Welcome to the Mason Square Community Rail-Trail

In the heart of Springfield’s McKnight Neighborhood there is a long-forgotten railroad corridor that stretches around the neighborhood like a lucky horseshoe. Nestled between dozens of homes and Oak Grove Cemetery, industrial areas, and long tracts of hidden woods, lies a great opportunity for the McKnight Neighborood , the Mason Square Community, and the City of Springfield.

The abandoned rail corridor, now called the Mason Square Community Rail-Trail, is approximately two miles in length. The tracks have been removed, but the wooden rail ties still remain—now almost entirely hidden beneath the flora and fauna.

The former corridor is a testament to the great possibilities and diversity of the neighborhood and city. On portions of the trail there are no visible structures—only trees rise up quietly from rail banks that once rumbled with passing freight cars. What a blessing to be surrounded by nature, and to feel alone in a city of 150,000. Walk a little farther, and giant blue industrial fuel storage tanks rise up, a reminder of our city’s industrial past and present. An old train bridge still stands on its granite foundation, its steel girders waiting for new wooden planks to hold up hikers and bikers. A hawk circles over the dry grass and disappears into the woods. In a sense, the corridor is a linear park that gets few visitors, but has a growing fan base.

In brief, what we’re trying to do is to turn the abandoned rail line into a hiking and biking trail. A task no doubt easier said than done. We can do it, but we cannot do it alone. Go for a hike on this blog to learn more about the trail. If you would like to learn how you can get involved, please contact us—and don’t forget to take a virtual tour of the trail while you’re here.

The Arch of Recreation as seen by Urban Design Students

Students at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning, have provided the below images. Dubbed the Arch of Recreation by the urban design students, their representations of the trail reflect a creative and thoughtful approach to the corridor's full potential.

To see more of their work, scroll down and click on the slideshow.

This is a sketch of the gas storage tank between the trail and Albany Street. Like the slide show on this blog that has photos of the gas tank, this sketch also shows the potential beauty of the tanks.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

    In early November, my husband and I went to Leominster for the 1st Annual Massachusetts Trail Conference, sponsored by the MA Dept. of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) and the Massachusetts Recreational Trails Advisory Board (MARTAB).  The day was full of lots of good ideas from people who have successfully built trails in cities and towns throughout Massachusetts.  We are hoping to use their advice and ideas here in our neighborhood.   One of the best presentations was about the economic benefit of trails - increased property values and hikers who eat at restaurants (tourism).  I only hope that I can present this information to others as well as it was presented to me.
     Our Thanksgiving Day walk was on the Bay to St. James section of the rail trail - it was hit hard by the snowstorm just like the rest of the city.  The difference is that no clean up has been done there- lots of broken branches are lying on the trail.  It was a lot like walking in the woods.
     Having received the letter of support from the State Street Alliance, I have now submitted a new grant application to MassMutual.  Back in May or June, we were given a verbal promise of "some" funding contingent on the support of the State Street Alliance.   Now that we have the State Street Alliance on our side,
let's hope we get the funding for an engineering survey.  We don't expect to hear until at least March.
     While we wait, we will kick around ideas for smaller projects.  People keep asking me if we have done a title search.  I have been told that this might cost anywhere from $400 to $200,000 - maybe not a small project.  A simple search of state and federal databases for any record of reported environmental contamination might only cost about $500.  A recent suggestion is to put in a stone dust path on the trail behind and adjacent to Rebecca Johnson School.  Two arguments in favor of the stone dust path - one, a tangible beginning of the trail that has been talked about for almost two decades; two, the land is already owned by the city.
     Last winter I ventured onto the trail with my granddaughter.  It was hard because the snow was so deep that I kept falling through.  This year I am ready - I have snow shoes!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Grant application sumitted

Friday morning I submitted a grant application to WMECO.  They seemed interested in April when I first submitted our application.  Hopefully they are still interested.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Trail Update

This blog was started by Neil Greene, MNC trail coordinator, who was hired by the McKnight Neighborhood Council with the help of a grant from the Mason Square Health Task Force. He did some great work for us. He compiled a notebook of information that will guide me in the continuing work of making this rail trail a reality.
My name is Liz Stevens, McKnight Neighborhood resident and member of the McKnight Neighborhood resident. I refer to Neil's notebook on a regular basis as I continue the work that Neil started. This is my first attempt at blogging. For my next attempt I will try to add more pictures. Wish me luck!!

