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.