Project to repurpose rail corridor

by Maria Brenes | 11/4/14 8:24pm

For the past two decades, the town of Lebanon has wanted to turn unused railroad tracks into a multi-use trail for cyclists, joggers, dogwalkers and cross-country skiers alike. The project, called the Mascoma River Greenway, will be a four-mile pathway connecting Lebanon and West Lebanon that will cost around $2.3 million and should be completed by the end of 2016.

The project’s leaders are focusing on modifying three crossings over the Mascoma River and one bridge over the I-89 highway, adding fencing to make the bridges safe. The fencing on the I-89 bridge will likely be added this month and finished by the winter, Lebanon parks and recreation director Paul Coats said.

As of Friday, the project had raised over $1.6 million.

Last spring, an anonymous donor pledged $200,000 to the project provided that others donated $50,000 to the campaign. As of last week, the campaign was within $8,500 of its goal.

Although volunteers have done much of the trailwork, the town will spend $40,000 on a contractor to add the fencing.

Russell Hirschler, executive director of theUpper Valley Trails Alliance, said now that some of the trail has been cleaned and fixed, the bridges must be adapted to certain standards so they are safe for pedestrians and cyclists.

The idea dates back about 20 years, when Lebanon’s recreation commission created a master plan for parks and recreation and suggested developing the rail corridor, which had not been used since 1950.

The rail corridor runs from downtown Lebanon to West Lebanon, crossing several roads and going underneath the Miracle Mile strip of retail stores.

The Mascoma River Greenway will make up the last four miles of the 52-mile Northern Rail Trail, which the Rails to Trails Conservancy designated as one of the nation’s 100 best trails.

Frank Gould,former chair of the Lebanon recreation commission, said he can attest to the Northern Rail Trail’s success, pointing to an increase in tourists coming to the area to hike and bike.

Gould and Coats added that the Mascoma River Greenway could boost the local economy since it creates a way to get to stores such as those on the Miracle Mile — which include J.C. Penney, the Lebanon movie theater and Kohl’s — without a car.

Coats said that the city has always recognized thetrail’s benefits, but called the fact that it abruptly ends in Lebanon without continuing to West Lebanon “unfortunate.”

Dartmouth cycling team president Dani Smith ’15 said the project will dramatically improve the safety of cyclists traveling between Lebanon and West Lebanon.

Smith, who lives in Lebanon, said she has ridden in the cleared part of the railroad, which goes outside her apartment. She said the trail runs under a canopy of trees, which is “quite beautiful” in the fall, though the leaves have fallen and now cover the path.

Smith added that she has seen advertising for volunteers at Upper Valley farmers’ markets, which has let local high schools get involved. A group of Dartmouth freshmen volunteered to help clean the trail in September in an outing organized by Granite United Wayand the Tucker Foundation’s Day of Caring.

Cycling team member and graduate student Robert Allaway said he believes several of his teammates may use the trail to commute to West Lebanon, as well as for leisurely bike rides.

“It’s going to change the way people get around in our town,” Coats said. “Right now, if you want to go from one side of town to another, you need to get in your car. Community is not built around people driving around different towns.”