Southampton Greenway trail advancing, at long last

The Coleman Road end of the Manhan Rail Trail in Easthampton.

The Coleman Road end of the Manhan Rail Trail in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

The Coleman Road end of the Manhan Rail Trail in Easthampton. The proposed Southampton Greenway will run 3.5 miles from Coleman Road, pictured, to Route 10 near Sheldon’s Ice Cream. At its northern end, it will meet Easthampton’s Manhan Rail Trail, allowing users to access a growing regional network of rail trails that extends as far as Belchertown and Williamsburg.

The Coleman Road end of the Manhan Rail Trail in Easthampton. The proposed Southampton Greenway will run 3.5 miles from Coleman Road, pictured, to Route 10 near Sheldon’s Ice Cream. At its northern end, it will meet Easthampton’s Manhan Rail Trail, allowing users to access a growing regional network of rail trails that extends as far as Belchertown and Williamsburg. STAFF PHOTOS/DAN LITTLE

By MADDIE FABIAN

Staff Writer

Published: 11-24-2023 11:45 AM

Modified: 11-24-2023 5:10 PM


SOUTHAMPTON — Responding to a parent asking how old his 2-and 3-year-old boys will be by the time the Southampton Greenway is constructed, Friends of the Southampton Greenway member John Sheehan said, “We asked ourselves that 30 years ago.”

But this time, the end is sight now that the town has a right-of-way purchase, a contracted engineering firm, and MassDOT’s acceptance of the project. Construction is likely to start within the next three to four years.

The proposed Southampton Greenway will run 3.5 miles along an old railroad line from Coleman Road to Route 10 near Sheldon’s Ice Cream. At its northern end, it will meet Easthampton’s Manhan Rail Trail, allowing users to access a growing regional network of rail trails that extend as far as Belchertown and Williamsburg.

“This path will be a benefit to users of all ages,” Alex Fagnand, project manager at Tighe and Bond, the engineering consultant hired to design the greenway, said at a recent public hearing about the project. “We always think of these trails as a recreational opportunity… but these networks are getting significant enough now that they really fill functional transportation needs as well.”

A long time coming

The rail line itself was originally completed in 1863 and connected New Haven to Northampton and other New England cities, but the Pioneer Valley Railroad Co. has not used the line since the early 1990s.

By the late 1990s, Easthampton purchased a right-of-way, which led to the construction of the now-beloved Manhan Rail Trail which opened in 2004. And though Southampton held meetings with talks to create its own trail around that same time, the town has been considering development of the Southampton Greenway ever since.

“A lot of people use the Easthampton trail so much and love it, that it’s finally becoming more of a positive than a negative,” said Jennifer Roberge, founding member of the Friends of the Southampton Greenway, which has been advocating for the path since 2004.

Roberge added that despite the beautiful farmland and natural scenery of the town she rode her bike more living in New York City than she does now.

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“There’s no easy way from my house to just start riding on Route 10, so I have to put the bike rack on, put the bikes on, drive up to even just Coleman Road and get on, then continue on for 18 miles of riding,” she said. “It’s so frustrating.”

The trail

Last year, the town purchased a right-of-way from the Pioneer Valley Railroad Co. for $340,000 for use as a rail trail.

Since 2021, over $700,000 has been awarded to the project through successful grant applications. Those grants, along with CPA funds, have enabled the town to move through the acquisition phase and the majority of the design and engineering phase without any impact on taxes, according to Aaron Tauscher, chair of the Greenway Committee.

Last week, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation officially approved the project, meaning it will ultimately take on the funding, construction and execution of the project.

With construction slated to begin around 2026 or 2027, the greenway will include a 10-foot-wide paved and ADA-compliant path; 2-foot stabilized shoulders; wooden fences as needed; and drainage improvements.

Based on initial assessments, two bridge rehabilitations will also be needed, which will involve minor substructure repairs, a new deck and railing system, and repainting of the steel superstructure.

At the public hearing, residents raised questions about a potential increase in traffic and limited parking for the trail.

“Parking has definitely been a hot topic; we’ve had a lot of questions about it, and clearly we don’t have a lot of answers yet,” Tauscher said, adding that it is early in the process and the town is still investigating parking options.

Abutters to the greenway also expressed concerns about the trail’s public access points, along with a desire for fencing.

“There are obviously officially sanctioned public access points, but inevitably there will become unsanctioned access points… What is the town going to do to protect the property owners from the liability for people using them?” asked Chris Grant.

Signs such as “no greenway parking,” “no parking,” or “private property” is one potential solution to that concern, said officials.

Bob Fletcher of Fletcher Farm said, “It’s going to be a good thing for the community, but I think they have a ways to go. … We are a fairly good-sized landowner along the corridor, and we are concerned about what it’s going to do to our access in and out of our property.”

Fletcher added that public forums are a good start in easing the concerns of abutters.

The Greenway Committee also encourages members of the public to email comments to greenway@townofsouthampton.org and to attend committee meetings.

Maddie Fabian can be reached at mfabian@gazettenet.com.