Recent developments have given the members of the Squannacook Greenways, who are planning a 5-mile recreational-use path along the former rail line between Groton and Townsend, plenty of encouragement. Proposed legislation, a new board member and a potential grant that would start the fundraising ball rolling all mark forward progress.
Currently, only municipalities can receive state money for rail-trail construction. Sens. Eileen Donahue and Jennifer Flanagan filed a petition in January to allow nonprofit groups to access the funds. Rep. Sheila Harrington filed in the house, board member Bill Rideout said.
If the legislation is passed, the basic idea is the state will pay for half of the environmental insurance, approximately $50,000, required for construction, Rideout said, "We can cut out $25,000 in fundraising."
"We just really appreciate the effort. They've all backed us really strongly," he said. The legislation is needed because the Squannacook River Rail Trail is unique. It will be built on land owned by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, leased to the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and built and maintained by the nonprofit group.
"We've been talking to DCR for about three years," Rideout said. The two groups came to a verbal agreement last year and are waiting for a final agreement. "They've got their lawyers involved," he said.
Townsend Fire Chief Don Klein spoke in favor of the proposed rail trail at the last Town Meeting. When a board position became vacant, the greenways approached him to join.
He agreed, and became the first Townsend municipal official in the group. Two Groton officials, a selectman and a member of the conservation commission are already part of the group.
"I told them I was very much in support. It's very much needed in the community," Klein said, "There's no place for people to walk, ride a bike or jog safely in the community. Most of the roads are heavily traveled. We don't have adequate sidewalks."
He and his wife have biked on trails and found them to be a very safe environment. "I would look forward to being able to use it in my own backyard," he said.
The Fire Department recently purchased an off-road ambulance that can be towed by an all-terrain vehicle or a snowmobile with a grant from the Community Foundation. The department requested the funds because it performs rescues on state land; the ambulance could also be used on the proposed stone-dust rail trail.
Squannacook Greenways has also applied for funds from the Community Foundation. The grants focuses on the health of children, Rideout said. "It's close to many neighborhoods in town. Kids can use it without parents having to drive them there," he said, "This is what we feel is a unique aspect."
Once the group gets a signed agreement with DCR, they will be off and running, beginning the permitting process, raising funds and meeting with abutters, Rideout said.