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Rail Trail Gets Some Help

Lebanon — The Northern Rail Trail is about to get a little bit wider, longer and more accessible.

Thanks to a $10,000 grant made possible by the Foundation for Healthy Communities, a New Hampshire-based nonprofit, the Lebanon Department of Recreation and Parks is working on plans to extend the Northern Rail Trail through a downtown parking lot.

The Foundation for Healthy Communities last year received an anonymous, $100,000 donation via the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation to help spearhead bicycle-and-pedestrian projects throughout the state. As part of the grant program, money has also been awarded to the city of Manchester, the towns of Belmont and Littleton and the Nashua-area YMCA.

A 52-mile multiuse path, the rail trail is New Hampshire’s longest of its kind, extending from Boscawen through the west-central part of the state. The western terminus is currently on Spencer Street in Lebanon, near the Carter Community Building Association.

The grant will allow an extension through the parking lot connecting the CCBA’s Witherell Center to the defunct railway tunnel behind the Downtown Mall. In a project separate from the grant, Lebanon recreation Paul Coats hopes to eventually extend the trail through the tunnel and across Hanover Street to the start of the Mascoma River Greenway, a projected four-mile bicycle and pedestrian path linking downtown Lebanon to Westboro Yard in West Lebanon.

“It will help connect people to the existing rail trail, and get safely through the parking lot,” said Coats, who wrote a four-page application for the grant. “We’re still going to have to round up a lot of volunteers to make it happen, but the funding is in place.”

The project would create a 10-foot-wide path along the wooden retaining wall separating the mall area from the lower parking lot. It would be marked with striping, Coats said, and feature a divider to separate it from traffic.

“Originally, we were thinking to have a wooden fence up to match (the material of) the retaining wall, but then we realized that if a car were to bump against that. ... It could be damaged pretty easily,” Coats said. “We’re exploring some different options for the divider.”

A wooden staircase behind Lebanon College would be dismantled and rebuilt several feet into the parking lot, with an extended platform at the top of the flight doubling as a roof for the path.

Parking spaces in the single lane of the parking lot would be re-striped, shifting from their current perpendicular layout into slanted patterns. It will eliminate a small number of parking spots, said Coats, but he doesn’t anticipate that to be an issue. The lot was less than half full during business hours Wednesday.

“As you can see, losing only a few spots here shouldn’t be a problem,” Coats said. “Part of the initiative is to try to encourage people, get people out of their cars, to begin with.”

When completed, supporters of the Mascoma River Greenway hope it will serve as a major transportation corridor connecting Lebanon’s neighborhoods with work places, shopping areas, open spaces and Alex Peck Day Memorial Hospital. Coats noted that the project has completed its leadership phase and raised about half of its necessary funding.

“There’ll be some construction this spring and summer that a lot of people are looking forward to,” Coats said.

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