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Bay Colony Rail Trail Project Kicked Off!


On July 23, a misty Thursday afternoon at Red Wing Bay in Needham, the Bay Colony Rail Trail project took an important step toward becoming a reality. In spite of the inclement conditions, twenty people converged on the site to discuss the process and prospects for converting an unused rail corridor to a rail trail.

In attendance were officials from Needham, Dover and Medfield, members from local organizations such as Needham Bikes, Bike Newton, the Newton Bicycle and Pedestrian Task Force, two Massachusetts-based national experts on rail trails, and representatives from state agencies such as Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) and The Trustees of Reservations (TTOR).

According to Craig Della Penna, one of the rail trail experts, projects like the Bay Colony Rail Trail are becoming popular, especially in Massachusetts. This effort is the 103rd rail trail project in Massachusetts alone! Agencies like the DCR have become active in the rail trail leasing and management process, as evidenced by the current project in Wellesley and Newton Lower Falls.

However, we learned last week that rail trail projects are neither easy nor fast. The shortest project in this region took six years. These projects usually begin by conducting one or more feasibility studies to determine the value, cost, issues and impact of the resulting cross-community path. There will be a range of understandable concerns and a natural resistance, all of which must be vetted and discussed to create workable solutions for all involved.

Funding a project like this is also a challenge, especially when seeking state and federal funds. And the cash-strapped towns are not likely to provide much support in this area. Rail trails can cost $500,000 to $1,000,000 per mile when approached conventionally, although we heard that the Wachusett Greenways has made creative use of volunteer efforts and local contractors' contribution to reduce the cost to a fraction of the typical project.

But in this case, the seven-mile journey took an important first step at Red Wing Bay. The next step is the formation of a formal organizing committee and non-profit organization, and the process of working with a wide range of stakeholders, including the Needham Conservation Commission (mid-August) and the Dover Open Space Committee (early September).

To keep up with the Bay Colony Rail Trail's progress, subscribe to the mailing list, available on the BCRT web site. If you have a particular passion and/or expertise in this area and want to get more deeply involved, contact the team directly at baycolonyrailtrail@gmail.com.

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