By Anne O'Connor
GROTON/TOWNSEND -- Proponents of a proposed rail trail between Townsend and Groton took not just one, but two giant steps forward in a process that has taken over a decade.
Squannacook Greenways. Inc. received $18,000 from the Community Foundation of North Central Massachusetts on June 19. The same day, they received a verbal agreement from the Massachusetts Department of Recreation and Conservation that will enable the group to lease the railbed.
"We're very excited," said Bill Rideout, a Squannacook Greenways member. The nonprofit group was formed in October 2011 by a group of volunteers that has been working to build the Squannacook River Rail Trail since 2002.
"Even before we ask a single person for money, we're starting off with over 15 percent of our budget," he said. The group already had $10,000 in the bank. Construction costs will be between $150,000 and $200,000.
"DCR has done some really great legal work," Rideout said. The state agency was able to locate documents from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, the owner of the line. DCR will lease the line from the MBTA and sublease it to Squannacook Greenways, which will build and maintain the trail.
If the trail is built with money from a private group, construction costs would be lower than if it were built with government funds. Prevailing wage will not have to be paid during construction, Rideout was told during the meeting with DCR.
The greenways committee will be in charge of maintaining the trail once it is built. DCR requested an endowment fund jointly owned by the state agency and the nonprofit agency in case Squannacook Greenways dissolves, Rideout said.
The committee agreed with the plan and suggested a $40,000 endowment that would generate about $2,500 yearly, enough to cover the costs.
Once Squannacook Greenways has received a written agreement from DCR, members can begin fundraising, Rideout said. Both the present director of DCR, Ed Lambert, and the incoming director, Jack Murray, who took his new position June 24, are very excited about the trail, he said.
The directors said the Townsend and Groton trail advocates have been very professional and determined in their efforts to get the trail built.
"I think that impressed them," Rideout said. Even the grant proposal was written by a professional technical writer, Joan Wotkowicz, with help from fellow committee members Steve Meehan and Rideout.
The trail on the unused rail line primarily runs between Route 119 and the Squannacook River. The proposed 3.7 mile section will extend from Depot Street in the center of Townsend to the Bertozzi Conservation area in Groton.