February 3, 2004

 

 

Rail-Trail project making connections

By Karin Dubreuil

Correspondent


NEWBURYPORT -- The newly formed Coastal Trails Coalition has joined forces with the Essex National Heritage Commission (ENHC) and the National Park Service (NPS) to create a proposed 30-mile rail-trail for walking and biking that will link the town centers and beaches of Newburyport, Newbury, Amesbury and Salisbury.

The grassroots project began with citizens who have now joined forces with officials and organizations with the resources to further the project. Last week, regional committees met and officially titled themselves the Coastal Trails Coalition. The coalition will be chaired by David Hall of Newbury, with Newburyport resident Bill Steelman, director of heritage preservation at ENHC, as vice chairman.

Hall said he is hopeful for the trail project, "given community interest and the significant amount of political leverage in their favor." According to a press release from the Essex National Heritage Area, U.S. Rep. John Tierney has already requested $12 million in federal funds for rail-trail development in the area. "There is a remarkable degree of enthusiasm with the planning departments and elected officers," said Hall. "I can't think of too many projects where communities are allied on one vision like this."

The ultimate vision of the rail-trail project, Hall said, is that all four communities with trail corridors are easily accessible, and they link downtown centers, along with Salisbury Beach and Plum Island. "If a Newbury family wanted to bike from the beach to Amesbury and get a pizza pie downtown, it can be done in a very pleasant, very safe environment." He cited Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard as having similar projects that proved successful. "It is potentially a multi-million-dollar money-maker for the community," said Hall. "Even more important is the quality of life improvement it brings."

ENHC and the National Park Service are at the organizing level of the regional coalition, said Steelman. Steve Golden, regional manager for the park service's Rivers and Trails Program, was assigned to the project in November. Steelman said Golden has 30 years of trail design experience. "He has been an invaluable addition to the project, providing thought on how to structure the coalition and add interested parties," he said.

Steelman pushed to get his organization, ENHC, linked because he said it wants to promote people's awareness of the historical and natural sites around them. "It's about getting people out -- to the historical societies, to a trail," he said. "We see these community trails as another means by which area residents can get out and explore."

The coalition is looking to create a committee structure with public awareness and community outreach. "It is the involvement of local residents that makes projects like these succeed," said Steelman.

Locally, each community had been furthering individual efforts for the rail-trail. Amesbury is already crafting one mile of the trail. Steelman said that in the fall of 2002, the Essex National Heritage Commission discovered that communities were actually talking to each other about the trail that links them.

In Newbury, The Newbury Pathways was an organization formed of interested citizens who then became aware of similar projects in Amesbury and Salisbury, said Hall. "We realized what we need to do to get horsepower is to get them involved," he said.

The pathways group hosted a luncheon at the Black Cow last year, inviting the four communities. He said the idea for a group effort was well received and people were committed to a follow-up. That meeting has led to the joining of town forces and the help from organizations like the Rails to Trails Conservancy, a national organization that is helping them focus on economic merits and regional efforts.

Hall said he is pleased that the project has commanded so much attention and is happy that things are moving more quickly than he had anticipated. Steelman and Hall said that the project will be coming together in individual segments. He said that the roadblocks they face are gaining access and ownership of the areas the rail-trail will traverse.

The coalition will hold a public event to discuss how to engage the communities in the trails on Sunday, Feb. 29 from 3:30 to 5 p.m. at the Newburyport Public Library.

 

(This article replicated online with permission of the Newburyport Daily News, an Eagle Tribune Newspaper.)

 
 
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