Clipper City Rail Trail & Harborwalk

Click on the icon below to see the plans submitted to MassDOT on 9/8/15 for Phase II of the Clipper City Rail Trail and Harborwalk.  The project is now a state transportation project, and MassDOT has contracted with E.T. & L. Corporation to construct the trail.  The City’s consultant, Stantec, will work with MassDOT’s Resident Engineer during construction and the City’s Senior Project Manager Geordie Vining will provide oversight.  The project is expected to be completed in at the end of 2018 or early 2019.

Rail Trail 25% plans

Phase II Construction Updates


November 14, 2017 Construction Update:

During the past month, the contractor and subcontractors have installed some plantings, more fencing and concrete flatwork, installed bollards at the small boardwalk bridge, done some graffiti removal from granite block abutment walls, installed some timber frames for swinging benches, and is currently paving the topcoat of much of the trail.  We have coordinated further with the muralists and sculptors and installed one new sculpture called “Small World” near March’s Hill.  The additional soil sampling along the shoreline behind the wastewater treatment facility was done, sent off to and analyzed by the lab, and is currently under review by our consultants for whether a cap is needed in addition to excavation and removal and for the development of the remediation plan.  National Grid’s contractor has begun to mobilize for the revetment work behind the substation property which will keep that area closed off for the winter during the duration of that project.  The rail trail contractor will continue to work until significant winter weather sets in.

Swing bench Along river

Planting Small World installation

Construction progress March's Hill

Near Harbormaster paving

October 12, 2017 Construction Update:

During the past month, the Rail Trail contractor advanced the shaping and grading and installation of the gravel base and adjacent topsoil for the revised March’s Hill spur pathway, as well as formed concrete foundations for the two new granite stairways.  Along the rest of the trail corridor, the contractor has done more grading and shaping of the edges, installed topsoil, installed special electrical manholes, plus more granite curbing, concrete foundations for benches and signs, fencing and fence posts.  Looking ahead, the contractor’s landscaper is anticipated to begin hydroseeding grass seed along the inland portion of the corridor during the week of 10/16/17.  On 9/28/17, a public meeting was held regarding the soil contamination found in the corridor behind the wastewater treatment facility.  Additional soil sampling is anticipated during the week of 10/16/17, then lab analysis, and submission of a remediation plan to the DEP and EPA in November.  If approved, the soil remediation work could begin as early as December.  In addition, National Grid indicates that they are on track to mobilize their contractor during the week of 10/30/17 to begin installing a new revetment to repair a portion of the substation property shoreline that is adjacent to the Rail Trail and the American Yacht Club.  In addition, the eleven artists selected to create murals for the Rail Trail between Water and Harrison Streets have all finished their work and delivered their paintings to the sign company, which is in the process of capturing high resolution digital images for fabrication of the mural panels for installation later this fall.  We also delivered text and images to a graphic artist for laying out seven historic interpretive signs for installation along the trail.

March's Hill Tannery Trail Substation Trail

September 12, 2017: Construction Update

Earlier this year, the contractor found some additional soil contamination in a portion of the old rail corridor behind the Wastewater Treatment Facility, and the City had to fence off the area in compliance with federal and state regulatory requirements while it develops the remediation approach.  All railroad corridors are assumed to have some level of contaminants, and, although previous testing did not reveal any contamination considered to be a risk, it is not uncommon to find more contaminants during development of rail trails.  The source of the PCB’s is presumed to be old railroad operations.  Working in collaboration with MassDOT, the City hired a Licensed Site Professional (LSP) to manage further assessment, provide reports to the federal and state regulatory authorities, and develop a remediation plan.  The City also secured some additional grant funding through the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission’s Brownfields Program to help address the cleanup of this area.  The contractor is currently mobilizing to conduct additional soil sampling to fill in data gaps and better characterize the nature and extent of the soil contamination in a section of trail corridor behind the Wastewater Treatment Facility in order to fully develop the remediation cleanup plan.  It is anticipated that the additional sampling will be conducted and then analyzed this fall, and then a final remediation plan for both removal and capping of soil will be developed by the consultants during the winter, and implemented by the contractor along with final construction of this section of trail in the spring of 2018.  The City is hosting a public meeting on this subject on Thursday September 28 at 7pm in City Hall.  This section will remain fenced off to the public until remediation is complete.

The state contractor ET&L has shaped and graded the rest of the trail, and installed the base course of asphalt except for the fenced-off shoreline section while we wait for EPA and DEP approval.  The contractor is installing concrete foundations for benches and signage, and the final course of paving is anticipated in early October (except for certain sections along the shoreline).  The contractor has also installed granite curbing in a number of locations, installed brick on the trail behind the Custom House, repaired sinkholes and scoured areas adjacent to the trail at the fish pier bulkhead, largely completed a boardwalk bridge over the small embayment behind the Starboard Galley restaurant, and is installing more fencing.

