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Editorial: Rolling forward on Norwottuck Rail Trail

Former congressman John Olver speaks at the DCR's Norwottuck Rail Trail rehabilitation ground breaking ceremony. The trail will be repaved and widened in some areas.
AYRIKA WHITNEY

Former congressman John Olver speaks at the DCR's Norwottuck Rail Trail rehabilitation ground breaking ceremony. The trail will be repaved and widened in some areas. AYRIKA WHITNEY Purchase photo reprints »

Who benefits from improvements to a bike path? The politicians who turned out to mark the start of long-delayed work on the Norwottuck Rail Trail would say just about everyone — commuters, people who want to stay fit and watch their weight and, if human-powered travel helps in its own way to slow global warming, all inhabitants of planet Earth.

That may be a stretch, but the $4.4 million federal investment that’s gone unused for nearly a decade is money that will be well spent in the next 18 months.

This trail is the mother of all such routes in our Valley. The work about to start on the pioneering trail’s first overhaul will fix pavement problems, repair bridges and generally bring this essential artery of the region’s recreation trail network back from neglect.

The Norwottuck Rail Trail may never get as much use as it did when it opened two decades ago, simply because people have more choices today for this kind of recreation. Then again, when people see a wider, smoother trail, it may encourage new users.

Meantime, we’re pleased to see that Williamsburg is warming to the idea of a greenway along the course of the Mill River in that town. A recent Sunday forum drew more than 50 people. They heard of plans for a path that people on foot and on bikes could use to get from Williamsburg to Haydenville without having to travel along Route 9, which lacks sidewalks in many sections.

And nearby, the city of Northampton is preparing to extend its bike path west to the Williamsburg line. All these projects advance a common goal of providing alternative paths that get people moving and enable them to connect with natural places and neighborhoods rather than with stoplights and blacktop.

Work on the roughly 11-mile Norwottuck Rail Trail kicks off with surveying this week. The reconstruction will remove embedded glass shards in the original pavement that, once the surface degraded, led to many flat tires.

Crews are expected to begin at Cross Path Road in Hadley and proceed east toward Amherst. The project will continue through 2014, but the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, which is overseeing the work, plans to keep as much of the trail open for use during the work as possible.

When it’s complete, don’t be surprised if you see former U.S. Rep. John Olver of Amherst out walking — wait, or rollerblading? — the trail. He joked last month that he was afraid, what with design disagreements and delays, that he might never see the project come full circle.

Olver will have been out of office for two years before the job is done, but because he secured the money in Washington, the trail improvements will be part of his legacy of public service. Getting this one done was high on his agenda.

Taking pictures of politicians taking credit is a waste of time. Why over-publicize their involvement?, I doubt it was hard to get the money, and it will just egg them on. But that aside, I've felt the bike trail was one the best uses of tax money I've seen, for the reasons mentioned in the editorial. In the world of government spending, it was relatively cheap, and of invaluable use to the members of the commonwealth.

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