Topsfield Rail Trail Committee

“TLC” - Topsfield Linear Common

Does Topsfield Want a Rail Trail?

                Topsfield voters passed a question for the rail trail at the May, 2008 election and also defeated a plan to delay the trail at the May, 2008 Town Meeting by significant margins. Yes, Topsfield wants the trail!

              The Topsfield Open Space Committee wrote and distributed town wide surveys (1999 and 2004) which were mailed to all Town residences. Between 18 and 30% of the surveys were returned and tallied. The surveys are available in the Topsfield Room and the Town Library. The surveys were done to:

· Determine where future development would be most appropriate

· Identify land and resources to preserve (like the Coolidge land)

· Meet need of citizens, employers, employees, visitors, etc.

· Provide infrastructure to maintain public health, safety and welfare

· Provide grant eligibility for funding open space and other programs

· Help protect land using Conservation Restrictions (Article 97)

              The 1999 and 2004 surveys had questions concerning constructing a recreation path on the abandoned rail bed. The 1999 survey responses resulted in a 86.%% in favor of the entire trail from Wenham to Boxford and 85% in favor of the section from the Proctor School to Boxford. The 2004 survey had 70% in favor of development from Topsfield Center to Pye Brook Community Park and 69% in favor from Wenham to Topsfield Center. This strong support gives us good reason to pursue its development.

              Phase IA of the TLC will connect Main and Washington Streets. We have contacted all of the trail neighbors having property on this segment on Grove  and Washington streets. Most strongly support the TLC and the others are concerned about noise and litter. A public forum was held on March 3, 2007 to discuss the project. The forum was well attended. AdditionalPublic Forum will be held to discuss details of the Topsfield Linear Common.


Existing Recreational Paths in Topsfield

· Bike path from Topsfield center to Hoods Pond. (1978)

· Bike path from Topsfield center to Klock Park (1978)

· The Ipswich River Audubon Sanctuary has many walking trails

· Bradley-Palmer State Park—miles of trails

· Pye Brook Community Park—the Wildlife Path encircles the entire park. This was developed by the Open Space and Recreation Committees and the Conservation Commission.

              The new rail trail (TLC) would provide two additional safe means (one from the north and another from the south) to the center of town. The path would also connect to Pye Brook Community Park. This would provide safer off-road access for all including Topsfield youth and seniors coming from Washington Meadows and Little brook Village. It would also provide additional access for school children bicycling to the Proctor School. School children from the south of town could also use the pathway for commuting. Connection south of the center would mean Wenham and Danvers residents could access the Topsfield Fairgrounds using alternate transportation.

            The Federal government is now working on the final stages of the national “Safe Routes to School” program. Our Topsfield rail trail would seem to be exactly what they have in mind. Passage of this bill should also come with funding which may be available to us. To make the Rt. 1 crossing safe a pedestrian controlled signal could be installed near the Topsfield Fairgrounds. If this signal was synchronized with the R. 97 signal there should be a negligible impact on travel flow. MassHighway consultants will shortly be studying this crossing as well as that for Rt. 97.


Present Condition of the Rail Trail

              The rail trail is now passable. Volunteers have mowed the entire length of the trail. The tracks are still in place over half the distance from the Wenham line to the parking lot by St. Rose Church in Topsfield. The section from the Wenham line to the crossing over Rt. 97 by the rear entrance of the Topsfield Fairgrounds is beautiful. One can ride a mountain bike or stroll alongside the rail. The steel bridge over the Ipswich River tributaries are in disrepair with the footing dangerous. There is also a wooden bridge going over to the Beverly – Salem Waterway canal. This canal fills Wenham lake with Salem' and Beverly’s drinking water. Walkers and joggers now use the dikes along the canal (over a mile in length). The tracks were overgrown most of the distance as they continue across Rt. 1 to the new parking lot for St. Rose Church but our volunteers have now cleared them. There is some construction debris on the tracks behind the Topsfield Fairgrounds which will be removed when necessary.

              The trail from Topsfield center to the Boxford line does not have tracks in place. Continuing behind the Proctor School the trail crosses Washington St. where there are wet sections, thorns and poison ivy (evidently the drainage ditches alongside the rails have not been maintained). Although the trail is difficult to traverse there are many foot paths created by our youth connecting to their homes and favorite destinations. This condition continues to Bare Hill Rd. This location is next to the rear entrance of Pye Brook Community Park. From Bare Hill Rd. to the Boxford line, just before the Pye Brook Lane crossing, the trail is dry and is easily traversed by mountain bike. There is currently no bridge crossing over Interstate 95. One has to either use Bare Hill Road to Depot Rd. or use Rt. 97 to Depot Rd.


Concerns about the new pathway

            The town should consider the possibility of increased traffic through town. If only the section from the center to the new recreational park is developed it is doubtful that the pathway users will be from outside Topsfield. If the whole 4 miles is developed connecting Wenham to Boxford, it is to be expected that people from outside Topsfield would use the pathway. Using a formula derived from the Minuteman Bikeway, the Ashuwillticuck Trail, and the Burlington, Vt. path we estimate about 200 users will be on the TLC per 10 hour day.


            Trail Neighbor Concerns

·         Loss of Privacy– trail neighbors backyards, through which the abandoned rail trail passes, has probably seen very little use. It is understandable that they would have concerns about privacy losses. It may be possible to screen the trail from their view. Possibilities include fences and natural options, such as trees, shrubs, hedges and other plantings.

· Property values- how will they be affected? Many studies, including one from Lexington's Minuteman Bikeway show increased property values. At first neighbors put up fences blocking their properties from the pathways, now most have come down and walkways have been built leading directly to bikeway. Few properties have no access to the Bikeway.

·             Liability- Massachusetts has "recreational use" statutes on the books. Under these statutes, no private landowner is liable for recreational injuries resulting from mere carelessness of the trail users. In 2004 the State passed Chapter 82 Section 35a giving the same kind of protection to towns operating rail trails. Contamination from rail road operations have also been a concern. Amendments to State law 21E has provided adequate protections.

·             Vandalism, graffiti, dumping and personal crime- Well-used and maintained trails with clear rules and regulations governing the use of the corridor (including no motorized vehicle use and a dawn to dusk curfew) have to be established. Nationally, there have been some incidents, but they are rare. The abandoned trails in some towns have been a haven for rowdy youths and trouble spots in conjunction with the Topsfield Fair.. With the construction of a recreation path access to those areas will be fast allowing the authorities to gain access quickly. With a flow of trail users the trail will also be “self-policing.


Pathway Activities In Nearby Towns        

· Danvers- a 22% return on a questionnaire indicated a 3:1 margin in favor of developing abandoned rail trails and power line right-of-ways. Danvers has signed a lease with the MBTA for the trail.

· Peabody- received $1,000,000 ISTEA grant to plan a 6.5 mile trail. It is now under construction and should be completed soon.

· Marblehead and Salem- completed an extensive trail along the Salem harbor side to the Swampscott line.

· Newbury- received approval to use ISTEA funds for recreational paths.

· Newburyport– has recently completed some trails and are momentarily expected to sign a lease with the MBTA.

· Malden to Everett– The “Bike to the Sea” trail now has $1.3 million in federal funding. See

· Amesbury to Salisbury–Newburyport see for this partially constructed trail.