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Leaders plan to spruce up walking trail
OVERGROWN — Community leaders are still in the planning stages of trying to develop a more user-friendly Norway Branch Railroad walking trail, which begins on Beal Street in Norway behind the Norway Fire Department. Once developed, the idea is to provide a safe and attractive walking trail for pedestrians.
NOT VERY WIDE — A stretch of the Norway Branch Railroad Trail. Lee Dassler of Western Foothills Land Trust has submitted a grant to help conduct a feasibility study of the trail to determine which resources are needed to make it more user-friendly.
NORWAY — Community leaders have been thinking of ways to make the old Norway Branch Railroad Trail more user-friendly.
The one-person-wide half-mile trail begins on Beal Street in Norway behind the fire station, would connect to the Riverside and Viking trails and end by the First Congregational Church in Paris on Route 117. The distance is 2.27 miles.
The hope is to revitalize the Norway Branch Railroad Trail and eventually extend it, said Brenda Melhus, Norway Downtown's design committee chair, who is spearheading the project.
"We would like to open up that trail again," said Melhus. The trail has been narrowed to a small path and is overgrown with plants. "There isn't a clear path," she said.
Melhus said the idea is to provide a safe walking trail for pedestrians. She said there is also a plan to build a sidewalk that extends from downtown Norway to Lake Pennesseewassee Park.
Once developed, the sidewalk will provide a safe and attractive route for pedestrians to access the park and nearby trails at Roberts Farm Preserve. It would also connect to the Riverside and Viking trails that run between Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School and Oxford Hills Middle School in Paris, Melhus said.
"The idea is, if we open up the Norway Branch Roalroad Trail then people would be able to walk safely from the First Congregational Church in South Paris all the way to Pennessewassee Park, if we are able to build that sidewalk as well," Melhus explained.
Melhus said years ago a group at OHCHS tried to fix up the trail but was not successful – their trail design could not be easily achieved.
"They wanted lighting and little more extensive trail work," said Melhus.
According to Ken Morse, director of Healthy Oxford Hills, the town received a Community Development Block Grant for the trail work, but the trail's abutters did not approve at the time.
"We are just looking right now at the options of what we can do with the trail as far as making it easier for people to use," said Melhus.
Morse said the trail is not in "horrible" condition, but admits that it does need some work.
"It's not a very developed trail," he said.
Lee Dassler, of Western Foothills Land Trust, who has experience in trail maintenance, said she will conduct a feasibility study of the trail and see what work lies ahead, hopefully with help from a grant.
"I believe it will encompass surveying the Norway Branch Railroad corridor," said Dassler, "and finding exactly what the ownership situation is of the corridor."
"We need to map exactly where the rails are, how many rails there are, how many ties, where encroachments happened along the corridor," she explained. "We have to inventory everything."
"It's so the community can look at it and say, 'these are our options and this is where we could put a trail,' whether that involves moving the rails or keeping them," said Dassler. "Who knows – this is just the beginning."
Plans to open up the trail have been discussed for about a year, said Melhus, but with help from others she hopes the project can finally move forward.
Dassler said the project will take a lot of effort from many groups, including the Department of Environmental Protection.
"There's an enormous wetlands," she said. "So it's how do you respect the biological integrity of the wetlands and not impact it negatively with a trail."
Dassler said people currently walk the old railroad bed – she said she wouldn't even call it a trail yet. "I would call it a path right now," she said. "It's a passable railroad bed that's used by a lot of people."
"It is easily a wonderful opportunity for an enriched trail," Dassler added.
But currently, she said, it's not a consistent walking path and there is not enough room for someone in a wheelchair or even a stroller to pass. "There are a lot of people that currently would not be able to utilize the path," she explained.
"The plan is to make it walkable all the way to Pennesseewassee Park, along the lake, to Main Street Norway and with this rail trail ... you could go from farmers market to farmers market, if you wanted."
"There is a trend now for people to get out and walk for exercise," said Melhus, "and what we are hoping is to have another option for people to be able to get out and walk without having to walk on the street."
She said it will also be a collaboration with the trail's abutters – the plan, she said, is to involve everyone. "We don't want people to think we are just coming in and changing things and aren't respecting them," she said.
According to Dassler, partners in the grant include the Norway Branch Railroad Board of Directors, Western Foothills Land Trust, Norway Downtown, Healthy Oxford Hills, 5210 Let's Go! and the Town of Norway.
"People use it already," said Melhus of the railroad trail. "We just want to make it more accessible and user-friendly."