Phase I: The first phase of the Clipper City Rail Trail was completed in 2010, and is a 1.1 mile multi-use pathway running between the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) commuter rail station and the shoreline of the Merrimack River near downtown Newburyport. The trail corridor ranges from about 40 to 80 feet wide, and the multi-use asphalt pathway is 10 feet wide for walkers, bicyclists, and other non-motorized users. In a relatively short distance, the trail corridor cuts through hills and climbs above the harbor, passing through a variety of environments including an industrial park, a densely developed neighborhood, and the waterfront. An 8-foot-wide pile-supported boardwalk made of Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified tropical hardwood connects the Rail Trail to Cashman Park along the river. There are a number of stairway and spur trail connections to side streets, as well as amenities such as Haley’s Ice Cream and the Graf Ice Skating Rink, and various bakeries, coffee shops, and restaurants are located a short distance from the trail. Two public schools located nearby, the River Valley Charter School and the Molin School, regularly use the trail for students and teachers to walk to the downtown, the harbor, parks, and other destinations. The Rail Trail has a distinct and attractive character due in large part to the extensive public art the City has installed along the corridor.
Phase II: The City is currently working on planning Phase II of the multi-use pathway, which will extend the trail about 1.5 miles. Phase II will provide the general public with additional opportunities for transportation, recreation, physical activity, sociability, and connections to parks, the business district, and neighborhoods. Abandoned in the 1970’s, the old City Branch railroad line provided freight service during the previous century to Newburyport’s waterfront, in particular picking up coal that was brought in by ship for distribution to inland points. Much of the corridor has become overgrown and subject to dumping and encroachment. Phase II of the Rail Trail will have a diverse and interesting character for residents and visitors, travelling along the Merrimack River waterfront, through the densely settled South End residential neighborhood, and curving through acres of woodlands into the Town of Newbury. Additional funding is needed to support full design plans and specifications, permitting, and construction management services, as well as enhancements for the trail corridor including sculpture, murals, interpretive panels, and custom signage. Such funding will help leverage significant federal and state funding for construction of the new public space, as well as other grants and donations for the enhancements. The Merrimack Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization has scheduled the project to be advertised and constructed in 2015 (and perhaps earlier) assuming the City completes the design, specifications and permitting in a timely fashion.
Click on the link and icons below to view the presentation made at the public meeting on 6-28-12, the preliminary alignment of the trail, and the most recently developed draft plans from 4-5-13.
Rail Trail Project History:
The concept of a Rail Trail has been discussed in the City of Newburyport since the 1970’s when railroad use of the corridor was abandoned. The City made the Rail Trail a particular priority in the Newburyport 2001 Master Plan, 2003 Waterfront Strategic Plan, and 2005 Open Space and Recreation Plan. Tasks associated with the long-term project included conducting title examinations to determine ownership, negotiation of right of way agreements and temporary easements, testing for contamination, applying for numerous grants, hiring and managing a design firm, hosting public meetings, permitting the project, and working with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s Highway Division to finalize design and construct the project.
The first phase of the Rail Trail is built upon an old rail corridor owned by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), and the City holds a 99-Year Lease. Newburyport was the first municipality in the state to secure such a 99-year lease from the MBTA in 2005 in order to meet Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and state standards for investment of federal and state transportation funding. The MBTA rail corridor was used informally by the public as a footpath for many years, and a portion had been adopted by a neighborhood. However, it contained substantial debris from the former railroad as well as typical low level contamination, lacked connectivity to other trails and sidewalks, lacked fencing, subjected users to an at-grade crossing at busy Low Street, and experienced encroachments, dumping, flooding, overgrown vegetation, homeless encampments, and other problems. The City hired Vollmer Associates, which merged with Stantec Consulting Services, to develop the design plans, and the design and permitting were completed in 2007. The state hired S&R Construction Enterprises to construct the Rail Trail between 2008 and 2010. The state also hired Prime Coatings to paint the Route 1 Gillis Bridge and Rail Trail/Harborwalk underpass. In addition, the City hired Vine Associates to design the boardwalk connection to Cashman Park, which was built by North Shore Marine. Rights-of-way, design, permitting, fund-raising, municipal oversight of construction, and selection of public art were all coordinated by the Newburyport Planning Office’s Senior Project Manager, Geordie Vining. The Rail Trail is managed by Newburyport’s Parks Coordinator Lise Reid.
