February 15, 2011

Railway beds could become part of paved path

Union Leader Correspondent
LONDONDERRY -- Members of the Londonderry Trailways organization are taking a closer look at the town’s six miles of vacant railway beds, land they say could be put to good use as part of a paved pedestrian and bicycle path taking nature lovers from Salem all the way up to Concord.
During the Feb. 14 town council meeting, members of the Trailways updated the council on the project’s most recent developments. This past May, the town council unanimously agreed to allow the registered charity to investigate the project further and seek alternative funding.
According to Trailways offi­
cials, the old rail trail winding through northern Londonderry was once part of the former Manchester-Lawrence railway corridor, dating from 1848. Though passenger railway service ended in 1960, freight services continued through the early 1980s.
More recently, sections of the old railway have been converted to paved pedestrian and
 bicycle paths in several neighboring communities.
Four miles of the path have already been completed in Windham, thanks to private funding and federal grants; Derry has two miles of completed pathway, while Manchester currently has around one mile. Most of those towns have secured additional funding, with plans to complete additional
 pathways this spring, Trailways member Bob Rimol said.
“Most of the corridor is owned by the (Department of Transportation) since it was pretty much abandoned in the late 1970s,” Rimol said. “We’re looking at the recreational uses.”
“The state has been very
 supportive of this,” Trailways member Sandy Lagueux said. “The other towns have broken this door wide open.” 

Supported by members of the state Department of Transportation, the ultimate goal is to have a completed 29-mile path stretching from Salem to Concord. 
The railway path stretches through Salem, Windham and Derry, turning toward Londonderry at Route 28 and exiting toward Manchester, where it then winds through Hooksett and further north. 
Londonderry’s section of the railway path is mostly gravel path: only the section in the Little Cohas area has remaining rail segments. Much of that path is heavily littered, Lagueux said. 
“Some areas are completely overgrown, but others are presentable at this point. We’ve done our homework as to how other towns have funded this.” Rimol emphasized. 
“Last May, we were being drawn to the table by other towns,” Lagueux noted. “Other towns were coming to us, including the Southern New Hampshire Rail Trail Alliance.” 
Late last spring, members of the Rail Trail Alliance applied for, and were ultimately approved for, a $1.2 million grant, given to the communities of Salem, Windham and Derry. Meetings with Manchester-Boston Regional Airport officials soon followed, and more recently, the Southern New Hampshire Regional Planning Commission has pondered the project. 
“We also engaged our own community and asked for their input,” Rimol said. “On a regular basis, we get asked about this.” 
Chatting with residents attending last summer’s Old Home Day festivities, the Londonderry Trailways committee held a public input meeting last month. 
“We had 30 people show up here on a Sunday afternoon, two weeks before the Super Bowl. It was surprising.” Rimol said. 
Last month Trailways representatives also met with Londonderry Recreation Department director Art Psaledas, who provided them with a letter of support. 
Rimol said a conceptual plan for Londonderry’s rail trail should be completed within the coming month. 
“We’ve seen what other towns have been doing, and its been a success,” he said. He noted other towns have a Rail Trail Agreement in place, which releases the town of liability and maintains the state DOT’s ownership of the site. 
Rimol noted part of the funding could come through grants, noting other towns have had fundraisers and conducted other attempts to complete the project using the most minimal town dollars possible. 
Already, at least one local organization has offered its support: in July, the Granite State Wheelmen bicycle club donated $2,500 toward the Londonderry segment of the project.
“When we started our project in 2003, one of our visions was to help other towns along the trail,” said Mark Sampsel of the Windham Rail Trail Alliance. “Two years ago I appeared before the Derry town council, and this June Derry will have eight continuous miles. We’ve made a lot of progress.” 

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