West Groton to Townsend Rail Trail officially opens – Lowell Sun


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TOWNSEND – As crisp fall air now becomes the daily expectation in Massachusetts and picturesque foliage takes hold, a recently opened rail trail in Townsend could be a local destination to enjoy both.

Saturday saw Squannacook Greenways, Inc. officially open the first phase of the Squannacook River Rail Trail, which will run between Townsend and West Groton. The first phase stretches 1.1 miles between Depot Street and Old Meeting House Road. However, the final draft will be approximately 3.7 miles in total.

Squannacook Greenways President Peter Cunningham said opening the first phase was “incredibly rewarding” and noted that reaching the point of opening the trail was a difficult process, requiring around 18 years of dedication from the from everyone involved.

“I think it’s unfortunate that it’s so difficult to build rail trails,” Cunningham said. “Once they’re built, everyone loves them to death, but trying to get them built, trying to get adequate funding to make sure that happens, is sometimes a real struggle. And then once they’re built, maintaining them can also be a struggle.

Members of Squannacook Greenways breathed their first sigh of relief in 2015 when the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority entered into a 99-year lease to bid for the right-of-way on which the trail is built. Only one offer was made for the lease, assigning it to Squannacook Greenways.

Before the signing of the MBTA lease, it looked like the project might never come to fruition. At the opening ceremony, Treasurer Bill Rideout said Squannacook Greenways had tried to work with the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation. DCR would lease the land to MBTA and sublet it. However, the DCR regulations dating from the 1960s prohibited them from allowing a lease of more than five years.

“The MBTA had never done this before, renting to a nonprofit organization. But something about the support we received from our state officials, our city administrator, DCR, and the fact that the Community Foundation grant proved that we had the ability to raise funds, prompted the MBTA to trust us, ”said Rideout.

The challenges faced by Squannacook Greenways weren’t exclusive to them, Cunningham said. He highlighted the current Bruce Freeman Rail Trail project and the duration of this project. In his opinion, the state could do a better job using the transportation funds for these projects.

Once the lease was approved, Squannacook Greenways then applied for funding from DCR and the local community. Donors who mobilized were honored at the opening ceremony and honored with bricks at the Depot Street trailhead, as well as at a Townsend Memorial.

The trail is being built where trains once passed. Shepherd’s, based in Townsend, was hired to build the new trail, while JMG Metals and Keystone Rail Recovery removed the old tracks.

With phase one now complete and open to cyclists and pedestrians, Squannacook Greenways is focusing on phase two. The next phase will continue from Old Meeting House Road and continue to Townsend Harbor Church.

Cunningham said the focus now will be to continue working with legislative partners like U.S. Representative Lori Trahan and state lawmakers to find funding for the project.

Cunningham, who is also a board member of Groton Select, noted the level of collaboration between neighboring communities. Although the faces of the rulers of both cities have changed over the past 18 years, support for the railroad has not waned once residents of both cities were on board.

On its first official day, it was already a popular attraction for local residents. Some take a bike ride, others take a walk, others take advantage of the new resource with family members.

“It’s awesome,” said Tim Palmer of Townsend. “It’s great to see this kind of vision come to life.”

Palmer, a member of Squannacook Greenways, was walking the trail with his daughter and added, “What amazed me was the support from the community. So many people are behind one thing.

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