Townsend residents talk rail trail

By Damien Fisher

TOWNSEND -- The proposed rail trail along the Squannacook River got a mixed response Thursday night, with residents and business owners voicing concern about the project.

About 150 people went to the North Middlesex Regional High School auditorium to hear the latest update on the project presented by the Squannacook River Rail Trail Committee.

Committee chairman Steve Meehan said the purpose of the meeting was to inform people of the progress made on the rail trail plans.

"Let's get the facts on the table," Meehan said.

The proposed 3.7 mile trail is along the disused rail road line, which runs parallel with Route 119 until it forks south into Groton.

The committee presented the results of a feasibility study conducted by Burlington-based engineering firm Fay, Spofford & Thorndike.

The proposed biking and walking trail runs for about 2.8 miles in Townsend and about 0.9 miles into Groton, ending at the Peter E. Bertozzi Squannacook Wildlife Management Area. It is estimated to cost $4.3 million.

The trail would cut through the property of many homeowners and businesses on Route 119. Sheila Murphy is one of those residents who is not in favor of the plan.

"I certainly don't want this in my backyard," Murphy said.

Murphy said the plan will cost the taxpayers money they cannot afford. The tax burden will hit elderly homeowners hardest, Murphy said.

"Elderly people shouldn't have to pay for something they can't use," Murphy said.

Gary Shepherd, whose family owns commercial property on Route 119, said the committee does not have the legal right to put a trail through his property.

The plans presented in the feasibility study show access to Shepherd's property hindered by the trail.

"There needs to be a great deal more clarity," Shepherd said.

John Stonefield, conservation commission member, is upset the plans call for using asphalt on the trail. The lands around the railroad are environmentally sensitive, and a surface like asphalt could do damage, he said.

"Part of that rail trail is actually wetlands," Stonefield said.

Meehan said the committee is still a long way from bringing a formal proposal before voters. The committee is looking for federal funds to construct the trail at no cost to the residents, Meehan said.