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Northampton, Williamsburg eye rail trail expansion to connect villages of Leeds and Haydenville

The Northampton City Council Thursday signed off on an order allowing the city to pursue a federal grant that would help fund expansion of a .35-mile section of the trail north from Grove Avenue in Northampton about halfway to Williamsburg’s town line.

The estimated $500,000 project also calls for restoration and rehabilitation of a historic arch bridge along the trail that spans Beaver Brook.

The council also approved an order to purchase a shared easement, with the town of Willamsburg, to extend the trail to South Main Street in the village of Haydenville.

Willamsburg’s Select Board also signed the agreement at its meeting Thursday, advancing it to a Town Meeting vote in June, said chairman David Mathers.

The Norwottuck/Mass Central Rail Trail ends at Grove Avenue in Leeds, but supporters of expansion would like to see it extend the roughly 0.7-mile stretch to Williamsburg’s town line and then the 0.2-mile stretch to South Main Street in Haydenville.

In a separate development, Williamsburg is studying the possible creation of a multipurpose greenway following the course of the Mill River and linking its village centers of Williamsburg and Haydenville. A Mill River Greenway Committee has been created to coordinate those efforts.

Marvin Ward, a member of that committee, told Northampton’s council that many in Williamsburg are supportive of the idea to extend the trail to South Main Street. He also voiced support of the city’s efforts to extend the trail to his community’s southern border.

“This is indeed an opportunity not to be missed,” Ward said.

Ward and other residents of Northampton and Williamsburg asked the council to support both measures during Thursday’s public comment time.

Neal Bastek, a Web entrepreneur who lives at 3 Village Hill Ave. in Williamsburg, said there are many reasons why the trail should be expanded. In addition to recreation and health benefits, the trail serves as an important way for people to get to work.

“This rail trail is really a vital part of the social and economic fabric of our community and further benefits of that vitality will only stretch as far as the trail stretches,” he said.

Others echoed his sentiment. Nicholas Horton, president of Friends of Northampton Trails and Greenways, said it’s important to make such paths accessible for future generations.

“Extending the trail ... will allow more kids to make their way to school, people to bike their way to work and families and tourists to explore this incredibly beautiful part of our community,” Horton said.

The Northampton council’s decision Thursday means the city will apply for a federal grant from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The city will ask for $250,000 and be required to match that amount, which would come from Community Preservation Act grants and private fundraising.

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

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. Wayne Feiden, director of the Office of Planning and Development, said his office will seek another CPA grant and continue to fundraise the additional roughly $100,000 needed for the match. No tax dollars will be spent.

Resident Julia Riseman said the project is critical to preserve the historic stone bridge, which she called “part of our New England legacy to have these beautiful old bridges.”

"Wayne Feiden, director of the Office of Planning and Development, said his office will seek another CPA grant and continue to fundraise the additional roughly $100,000 needed for the match. No tax dollars will be spent." What? The CPA is funded by our tax dollars! The CPA allows communities to create a local Community Preservation Fund to raise money through a surcharge of up to 3% of the real estate tax levy. How can you say 'no tax dollars will be spent'? Please explain your reasoning.

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