Photo from The Bay Colony Rail Trail
Local joggers, walkers and mountain bikers may soon have another scenic place to exercise outdoors.
Needham selectmen will hold a public hearing next week to present plans for converting a 7-mile stretch of abandoned MBTA-owned rail trail that runs through Needham, Dover and Medfield into a multi-use passive recreation greenway.
Representatives from the Bay Colony Rail Trail Association will present their plans at the Board of Selectmen's meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 17 around 7 p.m. at Needham Town Hall, officials said.
Supporters of the rail trail conversion hope to gain Town Meeting approval to have Needham lease their section of the trail, which spans two miles from Needham Junction to the Charles River before snaking 3.5 miles through Dover and 1.5 miles through Medfield, said the association's president, Tad Staley.
The Needham part of the lease would cost the town $1 per year for 99 years, since the MBTA has shown willingness to lease it for "virtually free," he said.
Staley said the association estimates that it could cost about $880,000 to prepare and finish Needham's portion of the site, including potentially building amenities like parking lots. The organization has already raised about $11,000, and if town officials give their go-ahead on the project, Staley said they plan to seek some of the project's funding from town divisions like the recently-formed Community Preservation Committee.
"We're trying to make it a combination of private fundraising and town money," he said. "But we want to remove as much of the financial burden from the town's taxpayers as we can."
Staley said about one-third of the project's cost could be put on hold if the organization decides to wait on building the parking lots, and if a company in talks with the association decides to pull up the tracks for free in exchange for being able to sell the parts to cover the labor cost.
"Right there, we'd save almost $300,000 for that combination," he said.
Staley said the cost of the project could also depend on if town officials decided to take out an insurance policy against contamination on the trail. However, many communities decide to waive that cost, he said.
"Most towns don’t even get the insurance policy because it’s so unlikely," Staley said. "But they would have to decide on that before they signed the lease."
Staley said currently, conceptual plans call for a "crushed stone" surface, which would be smooth enough for jogging, walking, and mountain biking. If residents want an event smoother pavement-like surface, that might be an additional cost, he said.
Staley said if the project is approved, the organization could break ground on the project as soon as next summer, and could plausibly have it finished and open for recreational use by the end of 2014.
"That's being optimistic, but it could be done," he said.
For more information on the rail trail, visit Needham's town website and click on "Hot Topics," and then "Needham Rail Trail." More presentations and information can be found at the Bay Colony Rail Trail Association's website.
Anyone who cannot make next week's meeting but wishes to have their opinions heard can submit their comments to: Needham Board of Selectmen, c/o Needham Town Hall, 1471 Highland Ave., Needham, Mass., or by email to email@example.com.
Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org