Worth the Wait: Mascoma River Greenway Officially Opens

  • The Mascoma River Greenway is a four-mile bike path that will connect the Northern Rail Trail in Lebanon, N.H., to West Lebanon. Portions from Glen Road west are not complete, nor is the downtown connection to Northern Rail Trail. (Courtesy Mascoma River Greenway) Courtesy Mascoma River Greenway

  • Samir Soneji helps his daughters Riya, 4, and Rashmi, 2, on their bicycles along the Mascoma River Greenway in Lebanon, N.H., on July 21, 2018. Soneji said the family is relocating soon. “We're moving and this is what we're going to miss,” he said. (Rick Russell photograph) Rick Russell photograph

  • Meg Cheevers, 11, left, gets a bit of help trying to stop from her mother Amy, of Lebanon, N.H., during their first time ever on rollerblades on the Mascoma River Greenway in Lebanon, N.H., on July 21, 2018. Rollerblade Brand Inline Skates, of Lebanon, had a van full of skates for people to try. (Rick Russell photograph)

  • Justin O'Rouke and his dog Sky, of Enfield, N.H., cross the Mascoma River on the Timken Bridge on the Mascoma River Greenway in Lebanon, N.H., on July 21, 2018. O'Rourke is one of several artists displaying sculptures with AVA Gallery at the end of the Greenway. He skateboarded to work. (Rick Russell photograph) Rick Russell photograph

  • Lebanon Mayor Suzanne Prentiss speaks during the opening ceremony for the Mascoma River Greenway in Lebanon, N.H., on July 21, 2018. (Rick Russell photograph) Picasa—

  • Owen Schutz, 4, stands on his bike alongside his father Kevin and sister Ellen, 2, while listening to the opening ceremony for the Mascoma River Greenway on July 21, 2018, in Lebanon, N.H. The family is from Lebanon. (Rick Russell photograph) Picasa—

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/21/2018 11:45:18 PM
Modified: 7/21/2018 11:45:36 PM

Lebanon — More than 20 years since former Lebanon director of recreation and parks Cindy Heath and other municipal leaders first envisioned the Masoma River Greenway, countless hours of planning and volunteerism and millions in fundraising have gone toward the effort. On Saturday, those involved and the community at large were able to celebrate it.

Heath, Lebanon Mayor Suzanne Prentiss and project drivers Paul Coats and Frank Gould were among those to speak at a grand opening event held on the front lawn of the Alice Peck Day Homestead. They christened a 2.3-mile paved, multi-purpose path along the former Boston & Maine railway.

Beginning at the three-way intersection of Mascoma, High and Mechanic streets downtown and running roughly parallel to U.S. Route 4, the 12-foot-wide route features bridges with views of the Mascoma River, access to the Miracle Mile shopping area and a pair of sculptures created by Upper Valley artists that make use of some of the thousands of rail spikes volunteers removed from the railway as part of the project.

Culminating — for the time being — near the Dudley Bridge and intersection of Miracle Mile and Glen Road, it’s the most significant advancement yet toward the Mascoma Greenway Coalition’s vision of a fully linked, four-mile route that would run from the western terminus of the Northern Rail Trail at Spencer Street to West Lebanon. How each of those bookends will be shaped remains uncertain, but make no mistake: the MRG today is a functional recreation and transportation corridor.

Roughly 100 people attended Saturday’s grand opening, which kicked off at 9 a.m. Coats and Gould addressed the audience first, followed by Mayor Prentiss and Heath, who was inspired to get the conversation started about the Greenway in the 1990s after learning that an 8-year-old boy from West Lebanon had walked along Miracle Mile and Mechanic Street to reach Lebanon Memorial Pool, which is accessible via the Northern Rail Trail. Personnel from host APD also spoke briefly about the route’s health benefits and lauded its availability for residents of the retirement communities behind the hospital.

Prentiss said the Greenway is helping Lebanon build a stronger identity and will be an economic boon, attracting homeowners and tourists. She also praised the conservation ethos of the route, which remains owned by the state of New Hampshire.

“The Mascoma River Greenway allows for us, for humans, to experience nature with minimal environmental impact,” the mayor said as part of a prepared speech. “(G)reenways support and protect important natural landscapes while connecting the sometimes-fragmented habitats of plants and animals.”

