Why build the Squannacook River Rail Trail?

*** Here are some reasons ***

A safe alternative route to walking or biking on Route 119

Anyone who has driven on Route 119 in Townsend has seen young people riding their bicycles on this busy road with no shoulders. The proposed rail trail would access Route 119 at Depot Street in the center of town, Old Meetinghouse Road, South Street, and via Harbor Village Shopping Center.  It would provide a safe route to bicycle between two of the major population centers in town - Townsend Harbor and the town center.  Traffic on Route 119 is only likely to increase, making the road more unsafe for pedestrians and bicyclists with every passing year. Biking on Rt 119

Access to many Townsend and Groton destinations

The list of Townsend and Groton destinations close to the rail trail is a long one.  It includes North Middlesex High School, Harbor Village, the historic Harbor Pond area,  Shepherd's with its restaurant and planned golfing attractions, Squannacook River State Forest, Bertozzi Wildlife Management Area, Townsend Common, Central Plaza, Townsend Library, and the stores in the center of Townsend.  Click here to see maps of some of these destinations.


Recreational facility for older adults

Rail trails, with their flat, even surface, make an excellent recreational facility for older adults who might have trouble walking on Townsend's uneven state forest trails.  The Nashua River Rail Trail has shown that rail trails can be very popular places for older adults to meet and walk.

Enjoying the view on the Nashua River Rail Trail

Recreational facility for families

Rail trails make for excellent family recreation.  On any given summer weekend, you'll find numerous families enjoying the Nashua River Rail Trail.  It's common to see babies in walkers, young children with training wheels, older children enjoying the fresh air, and parents having fun with their children.

A family enjoys a ride on the North Central Rail Trail near Gardner

Protects access to Harbor Pond

Many Townsend residents consider the Harbor Pond area between South Street and Harbor Church one of the gems of our town, yet the land along the pond south of the railroad tracks is owned  by the MBTA.  If the MBTA decides that after some event, such as significant erosion, Harbor Pond represents a safety risk and a potential legal liability, they could limit access or even put up a fence, and the town and/or abutters would have no legal basis to challenge that action.  This could not happen if the town signs the MBTA lease and takes over responsibility for this land.
In April 2007, a storm damaged the railroad trestle in the center of Townsend. The MBTA responded to this potential liability by putting up the unattractive fence shown in this picture, with a sign that reads, WARNING - DANGER - NO TRESPASSING. Barricade by Squannacook River Bridge
In August 2008, the MBTA replaced a failing culvert behind Harbor Village in Townsend. As part of the project, the MBTA put up the pictured No Trespassing sign and blocked through access on the rail bed. This again reinforces the point that the only way to ensure public access to this corridor is to convert it to a rail trail. No trespassing behind Harbor Village

Ensures the rail corridor is not an environmental hazard

The MBTA will not allow any testing of its land in Townsend for environmental contamination unless the town signs the MBTA lease.  In the unlikely chance that the rail bed presents an exposure hazard due to environmental contamination, the only way it will be cleaned up is if the town builds this rail trail.  The cost and liability issues to the town are discussed here, but the bottom line is that our committee feels that these concerns can be addressed.

Recreational asset for handicapped users

Rail trails provide excellent recreational opportunities for handicapped users.  In addition to wheelchair use, there are numerous adaptive bicycles for physically challenged or blind users. Since the Squannacook River Rail Trail would be built using federal funds, it would need to comply with all federal handicapped accessibility requirements.

The success of the Nashua River Rail Trail

The nearby Nashua River Rail Trail opened in 2001, and has since become one of the most significant destinations in our part of the state.  In 2006 Yankee Magazine rated it one of the top 100 attractions in New England.  Since overcoming some problems, it has proved to be a good neighbor to both local businesses and abutters.

Supports "Safe routes to schools" program

The Massachusetts Executive Office of Transportation is sponsoring a Safe Routes To School program.  The goal of this project is to encourage healthy transportation alternatives to school.  Having more children walk or ride bicycles to school would both reduce traffic and lead to healthier students.  The Squannacook River Rail Trail would provide a safe bicycle route to North Middlesex High School for a significant percentage of its students.

A link to our past

The proposed rail trail provides access to one of Townsend's unique treasures, the historic district in Townsend Harbor.  Trail users would get close-up views of many of the Townsend Historical Society's treasures: the Grist Mill, the Cooperage, the Reed Homestead, and Harbor Church.  An informational kiosk about this area could further raise awareness about our town's unique heritage.

View of the Reed Homestead from the rail bed.

A link to our future

The network of rail trails across the Commonwealth, and beyond, continues to grow. The SRRT, with it's links to the town centers, it's historic roots and it's breathtaking natural views is ideally poised to be a valued part of this growing phenomena. The recent plans are to continue the Squannacook River Rail Trail down to the Bertozzi Wildlife Area in Groton, making it more possible that a future trail could extend to connect with the Nashua River Rail Trail. It is also possible the trail could someday extend into West Townsend and beyond as various engineering challenges are addressed and overcome. It is easy to envision a day when a Townsend family could leave Townsend in the morning, bike to Pepperell or even Nashua for lunch and be back home the same evening. Our imaginations are our only limitation!

The rail bed in Groton

Rail trails build a sense of community

Our committee has heard over and over from residents about how much the Nashua River Rail Trail has become a social center for their community.  Its a place to chat with friends and neighbors you see as you're out walking or riding.  This could be even more true in Townsend, where the trail would connect two of the most populous sections of the town.

The Squannacook River Rail Trail has strong support in Townsend

On May 10, 2006, a non-binding question about the Squannacook River Rail Trail appeared on the Townsend ballot.  The only other issue in that election was for an uncontested Board of Selectman seat.  In spite of that, the turn out was huge, and the ballot question passed 1021-259.