Rail-trail group desperate to find funds

By Anne O'Connor, Correspondent
Posted: 06/11/2010 07:33:01 AM EDT

TOWNSEND/GROTON -- Members of the Groton-Townsend Squannacook River Rail Trail Funding Exploration Committee are looking for ways to fund a proposed 3.7-mile trail between their towns.

A feasibility study completed in 2008 said the project could work. Groton's Bruce Easom said money has been earmarked and money could be available from federal stimulus funds.

In order to receive these grants, a 20 percent local match is required and the trail must be built to Department of Transportation accessibility standards he said. This requires a paved trail.

So far, local matching funds are not available. The group met June 3 to explore alternative ideas.

Committee members are considering stone dust trails if it is not possible to fund paving. They do not know if this surface would be approved by the Mass Highway department.

"Logically, it makes sense. We don't have a model to follow," Townsend's Bill Rideout said. "Mass. Highway is adamant stone dust is not handicap accessible and federal money flows through them."

"If it doesn't meet the standards and wheelchairs can still use it, it doesn't matter," Steve Meehan, of Townsend, said.

Members of the committees cycled a section of the Wachusett Greenways trail in Sterling built by volunteers using stone dust.

The trail is constructed with a crown so water flows into drainage ditches on each side, Rideout said. One section of trail had washed out, but it would have taken out a paved road, he said. He did not know where money for the repairs on the Wachusett trail would come from.

Constructing and maintaining the trail is only part of the financial picture. Leasing the land and liability insurance will also be a cost factor for local communities.

Members of the committee are planning a meeting with Conrad Crawford and Tom LaRosa from the Department of Conservation and Recreation to discuss leasing the land the trail would be on.

Peter Cunningham, of Groton, said taking on the legal responsibilities of the lease is a cost issue for both communities. Having the state as the leaseholder reduce local costs for liability insurance.

Al Futterman from the Nashua River Watershed Association said the Friends of Willard Brook pushed for state legislation to cover liability insurance for volunteers working on state-owned land. He said the rail trail committee might want to get clarification on the legislation to see if it would cover volunteers working on land leased by the state.

In other business, two members of the committee met with interim town administrator Andy Sheehan to bring him up to date on the committee task.

Townsend's Bill Martin wanted to know if it was a legal meeting. "There is opposition and I think people should be notified" he said. Easom said open meeting laws were not violated as there was no quorum.

"You can sugarcoat is all you want," Martin said. If Martin wants to talk with the town administrator he can, Easom said.

Rideout said in the future if he heard about a meeting like this in advance he would send out a notice. Meehan apologized for not letting Martin know about the meeting with Sheehan.