Rail-trail group mulls options to fund design plan

Nashoba Publishing
Posted: 06/16/2009 02:49:26 PM EDT

By Anne O'Connor


TOWNSEND -- A group of people is hoping to create a 3.7-mile recreational path along the rail track in Groton and Townsend.

The first hurdle to be cleared: how to fund a design plan.

Committees from both towns are working to research the feasibility of funding the so-called Squannacook River Rail Trail. A 100 percent design plan must be done before applying for construction grants.

The committee will ask Townsend selectmen to approve a Project Needs Form (PNF) with Groton. This form is required by the Mass Highway Department before funds can be released.

"It would open the door to Mass Highway," Al Futterman of the Nashua River Watershed Association said. "You can't even engage in conversation until you have a PNF form. If you want to talk about shovel-ready, this is getting the shovel out of the shed."

While exact costs for a design plan are unknown, a grant for designing the trail requires a 20 percent match.

Bruce Easom of Groton suggested applying for money already earmarked by the state for North Worcester County rail trails for 80 percent of the design costs. He then suggested applying for funds from the Groton Community Preservation Fund (CPF) for the remaining 20 percent. The bulk of the money would be returned to the CPF if the group could get a Recreational Trails Grant from the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).

No money would be spent until the grant from DCR is approved. Under this plan, about $6,000 in private fund raising would be needed.

"You only need a couple of good donors," Easom said.

"The big question... is DCR willing to put up the money?" Townsend resident Bill Rideout asked.

"You're using DCR money to leverage earmarked funds," Easom explained. "You shouldn't move forward in a project unless you have at least one viable alternative for each problem."

Members of the committee are working with the DCR and local politicians not just for funding but for other support.

Cunningham is meeting with DCR members later this month. "I wanted them to come and talk about the trail in general," he said. "We've talked about DCR helping with the lease arrangements in general."

"We're not necessarily looking for money. We're looking at liaising with them," Cunningham added. "When they do receive the grant application it raises to the top of their list."

If funding for the design phase is obtained, more money will be needed for construction and maintenance.

No town money would be used for construction, but voters will need to approve any monies spent by the towns for maintenance.

Futterman suggested speaking to Emily Norton of the Friends of Willard Brook to speak about public-private partnerships. The Friends do much of the maintenance for the Nashua River Rail Trail stretching from Ayer to Nashua.

Advocates for the trail have been in touch with U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas, state Sen. Steve Panagiotakos and U.S. Rep. John Olver.