Group plots direction for trail through West Lebanon

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 2/17/2021 9:45:23 PM
Modified: 2/17/2021 9:45:22 PM

WEST LEBANON — A coalition of city officials, nonprofits and local businesses is seeking to break through years of gridlock and expand the Mascoma River Greenway through West Lebanon.

At issue is how to link the greenway, which runs along an old rail trail, to newly created trails paralleling Route 10 and the Connecticut River without having to rely on the Twin State Sand and Gravel site, which is served by the rail line but whose owners have not been able to redevelop the property as quickly as they had hoped.

The group, headed by the city’s West Lebanon Revitalization Advisory Committee, plans to advocate for a “West Lebanon Greenway” that could encompass several recreational hotspots in the area.

The multi-use path would link up with the existing greenway near its terminus on Glen Road. From there, it would snake through downtown West Lebanon, the Westboro Rail Yard and River Park, then run north to the Boston Lot.

Advocates acknowledge that the effort won’t be easy, and will likely require lobbying landowners and state lawmakers to expand access. But, they argue, change is necessary to complete the vision of a city-wide network of trails that dates back more than two decades.

“I think we know the desire is there. We know the interest from the public is there. We need to reactivate that,” Chet Clem, a member of the West Lebanon committee, said during a meeting last week.

Clem, president of Lyme Properties and son of developer David Clem, previously worked to preserve 6 acres of land within his father’s 38-acre River Park development for public use as trails along the river.

Over the last month, he said, that mission has expanded to garnering support for a larger system of trails that would link up with the River Park parcel between Route 10 and the Connecticut River and provide greater pedestrian access to West Lebanon.

So far, Clem has drawn support from groups like the city’s Recreation and Parks department, the Upper Valley Trails Alliance and the Upper Valley Mountain Bike Association, with more organizations expected to lend their expertise.

Together, he said, they would work to build on “where the Mascoma River Greenway success story stops right now.”

The greenway, a roughly 2.3-mile, paved multipurpose path that connects downtown to the larger 58-mile Northern Rail Trail, was initially envisioned as a larger trail that would someday connect to Lyman Bridge carrying Route 4 into White River Junction.

However, several factors have prevented that from becoming a reality, including delays and setbacks for a major development at the Twin State Sand and Gravel site that would have provided a link between Lebanon’s neighborhoods.

From Glen Road, the Greenway trail was supposed to travel through Iron Horse Park — which was proposed as 660,000 square feet of retail, office and industrial space — before connecting to Seminary Hill Road.

But the 12-year-old development project never fully got off the ground and is now mired in a lawsuit against the Lebanon Planning Board, which declined to provide an extension that developers needed to continue work.

Other alternatives, such as traveling alongside existing railroad tracks, have been shot down by state officials even though there’s still high-demand to extend the greenway.

A recent study of nearly 900 people found a lack of connection to West Lebanon to be the second most-cited factor discouraging people from using the greenway, after Glen Road traffic and safety. When respondents were given 100 “Greenway Bucks” to spend on improvements, a West Lebanon expansion ended up being the top pick.

Clem cited those responses when he told the West Lebanon committee last week that it can no longer wait for Iron Horse Park or the city’s proposed lease of the historic Westboro Rail Yard to be completed before moving forward.

“We’ve been doing that for a while and so I think the focus is ‘How can we get people out on these trails?’ ” he told the group.

He proposes to utilize sidewalks along Seminary Hill, aka Route 4, to get pedestrians and cyclists to West Lebanon. But even if that happens, any trail then paralleling Route 10 heading north would require the city to arrange easements through private property and could even require the help of Great River Hydro LLC, owner of the Wilder Dam.

“It’s going to be hard to get there,” Lebanon Recreation Director Paul Coats said of the effort on Wednesday, adding the city spent years trying overcome greenway expansion challenges.

However, Coats called the coalition’s formation “exciting” and hoped it would at least provide another avenue to address those issues.

During last week’s meeting, city officials said they are lining up studies that would allow Lebanon to apply for grant money that could aid future trail expansion. Clem also encouraged them to think of fundraising and volunteer options.

“People want actionable steps. They want to feel like they can do something,” he said.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.




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