Lebanon — A former Boston & Maine railway corridor, unused since the 1950s, has been stolen by underbrush and deep pockets of mud. Thin tree trunks have sprung from between the railroad ties. In the quieter parts of Lebanon, nature, for now, has emerged victorious.
But it will soon be tamed.
Yesterday, city officials hosted a walk down gooey ground, over an interstate and across a plank bridge, on what will eventually become the Mascoma River Greenway Trail, a four-mile vein between Lebanon and West Lebanon meant for the active and car-averse.
Nearly 30 people, residents of Lebanon and elsewhere, joined forces in a parking lot across from Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital before heading over the Slayton Hill Road overpass and into a slice of nature often hidden behind chain supermarkets and manufacturers.
“You think of Lebanon as all built up, but it has a wild core,” said City Councilor Nicole Cormen, who led the tour.
The idea yesterday, said Frank Gould, who co-chairs the Mascoma River Greenway Coalition, was to give people an idea of the path they’ll taking when an “offerable trail” is in place in, he hopes, two years’ time.
That’s phase one. The basic, dirt trail will begin at the terminus of the Northern Rail Trail, by the Carter Community Building, and will end at West Lebanon’s Westboro Yard, a former railroad property between the Connecticut River and the intersection of Route 12A and South Main Street.
By the end of the fourth and final phase, officials said, the entire trail will be paved and in use by runners, cyclists, skateboarders and so on. During the winter, Gould said, plows could clean up one half of the trail, leaving the other for cross-country skiers. He estimated the entire project would be done in about 10 years, and will cost about $2.2 million.
Much of the work will be done in-kind, said Lebanon Recreation and Parks Director Paul Coats, using existing city equipment and staff. However, he’s planning a kick-off day for volunteers to clear some of the out-of-control plant life on June 1, which is National Trails Day.
Besides the city workers, much will be accomplished with volunteers and donations, Gould said. So far, about $80,000 has been raised during the campaign’s “silent phase,” he said.
The actual construction will last into 2014, according to Coats. “When people have access to a resource like this,” Coats said, “they use it.”
Some, in a way, already have. For instance, Karen Guetti, of West Lebanon, has made a habit of taking her dog, Sammy, along the current pathway, an at-times treacherous trip next to, atop and across the old railway. At one point, the rails run over the Mascoma River, with only wooden planks serving as a bridge. At another, it passes over I-89, near Exit 19. Yesterday, cars honked their approval. Gould said the overpass would likely be covered with fencing during construction.
Guetti was there for the tour, as was Sammy, a black Lab-husky mix, who bounced alongside and ahead of the group, sniffing rocks and lapping up runoff from stubborn ice along the trail.
At several points, Cormen noted familiar Lebanon landmarks, some in the distance and some closer. Early on, with the group trekking along the railway at high elevation, she pointed to the Renihan Meadows condominium complex on Mascoma Street Extension; later, as the group hugged the river, she noted the backs of Price Chopper and Entertainment Cinemas up a steep but short hill.
“There are possible connections everywhere,” she said.
Other than the trip over what Cormen called the “bridge of death” — the fraying railroad ties that pass over the Mascoma River — the portion of the trail closer to Glen Road provided the best up-close view of the river. Rapids spilled over rocks, and group members pushed past fallen branches to get a better look.
After a beat, the group broke from the Mascoma, heading closer to Glen Road and the end of the walk. David Kano lingered, taking in the view through a horizontally angled iPhone.
“People get to know each other when they’re biking or running,” said Kano, of West Lebanon. “I’m very excited about it.”
Jon Wolper, Valley News Staff Writer
Sunday, March 31, 2013