Rail Trail Public Art and Features:
“Public art” is art that people encounter as part of their everyday landscape. The Clipper City Rail Trail has a variety of figurative, abstract, and interactive sculptures, a mural along a highway underpass, custom signage, an “eco-arts” garden installation by the local Green Artists League, and a boardwalk, pedestrian bridge and other functional elements designed to be aesthetically pleasing. The trail and its public art were featured in the summer 2011 issue of the magazine "American Trails."
See below for images of the various public art installations along the trail:
- The City commissioned a steel “Steam Loco” play sculpture with a cow catcher, coal car, bell and whistle by artists Scott Kessel and Matt Niland (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Plantsville-Carpentry/341546240010). Evocative of the real trains that used to run along the corridor based on historic photographs, it is a magnetic interactive destination for young children and their families.
- The City commissioned eleven stainless steel “Native Fish” by artist Bob Kimball (http://www.bobkimballdesigns.com) to be mounted on a large granite block wall on the edge of the Rail Trail, including half a dozen foot-long herring, two three-foot tuna, a five-foot cod and striped bass, and a seven-foot bluefin tuna.
- The City commissioned local Newburyport muralist Robert Leanna (http://www.paintedbuildings.com/Home.html) to create a 40-foot mural of iconic and historic Newburyport buildings called “Newburyport Collage,” installed on ten panels along the abutment wall of the Route 1 highway underpass at the Merrimack River waterfront.
- The City purchased two large and beautiful abstract sculptures by Massachusetts artist Robert Lorenson (http://www.roblorensonsculpture.com/index.html); “Eclipse” is made of stainless steel and “Brushstrokes” is red powdercoated aluminum.
- The City commissioned Massachusetts artist Dale Rogers (http://www.dalerogersstudio.com) to create a scaled-up stainless steel abstract sculpture called “G-Swirl.”
- The City acquired a large aluminum and glass sculpture called “Torrential Flight” by artist Brian Russell (http://www.brianrussellstudio.com).
- The City procured a steel interactive sculpture by Vermont artist James Irving (http://www.james-irving.com) called “Wishbone.”
- The City purchased a sculptural bronze bench called "Peace Offering" by Massachusetts artist Michael Alfano (http://www.malfano.com).
- The City directed Landscape Architect Ronald Headrick of Stantec, Inc. (http://www.stantec.com/default.htm) to design sculptural planters made of corten weathering steel. Located at the waterfront, the planters’ shapes are reminiscent of boats.
- Partially supported by the New England Foundation for the Arts, the City worked with the regional “Green Artists League” (http://www.greenartistsleague.com) to create a unique garden installation called the “Alchemical Garden.” Located at the southern end of the trail, it will include “living sculptures” of a grass couch and a basket willow pavilion in addition to edible berries, fruits and nuts for trail users.
- The City purchased a sculpture made from old bicycle parts and cedar wood by Vermont Artist Rob Hitzig (http://www.roberthitzig.com/home.html) called “Dogwalker,” which echoes some of the current uses of the Rail Trail.
- The City acquired another sculpture made from bicycle parts and limestone by artist Simon LaRochelle called “Will He.”
- A stainless steel sculpture of a Great Blue Heron by Bob Kimball was commissioned for the Rail Trail, and is a memorial to John P. Soward (1940-2010). John lived for many years in the house on the other side of the wall where the sculpture is mounted. He was a talent watercolor artist, and the sculpture is based on his painting of the Great Blue Heron (see http://www.johnpsoward.com). Funding for the sculpture was provided entirely by John’s friends and family.
