A 1.25-mile trail atop the long-dormant Cochituate Aqueduct can be used by Natick for recreation thanks to a joint effort announced Thursday by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council and the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority.
The aqueduct “is one of those things that’s been an asset but hasn’t been fully utilized,” said Joel Barrera, deputy director of the planning council, as he and other state and local officials stood by the wooded entrance that leads to the aqueduct.
Barrera, who is also the governor's appointee to the MWRA's board of directors, said that though the distance of the trail may be short, the path’s potential is great. Once cleared of overgrowth, the trail could link miles of trails in Wellesley, Newton, Natick, and Framingham.
And offering communities a streamlined permitting process to secure access to the MWRA-owned trail will set a precedent for up to 100 miles of aqueduct trails in the MetroWest area, said Barrera.
“In an area that’s built up, it’s a tremendous opportunity,” said state Sen. Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, who attended the event. “This is a great example when a quasi-public agency can work with towns.”
Natick must approve the use of the aqueduct trail and the town's Conservation Commission started considering the proposal Thursday night. Matt Gardner, chair of that board, said there will be one or more public hearings to address concerns of residents and abutters.
And Board of Selectmen chair Joshua Ostroff emphasized that the town will listen to residents.
“From this point the town will have a public process to encourage neighbors, residents, town departments and committees to comment and shape the future use of this land,” said Ostroff. “People will have many questions and concerns, and I’m confident that the Conservation Commission will respect public input and provide farsighted stewardship.”
Opening up aqueduct land for further use isn’t a new idea. The Metrowest Growth Management Committee commissioned a report in 1998 that set forth the idea that MWRA-controlled land over aqueducts can be excellent resources for linking existing trails systems and open space in many communities.
Barrera said the process laid out in that report—using a so-called “8M permit”—is finally being implemented. The permit allows communities to simply sign off and avoid going through lengthy bureaucratic processes to use the land.
Construction on the Cochituate Aqueduct and Lake Cochituate started in 1845, and the water the aqueduct delivered was the cornerstone of Boston’s water supply. As more reservoirs were created and the water supplies were bolstered, the Cochituate system became less important. The Cochituate water system was abandoned in 1951.
In the early 1960s, Newton and Wellesley acquired rights to use the land atop the aqueduct for recreation, but Natick never pursued a similar initiative.
But about six months ago, Barrera approached the MWRA about the idea, and the agency endorsed the effort.
If Natick approves the idea, the 1.25-mile trail, which will remain wooded, could link to Wellesley and Newton’s aqueduct trail system on the east, and to the proposed Cochituate Rail Trail on the west.
The Cochitutate Rail Trail is already under construction in Framingham, and extends to that town’s Saxonville section. The development of the Natick portion of the Cochituate Trail would require the town to buy the right of way to the trail from railroad company CSX.
Megan McKee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.