Danvers marks progress on long-awaited rail trail
In the late 1970s, Danvers officials first raised the idea of converting the old Boston and Maine railroad corridor in town to a recreational trail.
More than three decades later, the town is preparing to celebrate this spring the recent progress made toward realizing that long-ago vision.
Progress has included the town signing a lease agreement with the MBTA, removal of the old tracks, and construction of a gravel surface along 3.5 miles of the 4.3-mile right of way.
“From a public policy perspective, this has happened with lightning speed the past couple of years,’’ said Kate Day, the town’s senior planner, noting that it was in November 2009 that the Rail Trail Advisory Committee was appointed by Town Manager Wayne P. Marquis.
The June 2 celebration will herald the fact that the trail - while not finished - is now passable along its entire length, according to Charles Lincicum, chairman of the advisory panel, which is spearheading the project.
“We’ve moved the ball forward,’’ he said. “The rail trail was first proposed in 1978, and we’ve made all these moves the last two years. So it’s going very well.’’
The trail, which extends from the Peabody line north to the Wenham line, is intended as a green corridor linking schools, the downtown, parks, and residential neighborhoods.
“I’m immensely pleased,’’ said Selectman Bill Clark, noting that the project has been undertaken so far at virtually no cost to the taxpayer.
Clark said that a town committee on which he served in the late 1990s proposed the Danvers trail. But he said neighbors objected and selectmen at the time opted not to put the plan before Town Meeting.
The idea gained more traction in the years after that, Clark said, when he and two other trail supporters, Dan Bennett and Gardner S. Trask III, joined the board. In 2006, Town Meeting endorsed the plan, and a survey showed broad public support for it. In 2008, selectmen approved a 99-year lease agreement with the MBTA, which let Danvers use the right of way for a trail.
Also advancing the project have been partnerships among the town, its Electric Division, which maintains power lines along the right of way, and the nonprofit Iron Horse Preservation Society, which removes tracks on abandoned rail beds for free in return for being able to keep the rails and ties for salvage.
At the time the MBTA lease was signed, about two-thirds of the tracks were still in place. In early 2010, Iron Horse removed a section between Pine and Holten streets to allow the Electric Division easier access to a substation in that area.
That spring, Iron Horse removed the remaining tracks, and last summer it placed gravel along the entire 3.5-mile corridor section that is shared with Danvers Electric, from the Peabody line to Wenham Street. (In one area just south of Wenham Street, the track removal and gravel work took until last December due to wet conditions).
Day said Danvers Electric needed a gravel surface to avoid damage to the maintenance trucks it sends into the right of way on occasion.
The utility footed the cost of the material from its rate revenues. Iron Horse did the installation for free.
Recently, two local residents volunteered their time and equipment to place fill donated by a local nursery along a wet section of the trail that had been impassable. Work is continuing but the section, which stretches .2 miles north from Wenham Street, is now passable.
Lincicum said the committee would like to apply gravel to the .8-mile northern section of the trail, and an additional layer of stone dust along the full length of the trail to provide a sturdier surface.
Danvers and Wenham are jointly seeking a $68,000 state grant to fund that additional trail work in Danvers, and a layer of stone dust on a section of Wenham’s rail trail.
Lincicum said the stone dust would complete the Danvers trail for now, but paving the trail remains an option in the future.
The town has installed signs along the trail listing rules, painted crosswalks, and erected bike racks. Four interpretive signs recalling the history of the old railroad will go up this spring.
The town has also installed mileage markers, and is selling sponsorships of those markers to help support trail maintenance.