TOWNSEND -- A month following the Oct. 23 public forum to discuss the building of the Squannacook River rail trail, the Squannacook Greenways, the nonprofit organization heading the project, is looking forward to its next steps.

The day after Town Administrator Andy Sheehan submitted a letter of commitment from the Board of Selectmen to the Department of Conservation and Recreation to provide reactive emergency response and a 900-foot sidewalk along Route 119, Groton Town Manager Mark Haddad submitted a similar letter supporting the Groton portion of the rail trail. The trail will extend for 3.7 miles, beginning at the end of Depot Street in Townsend and extending east into Groton, ending at the Bertozzi Wildlife Center.

Now, said Bill Rideout, treasurer of the Squannacook Greenways, the organization is finalizing an agreement with the DCR detailing the steps to be taken in order for the DCR to sign a lease with the MBTA, owners of the trail bed. The Squannacook Greenways will be sending out a newsletter by the end of November to interested parties updating on the process. The major step is getting environmental insurance on the property and naming the DCR co-insured.

"Right now we are very, very close to signing the conditional agreement with the DCR. They're not yet signing the lease but will be signing the agreement that once we get insurance, they will sign the lease," Rideout said.

Rideout said the group is hoping to get to a signed agreement by Christmas, pending each side checking with their lawyers.

But with the holiday season approaching, he added, "My feeling is that January is more realistic."

Once the agreement is signed, he said, the group will move forward with the two largest components of the project: The design and permitting stages. As far as the permitting process, the organization will have to appear before both the Townsend and the Groton Conservation Commissions to have their plans approved following the agreement with the DCR.

"Their stance is that we need to go through the approval process," said Rideout.

Luckily, they have some experienced hands on their side.

"One of our board members is a member of the Conservation Commission. He has a lot of knowledge of the whole process," said Rideout.

As for the design process, once the agreement is reached with the DCR, the Squannacook Greenways will need to complete some engineering for particular sections of the trail, especially those pertaining to parking areas. They have already done a preliminary engineering study; they plan to reach out to several engineering firms they have worked with in the past. In order to pay for the insurance and the engineering, the group will also be focusing on fundraising, which will first include privately approaching various long-term supporters of the project, writing grants and later holding public events. The organization plans to apply for the Recreational Trails grant, which they were awarded in 2007. They will also be holding a membership drive in order to recruit to the organization.

"We're just waiting for the final word (from the DCR) before beginning," said Rideout.

Another crucial issue to be addressed, said Rideout, is reaching out and addressing the concerns of abutters. The trail will have 29 residential abutters as well as some businesses. The group plans to install privacy fencing for anyone who requests it, as part of the design expense.

"We take their concerns very seriously," said Rideout.

Rideout said the Squannacook Greenways have estimated the entire project at $500,000, the entire cost of which will be covered by the organization. Still, he added, the permitting, design and fundraising processes could take between six months and a year.

"I don't see construction in the near term," he said.