- A 14-foot high hand-crafted wood Archway anchors the southern end of the Rail Trail across from the MBTA commuter rail station. Made of white oak, the Arch was generously donated, designed, fabricated and installed by Mark Richey Woodworking (http://www.markrichey.com) which abuts the Rail Trail, along with adjacent general contractor Castagna Construction (http://www.castagnaconstruction.com/) and Keiver-Willard Lumber (http://www.keiver-willard.com/).
- Five massive wedge-shaped granite blocks are arranged in a star-shaped pattern along the Rail Trail. These unusual blocks were fabricated in the 19th Century to help support the old railroad bridge embankment at the Merrimack River, and were salvaged by contractor S&R Construction Enterprises during construction of the Rail Trail. The adjacent business Enpro Services (http://www.enpro.com/) donated equipment and personnel to arrange the blocks in a compelling pattern.
The City purchased a horse sculpture called "Clyde" from artist Jamie Burnes (http://www.jnbdesigns.com). Originally displayed on the waterfront as part of the sculpture park, Clyde is made of corten weathering steel and black locust wood and was made specifically for Newburyport. (Donations from the following helped make the acquisition possible: the Coastal Trails Coalition, Dorothy and Howard Fairweather, Rich Batten, Dolores Person, Cyd Raschke, Shannon Sheltra, Tom and Nel Horth, Tom Kolterjahn, Carolyn Burt, the Doherty's, Tom and Eleanor Lyons, Allen Frost, and others.) (Photo by Jay Havighurst.)
The City asked Massachusetts artist Dale Rogers (http://www.dalerogersstudio.com) to make a 16-foot corten weathering steel sculpture of two "Sparrows" which now helps anchor the southern end of the trail.
Peter Caesar volunteered to design and install the "Berry Labyrinth," which features various berries and fruits arranged along the edge of the labyrinth for trail users to eat such as plump golden raspberries and sweet cherry tomatoes. (Photograph by Jay Havighurst.)
Peter Caesar volunteered to plant and maintain the lovely garden on the south side of the Washington Street gateway.
- Charles Nickou volunteered to plant and maintain the beautiful garden on the north side of Washington Street at the entry to Battis Grove.
- The Newburyport Horticultural Society has volunteered to create and maintain a garden underneath the Low Street Bridge.
Their generosity adds immensely to the beauty of the trail and the enjoyment of hundreds of people who see the gardens every day.
There is additional room along the Clipper City Rail Trail corridor for more public art, and the City continues to work towards fund-raising and securing new pieces. An interactive “sound sculpture” is budgeted and under design by Massachusetts artist Jay Havighurst.
Funding for the design of the first phase of the Clipper City Rail Trail came primarily through grants from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation Highway Division and the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), as well as the Community Preservation Committee and City Council. The City also secured nearly $3 million in federal and state transportation funding for construction of the Rail Trail, primarily the federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) Improvement Program which is designated specifically for projects that help reduce congestion and tailpipe emissions including bicycle and pedestrian pathways. Two grants were secured from the federal-state Recreational Trails Grants Program, and the Massachusetts Seaport Advisory Council was the primary source of funding for the design and construction of the boardwalk connection. With assistance from the City Improvement Society, other funding was generously provided by the Mayor Gayden W. Morrill Charitable Foundation, Enpro Services, Riverside Cycle, Newburyport Development, Newburyport Marinas, the Coastal Trails Coalition, the Newburyport Five Cents Savings Bank, the H. Patterson Hale Jr. Charitable Foundation, the Newburyport Mothers Club, Paula and Jay Jorgenson, and annual fund-raising events by Richard and Dolores Person.
