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By Nathan Lamb

Staff Writer

HARVARD — With the goal of providing pedestrians an alternative to the narrow shoulders of roads, the Park and Recreation Commission has long sought to establish a path between the Depot Road playing fields and Harvard Park.

Earlier this year, commissioners were hoping $50,000 in state grants would make it happen this summer.

But the application came up short in a field of over 200 and timetables are being adjusted accordingly, said commission Co-chairman James Lee.

The path’s one-and-a-half-mile outline will be marked shortly, but it won’t be the finished product, he said.

“This year we’d be looking to more or less hack it out of the woods and get it so it’s available for the diehard person who wants to get from point A to point B,” he said. “It will probably be this summer or this fall.”

After that, the commission plans to apply again for the grant and hope for better luck next year. The grant requires a 20 percent local match, which would be covered by $7,500 in funds allocated for the project by Town Meeting this spring. Lee said they’re saving that money for another try.

“We haven’t spent any of that yet,” he said.

If secured, the grant would purchase materials for a stone dust path, along with signage, materials for wetland crossings, and pavement for a short, but steep, section of trail.

The path as proposed would add an extended shoulder alongside Depot Road from the playing fields to the Route 2 underpass. From there it would follow what’s now a snowmobile path through a forest and join up with Lancaster County Road at the bend where it turns into Blanchard Road. From there it would parallel Lancaster County Road to Harvard Park.

The other leg of planning is securing easements for portions of the trail that run on state property, which Lee said is going well through several levels of state oversight.

“It looks like we will get permission,” he said.

Overall, the trail between Depot Road and Harvard Park is only part of a larger master plan drawn up with funds appropriated by Town Meeting in 2005.

That document outlines a trail that begins at the town beach, goes through the town center, and runs parallel to Ayer Road until its juncture with Depot Road.

Agreements are already in place for the beach-to-center portion, which makes fleshing it out largely a matter of “formalizing” existing pathways, said Lee.

The more difficult part is determining where the Ayer Road portion of the trail should go and hammering out legal agreements with area property owners to make it happen. Lee termed that process on the “back burner,” saying the idea is to get some momentum with the first phase.

“Once we finish the portion from Depot Road to Harvard Park, it will get a lot of people interested,” he said. “Then the more difficult part can be worked on.”

Lee, who has worked on establishing the recreation trail since 2003, acknowledged that progress hasn’t always been quick or easy for the endeavor. Even so, he’s optimistic both on the trail getting established and the community supporting efforts for a more walk-able Harvard.

“That’s the whole idea of it — to get people moving on foot,” he said.

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