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UCTC supports inclusion of town in MetroWest effort to join East Coast Greenway

by | Mar 16, 2023 | Featured: News, News

The Upper Charles Trail Committee at its meeting Wednesday night voted unanimously in favor of a proposed concept that would connect Hopkinton and several neighboring MetroWest communities to the East Coast Greenway.

Trial advocate Joel Arbeitman, the chair of the Ashland UCTC, described the possibility of Hopkinton, Ashland, Milford, Holliston, Sherborn and Framingham becoming part of the East Coast Greenway, a walking and biking corridor that spans 3,000 miles from Florida to Maine. About one-third of this is offroad trails.

“About 2,000 miles of it is a horror show,” he said with a laugh. “You’re riding along busy roads.”

Arbeitman explained that he and others, including Eli Post from the Hopkinton UCTC, have formed the MetroWest Greenway Coalition in an effort to link the Upper Charles Trail from Milford northward to Framingham through the adjoining communities he mentioned that would “have a very significant impact on Hopkinton and Ashland.”

Said Arbeitman:“What’s missing right now is a link from Framingham.”

In order to connect to the Framingham commuter rail station, nearby parcels owned by the CSX rail company would need to be acquired by the state, totaling about 2.5 miles. It is sometimes used for train storage.

He asked the committee to consider advocating for this purchase with state Senate President Karen Spilka and state Rep. James Arena-DeRosa while the other communities approach their legislators. Framingham, Arbeitman said, “is on board” with the idea. Framingham Mayor Charlie Sisitsky has met with the MetroWest Greenway Coalition a few times.

The idea still is in its conceptual stages, according to Arbeitman. The purchase price is unknown at this time.

“If they don’t want to sell, it’s going to be a long wait,” he said. “But there is a lot of reason for hope.”

There had been a previous proposal to sell the property before that fell through, he added.

The other concept he pushed was for “route parity” for Hopkinton and Ashland. Currently in Sherborn there is one trail branch that connects to Ashland and Hopkinton and another that links Sherborn to Holliston. The two branches meet in Milford and form a 30-mile loop.

The Hopkinton and Ashland connector is underutilized because people cannot get to Framingham, he said. Acquiring the CSX land would solve that problem. He stressed that the legislators “need to do everything they can” to make sure bikers and walkers would be directed to the Hopkinton-Ashland side of the trail system.

A rotary with maps and signage to direct people toward Hopkinton and Ashland would need to be included, which Arbeitman called “a no-brainer.”

Said Arbeitman: “It can be transitional for towns.”

Chair Jane Moran said there would be “more leverage for the state” if all the communities were unified in advocating for purchasing these parcels. She noted that Hopkinton is crucial because it is the starting point of the Boston Marathon and a tourist attraction.

“What do they have against us that they wouldn’t include us in the planning stages?” questioned member Eric Sonnett.

“The reason we haven’t encountered resistance is we haven’t really pushed this yet,” Arbeitman replied. He wanted to make certain that Hopkinton wanted to be connected to a national trail before he proceeded.

The group agreed that the concept was promising and voted to support the idea moving forward with the inclusion of the “parity trail” for Hopkinton and Ashland. Moran stressed that this is “a conceptual design” that merits “an ongoing discussion.” The committee will draft a letter expressing its support to the legislators.

Committee begins discussions on north segment of trail

At the previous meeting, the seven segments of the trail were divided into three sections to facilitate discussion. The committee began discussing the north section, which would connect Hopkinton State Park to the downtown area.

Moran noted that at least two alternatives would need to be presented to the Select Board. A concern was raised about how a route to Legacy Farms North would affect developer Roy MacDowell’s plans. Moran said that in previous conversations that “he is willing to work hand in hand with us to develop the trail when we decide where it will go.”

Community engagement effort moves forward

Member Cynthia Esthimer told the committee that she has updated the UCTC handouts and trifold brochure. She showed a brochure draft to members, noting that she is hoping to engage stakeholders, including older residents and bikers. The materials are an opportunity to describe the group’s history while seeking new input and clear up any “public confusion on where we’re at.”

She added that she has been talking about the UCTC to people at the Senior Center and proposed drafting a simple survey to gauge their interest.

The group will discuss this further at its next meeting on April 10 at 6:30 p.m. Moran said the committee also will discuss the UCTC’s response to the citizens’ petitions regarding its potential disbandment and reformation as a subcommittee of the Trails Management Coordination Committee. The committee will have the opportunity to present its viewpoint at Annual Town Meeting on May 1 before a vote is taken.

3 Comments

  1. Peter LaGoy

    The Metrowest Greenway Coalition is focused on the east side of the Upper Charles Trail (UCT) for the East Coast Greenway because 10 miles are complete, and only a relatively short section in Sherborn and Framingham are needed to meet the East Coast Greenway’s goal of off-road trail. Adding a Hopkinton/Ashland/Framingham option, Mr. Arbeitman’s “route parity” is a good idea and easy to do but after the UCT loop is completed in Hopkinton, Ashland, and Framingham. Therefore, as a member of the coalition, I support a focus on the east side at this time, and a stepwise approach.
    I would also note this is one more reason the UCTC should be part of the townwide Trails Committee (TCMC), as the Greenway would ultimately be under the townwide Trails Committee’s charge.

    • Jane Moran

      Here’s my take on the “we can do route parity later” approach.

      Right now we have leverage with the MetroWest Greenway Coalition. They want our support when they approach the legislature. Later, in two years or five or ten when our trails are finished, that group probably won’t even exist. Their mission is to acquire the CSX tracks.

      Sure, we can go back to the legislature and ask then to “impose” rotaries in Sherborn and Milford. Sure we can approach the East Coast Greenway Alliance, i.e., the national organization, and ask them to include Hopkinton and Ashland branch of the Upper Charles Trail as part of the national trail. But coming in after the Greenway is already established is going to be an uphill battle. It is much better to incorporate our objectives into the planning from day one than it will be to play catch-up.

      And what are we really asking for? We still will have a “stepwise” process which is a term Peter used. We are also calling for a stepwise process but not as he defines it. First, get the CSX tracks and then finish the trails in Hopkinton and Ashland. No problem there. But this misses the essential point. What we’re asking for, while we still have leverage, is a commitment, today, from everyone involved that route parity will be baked into the planning from day one.

      This includes three key elements: commitment from all parties to route parity, rotaries shown on all planning maps in Sherborn (at the Ashland Trail intersection) and in Milford (near the Route 16 trail branch) and signage at both Hopkinton and Ashland intersections. Nothing in this approach precludes a “stepwise” implementation: certain elements, specifically the CSX acquisition, will happen now. But the commitment to route parity with planning for the two rotaries and signage should also happen now. A “stepwise” approach is fine for implementation, but the implementation should be guided by a “masterplan” that needs to be put in place today and endorsed by all parties. The time to ensure that Hopkinton and Ashland are treated fairly in the process is now; not later.

      It was for this reason that the Hopkinton Upper Charles Trail Committee took the lead and voted unanimously to support the masterplan concept, clearly for the betterment and benefit of ALL our Hopkinton residents.

  2. Peter LaGoy

    As a member, I understand that the mission of the Metrowest Greenway Coalition goes well beyond simply obtaining access over the CSX parcel and focuses broadly on the value and connectivity of regional trails. This of course includes the Upper Charles Trail in Hopkinton and Ashland; the reason we were included as part of the coalition. That said, in approaching legislators who have limited time, adding topics like rotaries and signs can distract from the primary focus, obtaining a key piece of land.

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