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January 09. 2013 10:16PM

Londonderry Trailways works to boost public support

LONDONDERRY - In an effort to increase public support for the completion of the town's Rail Trail, members of the Londonderry Trailways organization have submitted a citizen's petition to appear on the March ballot.

During Monday night's town council meeting, Trailways Vice President Sandra Lagueux and club member Bob Rimol shared details of the nonbinding warrant article, aimed at assisting the organization with its fundraising goals and giving club members a glimpse at the level of public support.

Incorporated in 1999, Londonderry Trailways was authorized by the town council to research ways to turn the town's former railway corridor into a passive recreation area in 2010. Once completed, the former railway beds will be converted into a 6.4-mile long, 10-foot-wide paved pathway, connecting to similar projects in Derry, Windham and Manchester. Rimol said that last year the club signed an agreement with the state Department of Transportation, which owns most of the land in question, and the project has made headway in recent months. A $10,000 self-funded preliminary engineering study gave the group a snapshot overview of project costs, and volunteers have been hard at work clearing the trail and removing debris.

A $20,000 N.H. Recreational Trails grant was awarded to the group in 2012 to complete grading along the trail. As a condition of the grant, the group was required to meet 20 percent, or $5,000, match requirement that they were able to fund privately.

Fundraising efforts began in earnest throughout the past year, Lagueux said, and to date the Trailways have received a total of $22,500 in state and local grants, $9,700 in citizen donations and $7,200 in corporate donations.

But late last month, those efforts were stalled when the group learned from the DOT that there would be no funds designated for grant programs in 2013. Lagueux said the grant funding that helped complete similar projects in Salem, Windham and Derry won't be a feasible option for Londonderry and the funds won't likely become available again until at least 2017.

"The idea of a citizen's petition came about for us to try and make notable progress without being tied down with the slow and low federal funding process," she said.

One large corporation in the area has expressed interest in sponsoring the project but would like to see concrete evidence of the finished project before committing. For that reason, Trailways officials are hoping to get enough funding to complete a "demonstration mile" of trail to boost public support. The non-binding warrant item will ask voters if they're in favor of allowing the Trailways to raise $227,000 through fundraising efforts.

That's enough money to complete a mile of trail stretching from Sanborn Road to Symmes Drive, an area that's easily accessible and located near the Park & Ride, Rimol said.

Converting Londonderry's entire 6-mile stretch of former railway beds to paved pedestrian trail will prove somewhat more difficult, he said, since the trail would somehow need to cross Route 28 in two sections, an expensive undertaking as the Trailways would need to build bridges, install a traffic light or create a new traffic circle.

"That's why our plan breaks the trail down into segments, and it's easiest now to go for the low-hanging fruit," Rimol said. "We're trying to squeeze blood from a stone right now. It all depends on whatever individual and corporate donations we can get."

Several residents seated in the audience voiced support for the project.

Dan Watson, who often rides his bike to work in the warmer months, said he already enjoys using the Derry and Windham trail segments on his way to his job in Massachusetts.

"As soon as that section was paved, I said great, what's next? That's the idea of a demonstration mile," he said. "There's just a whole host of benefits to doing this."

Stacy Thrall, who operates a home-based adult-day care center, said her clients would enjoy having this resource available locally as she already takes them for sunny-day strolls along the Windham and Derry trails.

"It would be so great to have this right here in Londonderry," she said.

For more information on the Londonderry Rail Trail, visit www.londonderrytrailways.org.

aguilmet@newstote.com


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