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Trails Committee discusses its role in UCTC reorganization, upcoming projects

by | Aug 10, 2023 | Featured: News, News

The Trails Committee (formerly known as the Trail Coordination and Management Committee) met for nearly two hours Wednesday night to discuss its role in further discussions about the town’s efforts to reform the Upper Charles Trail Committee, as well as its own initiatives.

On Aug 1, the Select Board voted unanimously to allow the UCTC to remain a separate committee focused on planning the Upper Charles Trail, which would connect Milford to Ashland through Hopkinton. But it will be restructured with fewer members and a revised charge.

Chair Peter LaGoy noted that the Select Board sought the advice of the TCMC on the reconfiguration of the UCTC as the “trail content expert.” But at that meeting, he was not allowed to share the TCMC’s perspective or information about the Trails Committee’s own revised name and charge because public comment was not allowed.

“I brought information to share with them about our vote,” said LaGoy. “They had no interest in listening to it, unfortunately.”

He added that the Select Board proposed a joint meeting with the UCTC and the Trails Committee to formulate a strategy for moving forward. LaGoy sought input from the Trails Committee members on whether the entire committee should participate in this meeting.

Said LaGoy: “This isn’t our fight.”

LaGoy presented Article 47 as a citizens petitioner at May’s Annual Town Meeting. It called for the disbandment of the current UCTC and its restructuring as a TCMC subcommittee. The nonbinding article received a 158-61 vote of approval. He stressed during the meeting that he was the one who put forth the article, not the TCMC.

He noted that Trails Committee members joined this committee to build trails and encourage their use — not to become involved in “a political battle.”

Member Linda Chuss said the people who signed the citizens petition should be involved in the upcoming discussion, as well as the Trails Club. She also believed the Trails Committee also should come to the table as “the overarching advisory committee” because of the recommendations it put forward.

Because of the overwhelming Town Meeting vote in support of Article 47, member Chuck Dauchy said the public should be included as well.

Member Janine LeBlanc added that she seemed as if the two groups were portrayed as being against one another and are now being asked to “make peace” through a moderator.

LaGoy noted that the Trails Committee is redoing its charge, and it proposed changes to the UCTC’s charge that mirror those changes, such as membership size and the role of liaisons.

Member Krisanne Campos said she felt like the results of the vote on Article 47 were “not really taken to heart” by the Select Board when it made its decision.

Said Campos: “I think that’s the most egregious thing that’s happened.”

Members agreed that the Trails Committee should attend the meeting in an advisory capacity, but that interested parties should be able to participate as well. Dauchy said that this would allow the town to meet the intent of the Town Meeting vote.

“Do not ask the Trails Committee to sit in place of the citizens who petitioned,” stressed Chuss regarding the Select Board’s decision. “Do not ask us to represent them. That’s not our job.”

She added that Select Board member Shahidul Mannan made the strongest arguments during the Select Board meeting for the UCTC to become a Trails Committee subcommittee, stressing the overall vision for trail connectivity in town. After Select Board discussion, he voted in favor of the UCTC remaining separate in a unanimous vote.

LaGoy acknowledged that Select Board members used ideas that the Trails Committee put forward about the number of UCTC members and the role of liaisons. He will draft a response to the Select Board articulating the Trails Committee’s perspective on the issue.

The Trails Committee also continued to discuss revisions to its charge. LaGoy had presented a draft composed from notes from the last meeting. Language was discussed about the hiring of contractors for trail-related work as well as about grant applications.

UCTC draft charge reviewed

In tandem with the revision of its charge, the Trails Committee has been working on revised language to the UCTC charge in its advisory role to the Select Board. LaGoy said that a lot of the language is similar for both charges, and the UCTC language proposed would work for the UCTC whether it remains a committee or becomes a Trails Committee subcommittee.

This discussion prompted concerns about who will be members of the new iteration of the UCTC. Members made it clear that they did not want the UCTC to continue to be run in ways that spurred the efforts to dissolve and reform it. Chuss said this point should be raised at the upcoming joint meeting.

“I don’t mind expressing that we don’t want the same problems to develop,” said Chuss. “If there are people who have not listened or who have been responsible for some of these things, that should be a consideration when appointments are made.”

The Select Board is charged with appointing members of the UCTC.

Dauchy expressed a desire for a TCMC member to be on the UCTC, but members appeared skeptical about a UCTC member serving on their committee due to what could be a lack of knowledge about its goals.

While she agreed with the idea, Campos questioned whether that, in essence, would make the UCTC “a de facto subcommittee” of the Trails Committee.

Dauchy said the Trails Committee should have input about major UCTC expenditures and grant applications. However, because the Trails Committee’s expenses are minimal in comparison, he feared that a two-thirds consensus vote of both boards on expenditures could hamstring the Trails Committee’s projects. He suggested that language be added that the Trails Committee must appoint the UCTC member for its committee.

LaGoy added that a concern is when both committees compete for grants. This happened previously when the UCTC won a MassTrails grant for an engineering study for Segment 6 of the proposed trail, which potentially would go behind Marathon School. This idea was opposed by the School Committee. LaGoy said that because the UCTC is working on a regional trail, it gives that committee “a leg up” in the awarding of state grants.

Chuss said a two-thirds required vote by both committees could lead to a “stalemate.”

Longtime UCTC member Ken Parker said he was concerned that the appearance of making the UCTC “subservient” to the Trails Committee “would set a bad precedent” for other town committees.

Said Parker: “It’s going to cause people to not want to participate on any committees in town.”

“This is a very unique situation,” LaGoy pointed out. He will draft the recommendations expressed at the meeting into a letter to the Select Board and the Town Manager.

Said LaGoy: “We can’t go back to what it was, because that’s not progress.”

Leash policy on trails discussed

The group also continued to discuss whether dogs should be allowed to be off leash on town trails. LaGoy brought up that a chicken recently had been attacked by an unleashed dog on a trail. While a town leash law exists, it is relatively unenforced.

Members suggested that there could be potential days and times when dogs could be unleashed. It will be further explored at the next meeting in September.

Family trail walk popular

Chuss told the committee about the successful family-friendly trail walk on Thursday at Hughes Farm. About 30 people — and a few goats — attended the event, which was cosponsored by the Trails Club and the Hopkinton Public Library.

She added that a fall walk is in the planning stages, which would incorporate crafting and the use of leaves found during the walk.

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