Heath, who retired as Lebanon recreation director in 2009, singled out Greenway Coalition co-chairs Gould and Coats for their dedication to the project. They’ve spearheaded numerous milestones over the last decade, rallying the New Hampshire Department of Transportation for a trail use agreement and orchestrating tireless volunteer efforts.

Those efforts included vegetation and tree removal, lifting railroad spikes and ties — estimated at more than 900 tons — and reconstructing a bridge near the current eastern terminus.

Coats and Gould also worked closely with hired project engineer David McNamara and construction contractor Willey Earthmoving, as well as capital campaign committee co-chairs Rainie Kelly and Melanie Moore, who raised nearly $2.2 million in public and private funding.

“Frank and Paul have never lost sight of the end goal: to make the Mascoma River Greenway a safe, handicapped accessible, economically viable facility for Lebanon residents and the greater Upper Valley to enjoy,” said Heath, who also announced that a strategically placed bench would be situated in honor of Coats and Gould.

“Just not overlooking I-89,” Gould joked.

Gould also noted the path’s appeal to recreation seekers outside of Lebanon. That was evident from the many contributions — both financial and labor-related — from those outside the city. Norwich-based Upper Valley Trails Alliance, for example, has been a key partner, from paperwork help to outings with its Upper Valley High School Trail Corps summer program.

“One of the things that’s been most impressive is that this has been a community collaboration, not a city or a state project but an Upper Valley project,” Gould said. “Over the last five years or so, so many people have helped. It’s heartwarming.”

Those who enter the Mascoma River Greenway for the first time will immediately feel transported, surrounded suddenly by mixed hardwood forest and the aesthetics of the river.

The environment on Saturday was nothing short of festive, with some taking advantage of guided walks, others strolling along on bikes or roller blades. Musician Deborah Bundy played the harp near the APD trailheads while Lebanon police lieutenant Matt Isham handed out frozen treats.

Sculptors Susan Johnson, Justin O’Rourke and Margaret Jacobs were on hand to discuss their works chosen to be featured on the trail, each incorporating rail spikes harvested by volunteers. O’Rourke’s and Jabobs’ collaboration, “Steel Umbrella,” inserted the spikes as part of the umbrella’s curvy handle, while on Johnson’s “Wheels”they are visual extensions of the wheel’s spokes.

Some cyclists said the Greenway has already become their favorite route, while families spoke highly of its kid friendliness. Meredith and Pierce Mayhew, of Lebanon, strolled along it with their two daughters, 10-year-old Gabby and 2-year-old Giuliana, and their infant son, Lucas. “It’s going to be a really great place for (Giuliana and Lucas) to learn to ride a bike,” Pierce Mayhew said. “I wish it were here when our oldest was learning.”

“It’s beautiful out here,” Meredith added. “We saw a deer last time we were out here. It’s definitely helping us enjoy Lebanon more.”

Adam Dansby, of Lebanon, thinks the Greenway is a viable alternative to dirt or mountain trails. “Most trails that are nice and shady like this, ticks and poison ivy are a concern, especially when you have kids,” said Dansby, who was on the Greenway with his wife, Alice, 4-year-old son, Henry, and 1-year-old daughter, Willa. “The key is getting the kids tired before nap time and bedtime, and this is the safest, easiest way to do it.”

Extending the route to its desired eastern and western lengths will require more work and time. City councilors on July 11 agreed to connect the Northern Rail Trail with the Greenway either by repairing the rail tunnel that runs under the Lebanon Mall or creating a new path along the Mascoma River.

Proposals that would re-open the tunnel, closed since 2014, are estimated between $2.21-$2.29 million, while a replacement trail along the river proposed by Councilor Clifton Below would cost about $3.5 million, according to an engineer’s estimate.

Meanwhile, extending the western portion of the Mascoma River Greenway to West Lebanon village remains contingent on the fate of a 92-acre parcel currently owned by Twin State Sand and Gravel, which has yet to find a developer for a proposed retail, office and industrial project there. Such a project would include alignments for the Mascoma River Greenway as written in the Planning Board’s approval for the development, according to Coats.

Another potential extension would be along the existing rail corridor from the Miracle Mile/Glen Road intersection to Riverside Park near the stone bridge underpass, but the New Hampshire DOT has thus far refused to enter a trail use agreement for that portion because of potential future development interests, Coats said.

“We still have more work to do, which is fine,” Coatssaid after the grand opening ceremony had finished. “Where there is a will, there’s a way, and we certainly have will.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3225.

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