Future Trail Extensions:
Clipper City Rail Trail, Phase II:
The City is currently working to connect and extend the Rail Trail along a separate former rail corridor called the City Branch. This corridor runs along the waterfront and through the South End neighborhood into the Town of Newbury. Additional right-of-way agreements need to be secured, funding needs to be raised for design and construction, and design and permitting conducted to advance this phase of the Rail Trail. Significant progress was made on this phase of the Rail Trail by the City’s acquisition in 2006 of approximately 10 acres of land owned by Guilford Transportation/B&M Railroad along the City Branch corridor. This $418,000 project was the culmination of years of negotiation and was supported by Community Preservation Act (CPA) funding. The City has also negotiated two long-term licenses from National Grid on portions of the City Branch corridor owned by the utility, including the substation, where the electric lines are underground. The current amended licenses require that the City secure funding, complete the remaining right-of-way agreements, and finalize design and permitting by 2018 in order to “activate” the license. In addition, the City has recently secured a permanent trail easement from the Coast Guard (after ten years of negotiation) that will run the pathway along the landward boundary of the Coast Guard station. The City also secured permanent easements for a 10-foot-wide pathway through adjacent property owned by New England Development to the east of the central waterfront. The primary remaining right-of-way issues include property owned by:
- National Grid: While the City currently has a 25-year license along the northern edge of the utility’s substation and a 99-year license along portions of the old rail corridor owned by the utility, the state and federal transportation funding authorities require a 99-year lease. Further negotiation is required to transform the licenses into acceptable leases, as well as negotiate use of portions of the corridor which also host overhead utility lines, in cooperation with the Town of Newbury.
- Massachusetts Department of Transportation: Route 1 is a major obstacle between the old City Branch rail corridor and the MBTA commuter rail station. This connection is anticipated to be "Phase III" of the project, and will likely require a reconfiguration of the Route 1 rotary.
- New England Development (NED): The formal connection of the Rail Trail to the central waterfront through the “Waterside West” district owned by New England Development, including Michael’s Harborside Restaurant and the boat yards, depends upon the progress of redeveloping that area. Currently, informal public access is allowed. The City is currently in discussions with NED and State regulatory authorities about long-term redevelopment of this area as well as nearer-term improvements for the public pathway, which NED anticipates building in 2012.
- Newburyport Redevelopment Authority (NRA) and Newburyport Waterfront Trust (NWT): Attractive public access already exists for pedestrians along the central waterfront on the Peter J. Matthews Boardwalk plus the connected Ways to the Water. However, the quasi-public NWT controls the boardwalk and does not allow bicyclists to use it for fear of user conflicts. The City, NRA, and NWT need to work together to determine an appropriate and feasible alignment for a bicycle path to cross the central waterfront, including the existing NRA parking lots and the Waterfront Market Landing Park. Resolution of this particular issue has been stymied by the broader and long unresolved question of how the NRA lots will be redeveloped.
The City anticipates beginning preliminary design and permitting in late 2011 or early 2012. Ultimately the City envisions extending public art down this corridor as well.
(See map of anticipated full 3-mile rail trail loop.)
Connections to other communities:
The Town of Salisbury, working with the state, has built the beautiful 1.4 mile Old Eastern Marsh Trail on the same former rail corridor directly across the Merrimack River from the Clipper City Rail Trail. However, the old rail bridge in between is owned by the MBTA and not leased to either municipality. There are significant technical, operational, and financial hurdles to using the old rail bridge to connect the two trails. Instead, the Clipper City Rail Trail allows trail users to loop under the highway and on to the existing Route 1 bridge sidewalk to get to Salisbury. The state is creating a similar safe connection on the Salisbury side; see http://www.mhd.state.ma.us//default.asp?pgid=content/projectsRoot&sid=wrapper&iid=http://www.mhd.state.ma.us//ProjectInfo/. The two communities are discussing undertaking a feasibility study regarding making the Gillis Bridge more safe, functional, and attractive for pedestrians and bicyclists.
In general, the City is actively working with neighboring communities of Newbury, Salisbury, and Amesbury to establish a contiguous regional network of trails; see the nonprofit Coastal Trails Network’s website http://www.coastaltrails.org/j1/. Also see information regarding the “Border to Boston” trail concept at http://www.essexheritage.org/bordertoboston/index.shtml. The Clipper City Rail Trail is part of the much larger vision of the East Coast Greenway (http://www.greenway.org).