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Northampton seeks rail trail extension to Williamsburg

Northampton plans to seek a federal grant to pay for extending the Norwottuck/Mass Central Rail Trail from Grove Avenue in Leeds to Williamsburg. The Norwottuck Rail Trail is seen here north of Florence Street in Leeds during a ceremony in July 2010.
GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Northampton plans to seek a federal grant to pay for extending the Norwottuck/Mass Central Rail Trail from Grove Avenue in Leeds to Williamsburg. The Norwottuck Rail Trail is seen here north of Florence Street in Leeds during a ceremony in July 2010. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO Purchase photo reprints »

Pending City Council approval, the city’s Office of Planning and Development intends to apply for a federal grant that would help fund construction of a 0.35-mile section of the Norwottuck/Mass Central Rail Trail stretching from Grove Avenue to Williamsburg. The 1,900-foot section is owned by the Conservation Commission.

In addition to extending the trail, the estimated $500,000 project calls for restoration and rehabilitation of an historic arch bridge along the trail that spans Beaver Brook.

Wayne Feiden, director of the Office of Planning and Development, describes the project as a great opportunity to finish the trail along one of the most spectacular riverfronts in the city.

“This is an exciting project,” he told the council last week.

Not everyone agrees.

John Andrulis, of 486 Haydenville Road, told the council that the unpaved stretch of trail is one of the few “bucolic, pastural rural trails” left for residents to enjoy. The paved section of the rail trail in Leeds is no longer conducive to walking because of speeding bicyclists and litter, he said.

“You’ve taken away the rights or privileges of one group of people, most of them whom happen to be citizens who have been walking their dogs there for decades ... and giving it to bike riders who live who knows where, both local and not local,” Andrulis said.

Another resident, Yvonne Boucher of 159 Jackson St., spoke in favor of the project, noting that the path has large roots and wet spots “that you wouldn’t believe.”

“It’s less than a mile, but it would be really very nice because I enjoy walking there,” Boucher said.

The federal grant is being offered for the first time in three years by the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act and is intended for recreation projects. The city will ask for $250,000 and be required to match that amount, which Feiden said would come from Community Preservation Act grants and private fundraising.

The council last year approved a $104,000 CPA grant for the bridge project, which is about 130 years old and has gone without maintenance for a half-century.

“So trees that were 12 to 18 inches in diameter were growing through the bridge,” Feiden said. “It’s in bad need of work.”

He said the trail north of the bridge is one of the most spectacular sections in town because it runs along the Mill River.

“There are other places with little views of the river, but this place the trail goes right next to the river,” Feiden said.

The CPA grant for the bridge repair will be used as part of the match, as will about $50,000 in money already raised for the project. Feiden said his office will seek another CPA grant and continue to fundraise the additional roughly $100,000 needed for the match.

As with previous grant applications, the council is being asked to approve a request to borrow $500,000 in order to apply for the grant. Feiden explained that the money will not actually be spent, but said the authorization is necessary to secure the grant.

The council last week delayed a decision on the authorization, sending the request to the Finance Committee for review. Councilors will likely take the two required votes on the measure when they meet next Thursday.

The rail trail was originally designed to extend along an abandoned rail bed from Look Park to the Williamsburg town line, but funding issues during initial construction halted the project at Grove Avenue. That’s because the transportation money that has helped fund most of the city’s rail trail projects does not allow construction of a trail that dead-ends. The federal grant has no such stipulation and encourages construction of such trails for recreational use, Feiden said.

Constructing the rail trail from Look Park north to Williamsburg — a 2.4-mile stretch — generated much controversy when it was first proposed in the late 1990s, with neighbors in Leeds split on the idea.

Williamsburg residents have also voiced opposition to a bike path in their town.

Williamsburg is not the same town it was 15 years ago. However, the abutters who went to court over rail trail land ownership still reside here. Their minds have not changed much.

"Williamsburg residents have also voiced opposition to a bike path in their town." Wow, that's some pretty sloppy reporting. Are you basing this assertion on the sentiment in town 15 years ago? Did you speak to any Williamsburg residents at the Northampton public hearing? The ones that I know attended weren't there to express their opposition. In 2010 the town conducted a Village Centers Visioning study and respondents were overwhelmingly in favor of more multi-use paths in town to accomodate both walking and biking. I'm a Williamsburg resident and I strongly support the extension of the bike trail. I know of many more local residents up here that feel the same way. If you're in any town along the Mill River, you can get more involved at: http://millrivergreenway.org/ We'd love to have you join us.

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