Plans to connect Hatfield to region’s network of trails win support from many, skepticism from others

  • People walk and bike the Norwottuck branch of the Mass Central Rail Trail in Northampton in 2020. Hatfield residents last week shared their views on plans to connect their community to the regional network of rail trails. Gazette file photo

Staff Writer
Published: 9/26/2022 8:46:22 PM

HATFIELD — Bicyclists from Hatfield who drive to Damon Road in Northampton, unloading their bicycles to hop on the bike path, are among those who like the idea of connecting their community to the regional network of rail trails.

“This is a dream come true for me, and I know it is for other people I know who are bicyclists,” Carol Walker of King Street said during a Select Board forum last week on the plan to extend a connection to Hatfield.

Like Walker, Elizabeth Denny, also of King Street, said using Routes 5 & 10 is challenging for bicyclists who want to get from Hatfield to Northampton, Easthampton, Amherst, Hadley and Belchertown.

“I think this would be great,” Denny said. “It’s a treasure. I think it would be a great thing to have.”

The forum was held as the project to extend a connection to the regional multiuse trail network from Northampton north to Hatfield is still in the early stages. The plan calls for a 1¼-mile extension, beginning at River Run Apartments on Damon Road in Northampton and then paralleling the railroad tracks, typically staying about 50 to 60 feet away, and ending at Elm Court in Hatfield.

The 10-foot wide, paved path, with lanes in both directions, would only have the final 750 feet in Hatfield.

But for Thomas Patrick of Elm Court, the project poses a risk to the wildlife habitat that includes turkeys, moose, rabbits, foxes, deer and bears.

“If you put a bike path there, those animals will scatter, they’ll be gone, you destroy our wildlife,” Patrick said.

In addition, safety concerns were noted, with one resident suggesting that altercations, drug deals and people living on the rail trail have been familiar in other communities, especially at night.

“Hatfield’s great because it’s not on any path,” said Kathryn Chiavaroli of Main Street. “We are set aside, we are quaint and I think this would be a detriment to our community.”

Hatfield’s Open Space Committee continues to endorse the plan, as it has since planning began more than a decade ago.

Mark Gelotte, a member of Open Space Committee, said there are several benefits, including recreation, such as walking, biking, hiking and jogging, and the connection to Norwottuck Trail, Northampton trail system and Manhan Rail Trail.

“This trail could be a beautiful trail,” Gelotte said. “There are opportunities for outlook and overlook from some of the bluffs that overlook the Connecticut River.”

Among the features are the bend in river, the Mount Holyoke Range and the Hadley meadows.

“This is really the time for Hatfield to join Northampton in committing to this project,” Gelotte said.

While a MassTrails grant and the city of Northampton are covering all planning costs related to design, each community is responsible for its own land acquisition, and Hatfield would have to donate a small strip of land near its Department of Public Works.

Wayne Feiden, formerly Northampton’s director of planning and sustainability, said Northampton already owns 50% of the parcels and the greenway on the south side near River Run Apartments. He brings experience in developing 11 miles of trail, and worked with Easthampton and Williamsburg on connections.

Crime, he said, has typically been nonexistent and, while Hatfield would be responsible for maintenance of the land that is in the town, there likely wouldn’t be expenses of snowplowing, even though this is done in Northampton between Leeds and Smith College.

Even if Hatfield OKs the plans, the design process will take at least three years, Feiden said, and the finished trail wouldn’t be ready for about five years.

Safety concerns

Others who spoke in favor, like Steve Sargent of 89 Cronin Hill Road, said the future of the country is a green lifestyle with more exercise opportunities, less dependence on fossil fuels and better links to the larger world.

“It is a dream come true for cyclists to be able to link up Hatfield with all the bike paths in Northampton,” Sargent said.

Nicole Rhodes of Elm Street said the new trail would be great for children and teenagers. “I think overall it would be an asset,” Rhodes said.

Patrick, though, wondered whether speeding trains passing by would pose dangers to people on the trail, as there is one point where it is less than 15 feet from the tracks.

Matt Chase, a consultant with VHB involved in design and planning of the trail, said the state will review and approve final plans, making sure it is safe for those who use it.

Elm Court residents have been given an opportunity for input, Gelotte said, with parking and traffic the major concerns, with some worries about trash and upkeep, as well.

The outreach included a survey on an open space questionnaire that yielded about 150 responses, with the majority in favor.

The Select Board has made no decisions yet.

Chairwoman Diana Szynal said she has concerns about how isolated Elm Court is for bicyclists, and that the connection with River Run Apartments could pose problems.

Ed Jaworski said he worries that the trail isn’t directly connecting to the restaurants and businesses in Hatfield.

More information needs to come from Elm Court residents, said Brian Moriarty.

“I do think that recreation is important, I do think that bike paths are important, but the residential safety and well being of people on Elm Court is very important to me,” Moriarty said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at
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