The Upper Charles Trail Committee at its meeting Wednesday night unanimously approved a list of 10 priorities on which the group will focus during the 2023 fiscal year, with members choosing where to devote their energies as part of two-person working groups.
Member Eli Post noted that the first five goals had been approved by the Upper Charles Trail Committee (UCTC) at its last meeting. They included resubmitting an application for a MassTrails grant for the trail section spanning from East Main Street to Hopkinton State Park as well as working with the 26.2 Foundation and the newly created Americans with Disabilities Act Oversight Committee to ensure trail accessibility.
Other previously approved objectives included reviewing projects that might be eligible for funding through applications to the Community Preservation Committee for funding via the Community Preservation Act (CPA) as well as identifying which trail route segments would be eligible for feasibility or pre-feasibility studies, such as Echo Trail going north toward Route 85.
Said Post: “I just want to say something that’s obvious: These goals are not self-executing, and wishing them doesn’t make them true.”
Another important “overall goal,” according to UCTC Chair Jane Moran, is to simplify the presentation of route segments to make it more easily understandable to the community and encourage public participation in the process.
“We’ve always done them in the past,” she said of outlining the committee’s goals. “But I think the challenge this year is that the progress we’ve made over the past two years has been tremendous. We need to keep up with that and recognize that.”
In tandem with this objective, UCTC Treasurer Scott Knous, a new committee member, recommended providing updates to the public to increase transparency. While some members thought the meeting minutes accomplished that, Knous said he proposed this to “manage the expectations of the general public” so that citizens can receive regular updates on where projects stand.
“It’s more of just creating a timeline,” he explained, noting that citizens have asked for more accountability since December to better understand the progress being made by the committee as it happens.
Vice Chair Eric Sonnett agreed with the concept “as long as we are not setting firm targets for timelines.”
“It’s more just keeping it in the forefront of the public’s eyes that we are working on it,” Knous continued, “as opposed to, ‘We’ll get back to you.’ ”
Ramping up public engagement was another key aspect the committee will focus on this fiscal year. Post said there had been a “poor showing” at the UCTC’s spring workshop. He hoped future events would garner more participation. Prioritizing any open issues before the committee also was on the to-do list, as well as preparing design recommendations for trail segments for the Select Board to review and reviewing the east-west trail approach.
The one item that did not receive support at this time was the creation of a Friends of the Upper Charles Trail Committee. Knous said that goal may be a bit premature. Member Cynthia Esthimer, the designee from the Parks & Recreation Commission, pointed out that neighboring communities (Milford, Ashland and Holliston) have similar groups for their sections. Post said the Milford friends group “had fallen apart” and that organizations like these are difficult to sustain. However, it could be a future objective.
Members identified which projects they had the most interest in pursuing on a deeper level, with two people assigned to each issue at this point. Moran said that rather than prioritizing one goal over another, members “could take off and run with different aspects so they’re all important.” The subgroups will report back to the full committee.
During liaison reports, member Ken Parker said he attended a Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) meeting recently at the dam at Hopkinton State Park. Representatives from several Middlesex County communities attended. Parker said the two delegates from Framingham expressed an interest in the city “being a hub for the trail system.”
“They’re interested in having trails go across all those dikes,” he explained. “And they also have the Cochituate Trail on the eastern side of Framingham going into Natick.”
On the other hand, Sonnett said Southborough has been “very, very, very uncooperative,” refusing to contribute funds for the purchase of granite for a joint arch bridge project along a trail connecting the towns. One bridge is in Hopkinton while the other is in Southborough.
“We just took the mature approach and said, “The hell with them,” he said. “We’re just going to continue this thing through.”
The next UCTC meeting will take place Sept. 21 at 7 p.m.