Final segments of bike path are closer to completion
The final three segments missing from the Neponset River Greenway Corridor, a 9-mile bicycle and pedestrian path that starts at the Blue Hills Reservation and ends at Boston Harbor, are one step closer to being finished.
A federal grant proposal for $13.1 million was submitted Monday by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation. If accepted, the grant would fund two new bridges, boardwalks along the path, and repairs to buildings at two of the sites along the riverside greenway.
Segment One will connect Wakefield Avenue to Neponset Valley Parkway on the Hyde Park/Milton border; Segment Two will finish the trail along Dorchester Bay; and Segment Three will connect Central Avenue and Mattapan Square on the Mattapan/Milton border.
S.J. Port, spokeswoman for the Department of Conservation and Recreation, said the agency expects to hear from the US Department of Transportation by early March. If the grant is approved, the agency will fund 25 percent, or $4.3 million.
If the application is denied, Port said the state will reevaluate the project. But until then, it is working “on hope.’’
For many involved in the project, both at the state and in area communities, submitting the grant application made it seem the end of the 20-year project was finally in sight.
“This has been almost 20 years in the making, and since then we’ve jumped through a number of hoops,’’ Port said. “What we’ve come up with is a wonderful project that will both enhance the availability of green commuting and provide recreation for a community that might not otherwise have access.’’
Those hoops ranged from working with environmental agencies on mitigation to creating a design that both Mattapan and Milton residents would agree on, Port said.
However, for at least one Mattapan resident, the recent issues with design were small compared with those raised during the last 18 years of discussions.
Vivien Morris, an advocate for the greenway and a member of the Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition, said Mattapan residents have always been in favor of the bike path. But it was difficult, she said, for the two communities to set aside differences and come to a compromise.
“This project has brought to the limelight just how distant these two communities that abut each other can be,’’ Morris said. “It was really sad to hear and see how easily people can parrot the worst of what they hear [about Mattapan] because of how our community is often viewed in the press.’’
Morris became involved in the project years ago when she started working with Mattapan residents to promote healthier eating and exercise.
This path, she argues, could be a solution to some of the community’s obesity problems.
According to the grant application, one major outlet of the path would funnel pedestrians and bikers near the Mattapan Farmers’ Market.
“Mattapan has the highest rate of obesity, and that means one of the highest rates of diabetes, but with physical activity and access to healthy foods, prevention is possible,’’ Morris said. “And this path would provide direct access to both.’’
Currently 10,400 riders, walkers, and runners use the entire bikeway every day despite areas that aren’t paved or safe. For bicycling advocate Lee Toma of Bike Milton, that is exactly why the grant is necessary.
“Originally, the path was emptying out on River Street, which is a major safety concern, but the DCR made a lot of effort to make the overall design safer and more family-friendly,’’ Toma said. “Mothers and fathers are out there, shepherding kids. If they could stay along a trail it would be that much safer and easier.’’
For Milton police, safety along the path is a top priority. Chief Richard Wells says he is aware of issues some residents have with privacy and the potential for crime along the path. But he is confident that with proper surveillance, problems will be kept to a minimum.
“The track record on the existing bike path has been very good,’’ Wells said. “And if we can set the right tone and go at this proactively, we can ensure the same quality of life that currently exists in these communities.’’
The path will be supervised by both state and local police, and Wells plans to designate extra patrols during summer and spring when pedestrian and bike traffic is at its highest.
“We have had the meetings and we have addressed concerns, so I think now that this can actually be done,’’ he added.
Morris is also hopeful that the project will move forward and provide Mattapan residents access to recreational opportunities the community needs.
She recalled the first time she found a way to the riverfront and walked along the bank watching a mother duck and ducklings splash in the water.
“The first time I went to see it, I thought, ‘Is this really my community?’ ’’ she said. “I didn’t think of this wondrous nature area as part of day-to-day life here in Mattapan.’’
Natalie Feulner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.