Since the last posting - May 2010 - lots of background work has been going on. The McKnight Neighborhood Council(MNC) is the organization that is working on this rail-trail. We continue to focus on the steps to build a trail: land acquisition, trail design, trail construction. At this point, the McKnight Neighborhood Council is focusing on the first phase - land acquisition. We will need to find the funds to purchase the land!
To put us in the position to ask people for the large amount of funds to buy the land from the railroad, we need to ask people for smaller amounts of funds for a land appraisal, environmental assessments, an engineering study and, maybe, a title search. We have started the process. The land appraisal was funded by Partners for a Healthier Community and has been completed. I should have the copies later today.
I have submitted 5 trail-related grant applications this year. Two organizations turned down our requests. Two organizations have given us promises which, hopefully, will come to fruition this year. The last organization should notify us soon one way or another. (We applied for a grant from them - Kodak American Greenways Foundation- last year, got turned down through a letter dated in September. We didn't hear from them yet - maybe that is a good sign.)
In the meantime, I have been learning more about creating a budget for this part of the work and putting together a few work projects.
April 30, 2011 was the 2011 Keep Springfield Beautiful Day. Our clean-up project was on a smaller scale than 2010 but we still accomplished a LOT of trash removal. We worked on a section located near the corner of Bay and Dawes Street, going south to the True Vine Pentecostal Church. We had about 20 volunteers that morning. If you haven't volunteered for Keep Springfield Beautiful day in the past, this is what happens. A wonderful group of volunteers spend a year planning how to get rid of all the trash that will get picked up. They get help from the city of Springfield and many private companies. They also plan how to provide lunch for the volunteers. Then they do the really hard part of arranging for GOOD WEATHER. Once again we were blessed with good weather. I got advice from my friend Mike Cass, the Springfield graffiti tsar, about how to organize our trash piles. We separated the trash into tires, metal, electronics and miscellaneous. By noon we had done our work and lunch was dropped off - yummy sandwiches, fruit, cookies and water.
At the recommendation of one of our potential grantors, in August I attended a meeting of the State Street Alliance. I asked for and received their support for this project. I am just waiting for that official letter of support but I have been assured that it is in the mail.
A fall clean-up project was held in conjunction with Springfield College Humanics in Action Day. Five students, one alumni, myself, and two of my granddaughters (Marion and Stephanie) removed stuff dumped on a section of the abandoned rail line that is accessible from Albany Street. Pieces of cabinet, electronic, fencing - that kind of stuff - was removed. Thanks to the city of Springfield, the stuff has been or will be hauled away. Then the city of Springfield or Buckeye Pipeline will block off that access to TRY to prevent more dumping.

Friday, May 21, 2010

May 1, Keep Springfield Beautiufl + Volunteers + Big Machines = A Clean and Beautiful Trail

Volunteers work had on May 1 to help keep Springfield beautiful...
A local boyscout troop lends a hand clearing the trail.
Scrap metal from the trail was collected and recycled by Mr. Gray and his hardworking Bobcat.
Machines made trail clearing a lot easier and the trail a great deal cleaner
Happy Trails To You....

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Here are Some Photos of our Recent Trail Cleaning. View the text below for information on our next workday.

Trail Work Underway

On April 10th, at the Bay to St. James section of the Highland Division rail trail, the weather was perfect and 9 people turned out ready to work: Steve Gray and his amazing bobcat, his friend Susan, Liz and Mike Stevens, Neil Greene, Elizabeth Lederman, Pat Scahill, Tim Kirk, Ed Kelly and Tony Anthony.

With the help of the bobcat, a chainsaw, two weedwackers, a few other tools and some hard work, the trail is now passable to pedestrians and a truck. We hauled a nice pile of brush to the corner of Clifford and Bay which the DPW has agreed to pick up.

This work will allow us to proceed with the next phase of clean-up. This phase involves getting as much trash and debris as possible off the trail. We are hoping to enlist some volunteers (Boy Scouts, youth council and friends) on April 22nd to create piles of trash ready for pick-up. Then on April 24th, we will use trucks to haul the trash out to the street. Once again, the DPW has agreed to pick up whatever trash we haul out.

The final phase of the clean-up plan will take place on May 1, 2010 in conjunction with Keep Springfield Beautiful (KSB), the city wide clean-up. Once again, we will meet on the trail and haul out whatever trash we didn’t get on April 24th. KSB has agreed to put one of their dumpsters at the corner of Clifford and Bay for this purpose.

Anyone who wants to get involved in this clean-up is welcomed. Invite your friends and neighbors to join in turning this trail into a green space in the city. See the schedule below. Contact Liz Stevens, 736-2136 or by email at: cnmstevens@comcast.net.

Date Time Meeting location

4/22 10 am Clifford and Bay

Sat, 4/24 9am Bay St. entrance to the trail

Sat, 5/1 9am Bay St. entrance to the trail

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Support the Active Community Transportation Act

Groundbreaking Congressional ACTion: "Active Community Transportation Act of 2010" Introduced in the House
This is a posting from the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy that is worth checking out and supporting:

Please Speak Up for Critical Legislation for Trails, Walking and Bicycling

After years of organizing supporters around the country, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) is excited to announce that on Tuesday, March 2, 2010, U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (Ore.) introduced H.R. 4722, the "Active Community Transportation Act of 2010" (ACT Act), on the floor of the House of Representatives!

The ACT Act is the direct result of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s (RTC) Campaign for Active Transportation. The Act would create a $2 billion program to fund dozens of communities around the country to improve their trail, walking and biking networks. If this bill is enacted, communities around the country will receive the resources to better allow Americans to walk and bike to the places you live, work, play, shop and learn.

To learn more about the ACT Act before taking action below, see our ACT Act background page.