Rail-trail group hopes to get Townsend project started

Sentinel and Enterprise, Feb 3, 2011

By Katina Caraganis, kcaraganis@sentinelandenterprise.com
Posted: 02/03/2011 06:52:54 AM EST

TOWNSEND -- Townsend is looking to blaze a rail trail of its own, but local officials say it may take a while.

Members of the Squannacook River Rail Trail Committee were at the selectmen's meeting Tuesday night and discussed the results of a recently completed feasibility study, according to Town Administrator Andy Sheehan.

"The Squannacook River Rail Trail project got started in 2002. We're near the Nashua River Rail Trial and that was a big success, so we asked, 'Why couldn't we do that in Townsend?"' said Bill Rideout, a member of the Rail Trail Committee. "Our committee has been looking at finding a way to do it in a way that is fiscally responsible."

The committee's original plan called for a paved 3.7-mile trail starting in Groton and extending to the center of Townsend, but it would have required matching funds from Townsend, according to Rideout.

Instead, the committee plans to have a startup nonprofit group build a stone-dust trail parallel to Route 119 so selectmen would not have to spend any money on building or maintaining the trail.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority owns the train tracks on which the rail trail would be built, so officials must get permission from the MBTA before the trail can be built.

The cost for the project hasn't been determined yet, but Rideout said there are organizations that could build it for little or no cost to the nonprofit.

He said a group called Iron Horse Preservation Society indicated it would build the trail at no cost; in exchange, it would take the steel from the tracks and sell it, thereby recouping its costs.

Sheehan said no timeline has been set because there's still plenty of work to be done.

"The board discussed having some forums to make sure we're moving forward in a responsible manner," Sheehan said. "There are logistical issues for the community to work through. I wouldn't even feel comfortable to guess when construction would begin."

Despite the uncertainty of when the trail will be in place, Sheehan believes the trail would be a vital asset to the town.

"There certainly are considerations to pay attention to, but my experience with other communities that I've worked in with rail trails, there are positive attributes to a community from a recreation standpoint and in some cases an alternative transportation method," said Sheehan. "We don't have a lot of sidewalks in town, so it does become a safer way for people to get around."