[Reprint, courtesy of the Bellingham Bulletin, Dec. 2015 edition]
You may have noticed a lot of construction activity happening on Center Street lately. Perhaps you’ve started to notice moms with children in strollers parking in the small parking lot next to Fox Run Road, then crossing the street. What’s going on? Well, besides the town improving its water system, there has been some great progress on the SNETT, (Southern New England Trunkline Trail), a railtrail that starts in Franklin, intersects Bellingham, then heads west through Blackstone, Millville, Uxbridge, and Douglas.
A lot of “behind the scenes” work has taken place to get a portion (.82 miles) of this multi-use 22 mile long trail finished and ready for visitors. For years the railtrail was only a dream, thwarted by the sale of the rail rights-of-way to private buyers. But slowly the State Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) bought back the rights along the six-town corridor. And local groups, including the Franklin/Bellingham Railtrail Committee, have been meeting monthly to help raise funds and increase public awareness of the proposed trail.
For the past three years, the town of Bellingham has been working with DCR to arrange a mutually beneficial project along the section of the SNETT that travels from Lake Street to Center Street. According to DPW Director, Don DiMartino, “DCR allowed us to lay a new water pipe in the right of way of the SNETT, which allowed us to avoid road work for laying the water pipe. In exchange for this, Bellingham granted DCR some land near South School, which will be helpful to DCR in granting access to a portion of the SNETT which runs directly behind South School.”
You may have noticed additional roadwork on Rt. 126 near Elm Street. The state is replacing the bridge there with a culvert that will allow travel along the SNETT underneath Rt. 126. “The culvert will be tall enough to be equestrian [horseback riding] friendly,” DiMartino explained.
DiMartino noted “The section of trail behind South School is more problematic than between Center and Lake Street. There are wetlands issues behind South School.” He continued, “The plan is for DCR to provide parking, picnic tables, and access to the SNETT from Harpin Street, but that may be several years down the road. We’ve had discussions with the school department. There are plans for fencing, with the intent to protect the kids from the trail users, and the trail users from the school kids and their playground. Ultimately we are working to make it a secure area for all.”
Parking is accessed to the finished portion of the trail from Center Street, next to Fox Run Road (look for the SNETT kiosk directly on Center Street). There is additional parking on Lake Street, just south of Cross Street. Look for “Trail Parking” signs on both sides of the road.
“Please get the word out!” DiMartino said. “The path between Lake and Center Street is done! The finished surface is stabilized gravel, per DCR’s instructions. It’s a nice, flat trail, not stressful on your knees or bones. Come take a walk!”
Marjorie Turner Hollman
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a personal historian who loves the outdoors, and has completed two guides to Easy Walking trails in Massachusetts, “Easy Walks in Massachusetts 2nd edition,” and “More Easy Walks in Massachusetts.” A native Floridian, she came north for college and snow! New England Regional Chair for the Association of Personal Historians, she is a Certified Legacy Planner with LegacyStories.org, and is the producer of numerous veterans interviews for the Bellingham/Mendon Veteran’s History Project. http://www.marjorieturner.com