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Future of Upper Charles Trail Committee to be considered by Select Board on Tuesday

by | May 4, 2023 | Featured: News, News

The future of the Upper Charles Trail Committee is to be discussed at the Select Board meeting on Tuesday, May 9, after Town Meeting overwhelmingly approved of the committee’s abolishment by voting in favor of a non-binding article.

Article 47, which town counsel deemed only advisory, calls for the UCTC to be abolished in its current form and reconstructed of a subcommittee of the Trails Coordination and Management Committee. Article 48, which is binding but not permanent, calls for the ceasing of spending of taxpayer funds on the controversial Segment 7, proposed to run along Hayden Rowe and cross it at three points. It also passed by a wide margin. Both articles were proposed by TCMC chair Peter LaGoy as a private citizen.

“I am planning to put a brief discussion about it on the [May 9] Select Board agenda and hope to figure out a starting point for how we want to begin to move forward after the votes,” Select Board chair Amy Ritterbusch wrote in a May 3 email to The Hopkinton Independent. “I will have to see what everyone feels will be the best course of action.

“I will say that none of the four Select Board members who were at Town Meeting [Irfan Nasrullah was sick] voted in favor of Article 47,” she continued. “I will add that I think having these two public votes on record will be very helpful for the Select Board in their decision-making process.”

In a phone interview with the Independent on Wednesday, UCTC chair Jane Moran discussed the committee’s future and why it took previous actions.

“The UCTC is charged by the Select Board to build a trail from Milford to Ashland through Hopkinton, a multi-path trail that people of all abilities can access,” she said. “Our job is to think about the broader community and at the same time build upon the scope of our work.”

Moran noted that three members of the nine-member committee have terms that will expire on June 30. This potentially could change the composition of the UCTC.

Said Moran: “If the Select Board is not happy with the current members, it can appoint others. They can say, ‘You put up a tough fight, but the committee will move forward with the charge they’re given.’ ”

She added that the infusion of three new members over the past year has increased the UCTC’s energy and focus. But these members — Scott Knous and alternate members Jamie Wronka and Timothy Ritterbusch (Amy’s husband) — may not be aware of the UCTC’s history over the past decade, Moran explained.

“There is a learning curve that can take several years,” she said.

The major challenge faced by the UCTC, Moran indicated, is that Hopkinton State Park is on the western side of town, making it difficult to link with the eastern side.

“If we stay along the western side, the reality is that we’re going to have to build a bridge to Milford,” she said.

Segment 6, which was proposed to go behind school property but was resoundingly rejected by the School Committee last year, “would have been dynamite in a good way” because it would have provided trail access to that area, particularly for young people who want to continue to EMC Park, Moran said. She added that Segment 7 also would have benefited the community by linking it to the Milford bike trail.

“We were trying to get kids into safe passage,” Moran said. “Folks clearly said they don’t like it. What they don’t seem to understand is that 70% of the trails go through the woods.”

Asked whether she would continue to serve as chair, Moran said that the UCTC usually votes on its board positions in June.

Said Moran: “I will keep serving until somebody tells me I’m fired.”

She added that she invited LaGoy to the next UCTC meeting on May 17 to see how the UCTC and the TCMC can move forward in partnership.

“We are still an active and viable committee,” she stressed. “It is so sad that we got caught in the middle of this issue with Segment 7. We are not engineers. We are not going to be solving this in five or even 10 years. Do people want to keep fighting, or do they want to get together?”

In a Zoom interview on Wednesday, LaGoy said the majority view of residents regarding the UCTC was apparent given that 72% of Town Meeting members voted for Article 47.

“I think the Select Board and town staff got a pretty clear indication of the will of the town,” he said. “I think that’s kind of the key thing to keep reminding them.”

During the week before Town Meeting, LaGoy said he spoke briefly with Town Manager Norman Khumalo and Assistant Town Manager Elaine Lazarus via phone and was told that town counsel considered Article 47 to be advisory.

“My read of it says ‘may,’ ” he said. ’ It doesn’t say ‘may only use the bylaw approach.’ ”

“The reality is this is such a rare situation where you might replace a whole committee like this that there’s no way to write a law that’s completely bulletproof,” LaGoy added, comparing it to the short-term rental article also debated at Town Meeting. “The Select Board has to act on that based on the will of the people.”

He noted that the TCMC, which he said is being renamed the Trails Committee, came about when the UCTC became inundated with questions about trails across town that were not relevant to the creation of an Upper Charles Trail. He added there are seven Trails Committee members as well as five alternate slots that have never been filled that current UCTC members potentially could hold.

Said LaGoy: “The Trails Committee is supposed to be the umbrella organization, and it is, with the exception of this other committee.”

LaGoy noted that the UCTC was formed in 2012 after he led the work to create the Center Trail.

“I decided not to be on it at the time because I was looking to just be building trails,” he said.

LaGoy added that he would step down as Trails Committee chair if the UCTC subcommittee idea is approved so that he could chair the subcommittee, if that was the will of the Select Board. He stressed his ability to compromise while working on the creation of the Hughes Trail, pulling it back from the neighborhood after residents raised concerns.

“I think we’re at a point now where we’re sort of working on the communication end of things,” he said. His vision is to engage younger members with families who tend to communicate more via social media.

Asked whether he would attend the next UCTC meeting, LaGoy said, “I’m certainly thinking about it and probably will attend. But at the end of the day, it’s going to be a Select Board decision as to where things sit.”

3 Comments

  1. Sally Snyder

    It’s unfortunate that the Hopkinton Select Board shirked their management responsibilities with regard to the Upper Charles Trail Committee.

    This committee was appointed by the Select Board and given a specific assignment. The committee is charged with identifying routes for a multiuse trail connecting with Milford and Ashland. And in addition they are to use the existing Center Trail. The committee has spent 11 years exploring routes.

    If the Select Board was dissatisfied with the progress of the committee, they could have had a discussion with them. Instead they allowed a dispute between town volunteers to simmer and erupt at our recent town meeting.

    Volunteers are the energy that keeps our democracy going. They are a valuable resource and should be treated with curtesy and respect.

    The challenge now is to restore a civil process and establish trust so that the work of building a multiuse trail can be completed. It is a complex charge with no current solution. There are lots of facts, ideas, views and not in my back, or front, yard sentiment.

    Communication, compromise and trust building are required if we are to have this trail.

    Sally Snyder
    Former Selectman

  2. Aaron T

    Listening to the public comment at Town Meeting as someone with almost no context for issue, it seemed like there was a lot of intense anger and deep negative emotion on display in a lot of the comments made. It seemed odd, if not troubling, that a topic like establishing recreational trails should illicit feelings that bitter. If tensions are really that high, then maybe the Town would be best served if this whole effort was tabled for year or two. If the committee is disbanded, don’t reform it right away. As stated multiple times in the meeting, this effort may take another decade. Let everyone cool down and re-form the committee with neutral people not entrenched in foxholes or carrying all that emotional baggage into the next push. I’m not sure those attitudes can produce the best outcomes now. We need to be ready to exchange the swords we are carrying now for plowshares before we can move forward.

    • Zenith

      Sounds like a great way to continue to accomplish nothing. Thanks Aaron.

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