Rail trail spans river crossing
Bridge dedication marks progress
By Brian Lee
July 17, 2012 ... Southbridge and Dudley are making headway on the Quinebaug Valley Rail Trail.
The short-term plan, according to officials, is to connect the recreational trail from East Main Street in Southbridge to a portion of the trail that is being built in Dudley. The long-range goal is to have a continuous 11-mile trail through Southbridge, Dudley and Thompson, then back into Dudley and Webster.
In Southbridge yesterday, dignitaries held a dedication to celebrate the trail’s progress
Town Manager Christopher Clark said the project was a long time coming, with a $200,000 state earmark probably five or six years old. It took a town effort, and help from the Southbridge Trail Committee, to get the work under way, he said.
The dedication was held near a 56-foot bridge over the Quinebaug River, which essentially opens an approximately 2-mile stretch of gravel trail near Golden Greek Restaurant on East Main Street (Route 131) to the Dudley line.
It’s one of two bridges Southbridge is building, saving tens of thousands of dollars by doing it locally, Mr. Clark said.
Public Works Director Thomas E. Daley designed the bridges, with the only expense $3,000 for structural oversight by a consultant. DPW workers have been building the two bridges for about $22,000.
Instead of spending about $75,000 for engineering and construction, the town will have spent $25,000, Mr. Daley said during an interview.
During the event, Mr. Daley said he remembered that when he interviewed for his job, Mr. Clark told him he wanted him to build the bridges on the trail. But because he had never built one, Mr. Daley said, “that concerned me a little bit — but at the same time it interested me.”
For the larger bridge, the one dedicated yesterday, workers reused the100-plus-year-old, 30-inch girders underneath it, Mr. Daley said.
Mr. Daley said the town still has to pull out about 1,000 feet of rail and build the smaller, 12-foot bridge, which should be done in a few weeks. That will complete Southbridge’s work from East Main Street to the Dudley line. The town would then direct work in the other direction, toward the rotary near the police station.
The rails will be stockpiled in the towns’ highway garages, said state Sen. Richard T. Moore, D-Uxbridge. The state Department of Transportation will allow some of the rails to be resold, he said, with the proceeds to be used for the trail project. Scrap steel is selling pretty well these days, allowing for a “reasonable amount of money to continue the project,” the lawmaker said.
The senator said he hoped the public would help police the trail for vandalism, and would respect the natural habitats. He said he hoped markers would be installed to point out the trail’s history, distances for walkers and runners, and details about shrubs, trees and animals.
State Rep. Peter J. Durant, R-Spencer, said rail trails are powerful economic drivers. Mr. Durant said he and his wife, on a weekly basis, look for trails throughout New England to ride their bikes or hike on.
Meanwhile, Dudley has two miles of open trail, according to Kenneth Butkiewicz of the Dudley Trail and Greenway Network, and a member of Mr. Moore’s Quinebaug Valley Rail Trail committee.
Mr. Butkiewicz said Dudley built a parking lot off Mill Road from which trail users can hike .3 miles to the Thompson line and back.
Heading north toward Southbridge, a hiker can travel two miles, but is stopped by the Quinebaug River as a new bridge is being built. Scheduled for completion later this year, it will have sidewalks on both the upstream and downstream side.
Once that’s done, hikers can cross West Dudley Road, which has a kayak and canoe launch, and continue north and link up with the Southbridge trail. All told, the Dudley stretch will be nearly four miles, he said.
Mr. Butkiewicz said his group has been working with a Thompson trail group. The state of Connecticut has not bought the right of way into Thompson.
The last 500 feet of rail is in Webster, whose officials have requested that that work not be considered at this time.
The abandoned Providence and Worcester Railroad rail bed was acquired by the state in 2004 for developing a recreation trail. The last train was in 1982; the bed has not been used since, according to project supporters.
This story appears courtesy of the Telegram & Gazette (subscription required).