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Recreation Notes: Big Grant Paves Way for Mascoma Greenway

Mascoma River Greenway Coalition volunteers remove a rail tie from the Boston & Maine railway on Aug. 16. The coalition this summer received a $350,000 award to help implement its envisioned four-mile multi-use path connecting Lebanon and West Lebanon. 
Photo courtesy Lebanon Department of Recreation and Parks

Mascoma River Greenway Coalition volunteers remove a rail tie from the Boston & Maine railway on Aug. 16. The coalition this summer received a $350,000 award to help implement its envisioned four-mile multi-use path connecting Lebanon and West Lebanon. Photo courtesy Lebanon Department of Recreation and Parks

The Mascoma River Greenway Coalition isn’t letting the summer slip away quietly.

The grass-roots organization on Thursday will host a check presentation, concert and fireworks display to celebrate its reception of a $350,000 grant awarded by the Timken Foundation.

The money will be used to help construct the Mascoma River Greenway, an envisioned multi-use path along the unused Boston & Maine railway that connects downtown Lebanon with West Lebanon. It would extend by four miles the Northern Rail Trail, which currently spans 56 miles from Boscawen, N.H., to Lebanon along the same defunct railway.

Timken’s grant has helped the Greenway Coalition reach approximately $1.6 million of the $2.2 million in estimated infrastructure and bridge repair costs along the route, according to Lebanon Director of Recreation and Parks Paul Coats, who doubles as an active Greenway Coalition member.

Representatives from Timken’s Lebanon facility will present the jumbo-sized check, and organizers will talk about the project in a ceremony scheduled for the Lebanon Outdoor Mall at 6:45 p.m. on Thursday. The Conniption Fits, a Fairlee-based rock outfit, will play on the Mall at 7, followed by an 8:30 fireworks display at Storrs Hill Ski Area.

“We’re psyched. We’ve been gearing up for this all summer,” Coats said. “We actually (secured the Timken grant) a while back. We thought about doing something on the Fourth of July, but that’s a really busy holiday that pulls folks in a lot of different directions. People leave town to visit relatives and things like that. This way, it’s right before school starts and presumably most people are home.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to tell people what the project is all about. As far as I know, no one else (in the area) is shooting off fireworks on Thursday, so we hope a lot of people will come out.”

Project workers and volunteers have been busy this summer along the route, a stretch spanning east-to-west from Spencer Street near the Carter Community Building Association’s Witherell center to Westboro Yard in West Lebanon. Repair work is ongoing at bridge crossings downtown and over Interstate 89, while volunteers and city employees have been removing rail lines and ties.

“We’re responsible for disposing of all of that material, so we’ve had to have a dump truck and make numerous runs to the landfill,” Coats said. “It’s not the kind of stuff you can just put in the back of someone’s pickup truck. It’s too heavy.”

The Greenway concept first appeared in the city’s master plan 15 years ago as a way to connect Lebanon’s residential neighborhoods with non-motorized access to workplaces, schools and shopping areas along its corridor adjacent to the Mascoma River. Progress has been slow and steady in recent years, Coats said.

“We’re excited about the progress we’ve made getting support, and with the fundraising phase,” Coats said. “As far as the physical building, it would be nice if it were a little bit further along, but we’re doing everything we can.”

Coats said he hopes the route will be fully functional as a transportation and recreation path by the end of 2016.

A Taste of the NFL: Recreation personnel in neighboring Upper Valley towns are hoping the National Football League can help flag football become more accessible and fun in their communities.

Lebanon and Hartford have both adopted NFL Flag Football, a program in conjunction with nonprofit USA Football that provides participating municipalities with replica team jerseys, equipment such as balls and flags and organizational resources such as online standings.

NFL Flag rules are five-on-five and don’t restrict who can carry or receive the ball on offense. It’s for kids aged 5-17, with numerous age-group divisions depending on participation figures.

Lebanon sports coordinator Rick Desharnais hopes the program will bolster his league, which for the last several years has facilitated games of eight players per team while incorporating technical elements of the game such as blocking. NFL Flag games are entirely contact-free.

“We tried to have games where we did blocking and taught some of the skills of the game, but the difficult thing is that every kid wants to run with the ball and catch the ball,” Desharnais said. “With NFL Flag, every kid is eligible to run and catch, so we’re not telling all of the big kids, ‘OK, you’re a lineman, you don’t touch the ball.’ ”

Desharnais is expecting up-tempo, high-scoring games. He hopes the league will be a popular alternative to tackle football, which at the youth level in Lebanon begins in third grade. The city’s recreation department oversees youth football through the sixth grade.

“Tackle football in Lebanon is a great program, too, but it’s not for everybody,” said Dasharnais, who played the pads-and-helmet version of the game from third grade through high school. “It’s a very physical game, and what we’ll be doing is more like what you’d see kids doing in a schoolyard. A lot of running around, a lot of great exercise. We want kids to come out who are maybe fans of the NFL or fans of college football, who can come have an experience playing the game without worrying about getting tackled.”

Fourth-year Hartford programs coordinator Jay McDonough said the town is offering flag football for the first time. A conversation with Desharnais led him to push for NFL Flag as well, and the two leaders hope to organize both regular season and playoff games against each other, if participation allows. Only five kids have signed up so far in Hartford, McDonough said; about 30 have done so in Lebanon.

“We just released our fall sign-up information. We’re hoping there will be a lot more who sign up,” McDonough said. “We think there’s going to be a lot of interest.”

Hartford will hold an informational meeting about the activity at the Hartford Municipal Building on Sept. 9 at 5:30 p.m. Orientation in Lebanon is scheduled for next Wednesday at Elks Field, where teams will be chosen.

For more information about signing up for NFL Flag Football in Lebanon, contact Desharnais at rick.d@lebcity.com or 603-448-5121. Hartford residents may reach McDonough at jmcdonough@hartford-vt.org or 802-295-5036.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.