Oct 012011

When the fence came down...

In August, the old railroad bed Right of Way to Salem, known by many as The Path, was re-opened. The Lafayette Street end of The Path had been closed since October 2010 to allow de-leading of the lands contaminated by activities of a former nearby lead mill. The Path itself was not removed as it was considered “capped” during the creation of a travel surface. However, both the site of former factory buildings to one side of old rail bed and the shore of Salem Harbor on the other have been subjected to considerable soil removal and replacement. The Salem Harbor side is quite attractive once more with a new field of salt marsh grass. A quarter mile inland from Lafayette Street, a field of trees has been planted where only a few years ago, the fast-growing invasive, Kudzu, had taken over this end of the Wyman Woods conservation area. Since soil had to be removed over this area as well, part of the restoration called for re-planting with young but maturing trees. This is a welcome change. Take a walk or bike ride along this section of The Path to see the changes. For those with bicycles, other changes are being made in Salem, and plans for Swampscott are in the works.

More on Pathways

The introduction of a railroad to Marblehead in December of 1839 connected the centers of Marblehead and Salem. This immediately replaced the stagecoach as its driver, Benjamin Thompson, left the job to become the conductor for the new train! The train ran five times a day with a one-way cost to a traveler of twelve and one-half cents. A second rail link connected Marblehead and Swampscott in 1851.

Although the ownership of the railroad lines changed hands over time, it is thanks to the first two that Marblehead had an opportunity in the last century to acquire rights of way that could serve as utility corridors, thereby avoiding the need to disturb neighborhoods as they developed. Once established, the corridors had to be maintained, so the rails and ties were removed and the bed reworked to support maintenance vehicles.

With those actions, and with the approval of Town administration, these rights of way became paths for use by walkers, runners, and bicycle riders. Marblehead is not alone in working to provide paths for such users. A group in Swampscott called S.P.I.R.I.T. has been trying to unscramble complicated ownership issues to extend the old rail bed from the Marblehead line to Walnut Street near the Swampscott high school. The group leader reports that the town may take action by the end of this calendar year to claim a conservation easement along the line, clearing the way for path development.

In Salem this summer, bicycle pathways have been marked along Lafayette street from the intersection with The Path toward Salem Center. Separately, it has been reported that the old rail bed will be developed for walking and biking another 1.5 miles from Canal Street where it now ends with an ultimate intention of connecting to Salem center.

All of this tells us that plans to accommodate walkers, runners, and bikers are being realized. Progress is not always as fast as we might like, but the good news is that the intentions continue to have active supporters.

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