponsorship program to fund the maintenance and improvement of the Danvers Rail Trail. The advisory committee is a town-appointed group that has directed development of the 4.3-mile rail-trail since the town of Danvers leased the corridor from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority in 2008.

Aware of the trail's tremendous recreational importance to the town, the citizens of Danvers have responded enthusiastically. A wide variety of locally owned businesses--everything from a hardware store and a beer company to a fish market, a photography business, even a dental-care practice--have paid $150 for a 4-inch by 4-inch marker along the trail, or $500 for a 4-inch by 8-inch marker in prime locations. Each blue-and-white decal (above) bears the sponsor's name, logo and dedication message. Local families have made generous contributions, too.

The homegrown energy behind the trail extends even further; the markers were prepared and installed by volunteers, and the initial cost of the posts and mileage decals was paid for by a local advocacy group, the Danvers Bi-Peds. 

The new fundraising effort has so far generated about $4,100 to help realize the town's immediate plans for the trail, which include improving the trail surface in some sections with a compacted top coat of crushed-stone dust, and improving a boggy section north of Wenham Street.

Photo of the Clipper City Rail Trail © Vining

About 30 miles to the west, in the town of Concord, town officials are discussing how to bring the growing Bruce Freeman Rail Trail into their community.

Following the 25-mile route of the former New Haven Railroad's Framingham and Lowell line, the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail currently encompasses Lowell, Chelmsford and Westford. Having observed the popularity of the trail in those communities, the residents of Concord, and nearby Acton, voted to approve plans to extend the trail. Sudbury and Framingham, farther to the southwest, are also eager to develop the rail corridor into a connecting trail in their townships.

And today, the city of Newburyport is celebrating the beginning of a much sought-after project to connect the Old Eastern Marsh Trail and the Clipper City Rail Trail (above).

For proof that this project that will greatly please local residents and businesses, look no further than the list of guests of honor at the launch-- Secretary of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation Richard A. Davey, state Rep. Michael Costello, and state Sen. Steven Baddour.

With Newburyport's and Salisbury's rail-trails booming in popularity, a safety issue emerged for those wanting to cross Route 1 at the northern end of the Gillis Bridge, to pass from one rail-trail to the other. Work on the connection, which will unlock a great expansion in the region's trail network, is expected to start in mid-March.

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