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Dispatch From Upper Falls - The Upper Falls Greenway

It’s time to turn a trash strewn wasteland into a park – for free !

For as long as anyone can remember there’s been an abandoned railroad line running through Upper Falls.  The Depot Café on Chestnut St was originally the train depot for this long gone train line.  Once upon a time this rail line connected with what is now the T’s Riverside line at Newton Highlands.  Today the abandoned tracks start behind National Lumber on Needham St near Newton Highlands and continue behind Needham St, across the Charles River, across Rt 128 and on into Needham.

A local volunteer group, The Newton Bicycle Pedestrian Task Force, has put together a plan over the last few years to convert this trash strewn neglected strip into the Upper Falls Greenway – a mile+ long park for safely walking, jogging and bicycling.  Better yet, they have a plan to do this at no expense to the City of Newton.

The plan works like this.  The T, who owns the property, would give a long term lease to the strip to the City of Newton for $1.  The city would then turn the property over to Iron Horse Preservation, a national non-profit that has been converting railroads to recreational paths all over the country.  Iron Horse comes in and removes the old obsolete steel tracks and the railroad ties.  They sell the scrap material and use the proceeds to pay for grading and simple paving (crushed stone surface) of the new path.  Once done, Iron Horse turns the completed park over to the city, which would then be responsible for only the ongoing maintenance of the trail.   

The only major obstacle to this plan is the clock – and it’s ticking.  Iron Horse will do a conversion like this for free under two conditions.  You must have more than one mile of track (we do) and they must already have their heavy equipment in our state for another job (they do).  They’ll be working in Mass for the coming year on another project so we would need to take care of our end of business within the year.  Most of the work that needs to be done from the city’s end is regulatory/legal work.  While a year may seem like a long time, when dealing with multiple regulatory and the city agencies it can sometime seem more like the blink of an eye.

I started a petition a few weeks ago as a way to gauge whether there is neighborhood support for the idea and the results so far have been startling positive from nearly everyone I’ve spoken to, including abutters, Upper Falls residents, our local aldermen, the incoming Upper Falls Area Council members and people across the city.

The last few years have been a difficult time due to the economic climate and associated budget woes.  Many worthwhile projects and initiatives cannot even be considered due to financial constraints.  The Upper Falls Greenway though is a rare opportunity to quickly and cheaply build a substantial new park and do it with near unanimous public support.  Let’s make this happen !

If you’d like to sign the petition, particularly if you are an abutter or an Upper Falls resident, send me an email at JerReilly@yahoo.com.  If you have any comments, concerns, or questions just post them below or contact me directly if you prefer.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

CAL December 15, 2011 at 04:18 PM
First of all, Lois and others such as myself do live in the Upper Falls and want nothing but good for the community and the city. If someone doesn't agree with your plan....they are now a "Detractor".....lol! You are ebntitled to your opinion but you are really being quite self centered about what the people who live along it or deal with the daily traffic nigtmares don't want. Such a proposal is so fragmented with ZERO FUNDING to keep it maintained and you can add to that that the T can take it back at any time.... I am looking at the short and long term values of such a project and this one is ill conceived with no value whatsover to the community nor its abutters.
Mick Shrimpton December 15, 2011 at 05:31 PM
Lois Levin, the head of "Bike Newton" and a member of the city's Transportation Advisory Committee, lives on Chestnut Street in Waban. She wrote an editorial in the Tab against the Upper Falls Greenway Project, as well as negatively commenting on Jerry's blog (see above). She does not live in Upper Falls. That's who I was referring to. I believe you are referring Lois Coen, who also responded to Jerry's blog. So we're both correct. I'll say it again - if this abandoned rail bed ran through the middle of Waban (or Newton Center or Chestnut Hill), it would have been turned into a tax-payer funded bike path a long time ago.
Jerry Reilly December 16, 2011 at 07:05 PM
I just noticed this sentence in Jim Lowernstern's real estate blog on the Patch - (http://newton.patch.com/blog_posts/five-points-to-ensure-your-home-retains-value) "A good location is ...close to outdoor recreation and nature .... Red flags to watch for when browsing property are proximity .... railroad tracks"
CAL December 16, 2011 at 08:29 PM
You can spin this all you want...but due to the fact that T can take this property back in its entirety at any point it feels like it....this is all moot. In fact for definition purposes, this will always be considered T Track Property with or without tracks. There are plenty of other better suited areas than this to go ride your bike, enjoy!
Adam Powell January 16, 2012 at 02:29 PM
What an interesting discussion. I am an Upper Falls resident on Chestnut St and am very much in favor of the Upper Falls Greenway. When I walk or bike to International Bicycle, the bookstore, Skipjack's etc., I look forward to having it as a safer, cleaner, and much more pleasant route than dodging cars at every single parking lot entrance along Needham St. I am confused by some posters who alternately say that the T is going to build a line on the track from Newton Highlands to Needham Heights, and then talk about how it's impossible to preserve the right-of-way because the bridges over the Charles and 95/128 are going away. In an era of cutbacks when the T is planning to scale back or eliminate bus service to much of Newton, including the #59 through Upper Falls, it's hard to see them having any money to put in a rail line. Furthermore, if a rail line is possible -- and I would welcome it -- we need to preserve the right of way from encroachments such as that of National Lumber. For any of these scenarios, whether a T line or an extended bike/walking path, the Upper Falls Greenway is the best start to keeping this important right-of-way open for public use. It would discourage other squatters, and encourage Needham residents to lobby for a path extension -- or at least to plan one, including preserving or upgrading the river and highway crossings.

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