The handicapped accessible spur pathway between the main trail and High Street at March’s Hill was temporarily put on hold during the summer due to concerns from the neighborhood about the overall height, bulk, and location of the fill.  Abutters and various officials worked together to develop a revised design to significantly lower the height of the spur pathway and pull it back along the edge of the park, and the City Council approved additional funding to support this work.  Significant modifications were possible due to the change in owners of the adjacent driveway parcel, who offered to allow the pathway and associated fill to cross their property line so the intersection of the spur pathway with the main trail could shift 50 feet over.  The contractor mobilized large equipment at the beginning of September to shift and reshape the spur pathway and pull back the bulge of soil along the eastern edge of March’s Hill based on the recently approved revised plan.  Tree wells and drainage work are currently being done, as well as additional shaping and grading.  The contractor intends to substantially complete the trail work in this area (including paving, fencing, etc.) this fall of 2017, although the two new granite stairways to the park may be installed in the spring of 2018.

National Grid plans to replace a destroyed seawall on their substation property adjacent to the rail trail with a new stone revetment this fall and winter of 2017-2018, somewhat similar to the shoreline revetment at Cashman Park.  Final paving, benches, fencing, and landscaping of the trail in this section will be deferred until the spring of 2018 in order to avoid negative impacts from the utility contractor’s heavy equipment.  This area will remain fenced off to the public until after this work is completed for safety purposes.

During recent months, the City also released a Request for Proposals to local artists for murals to be installed along the fenced section of trail south of Water Street.  A selection committee along with the Mayor and Parks Commission selected 11 artists who are currently finalizing paintings that will be printed as 4’x6’ murals and installed later this fall.

Looking ahead, underpass lighting may be installed under High Street this fall, as well as additional fencing and timber guardrails, plus concrete, brick, and granite work.  In addition to the shoreline sections, landscaping plantings, signage, sculpture and other final elements will be completed in the spring of 2018.

rail trail 7-26 March's Hill East Lot

Tannery/Coast Guard section Boardwalk bridge

January 27, 2017: Construction Update

The City provided a presentation on the construction progress to date at a well-attended public meeting at City Hall on 12/1/16.  During the past couple of months, the state contractor ET&L largely completed rebuilding the sections of the granite block retaining walls (which hold the slopes leading up to the adjacent houses and residential property on either side) that were in poor condition north of the High Street underpass.  The contractor still needs to remove the steel pilings that were installed to support the temporary retaining wall, as well as finish chinking the joints of the granite block wall.  In addition, the contractor repaired the end of a stone revetment wall to the west of Joppa Park that had failed and was scouring the shoreline.  The contractor also installed a concrete retaining wall between the Coast Guard Station and some National Grid property.  The contractor has been progressing on building a boardwalk bridge across the small embayment behind the Starboard Galley restaurant, including installing high strength micropiles, abutments and drainage structures.  In addition, the fencing subcontractor has largely completed installing privacy fencing between Harrison Street and Water Street, as well as south of the High Street underpass.  The contractor also relocated a hydrant in the wall of the trail near the City’s Fish Pier and stripped the topsoil from that section of trail in preparation for grading and shaping.  The winter has been mild so far; while crews have been reduced, the contractor has continued to work vs. stopping for the season.  In addition, we met with the Newburyport Art Association regarding installing some murals along the fenced section of trail between Harrison and Water Streets, worked further with volunteers to develop the historical interpretive signage for the trail, and met with sculptors about potential future sculptures for the trail.

Harrison fencing  march's hill spur high st granite wall

national grid substation chestnut st south 


November 4, 2016: Construction Update

During the past seven weeks, the Rail Trail contractor constructed a new timber retaining wall south of the High Street trail underpass, constructed a smaller stone retaining wall south of Purchase Street, and began the process of rebuilding some of the large granite block retaining walls north of the High Street underpass.  In order to hold the earth so that the granite blocks could be safely removed, a temporary retaining wall needed to be installed which entailed driving steel h-piles and installing timber lagging.  The pile driving took several days and caused some annoying vibrations for neighbors.  The contractor then formed and poured concrete footings that will support the rebuilt granite block wall.  In addition, the contractor brought in fill for the trail corridor between Purchase and Hancock Street as well as Hancock and Chestnut Street.  The compaction of the fill in order to avoid settlement and sinkholes unfortunately caused some more annoying vibrations for neighbors.  We greatly appreciate the neighborhood’s tolerance of these irritating but necessary and temporary disruptions.  The contractor then paved the base course of asphalt along several sections (about 35%) of the trail – in the woodland area south of March’s Hill, between Water and Harrison Streets, between Hancock and Chestnut Streets, and a portion south of Purchase Street.  The top course of asphalt will be the last thing they do at the end of the job, after the heavy construction equipment is done.  In addition, the City, the contractor, and MassDOT met with National Grid representatives regarding the utility’s anticipated repair and replacement of a revetment along a portion of the substation shoreline near the route of the Rail Trail.





September 15, 2016: Construction Update

During the past two months, the Rail Trail contractor has worked with the City, the City’s designer and MassDOT to largely resolve the underground utility conflicts with the project’s drainage structures and retaining walls.  The contractor is finishing the installation of the new stormwater drain line in Water Street, including re-setting curbing and preparing for the City’s sidewalk improvements.  The contractor is also finishing the installation of the subsurface stormwater infiltration pipe between Water Street and Harrison Street and the separate system between Purchase and Hancock Street.  The topsoil along the corridor from Water Street to Parker Street has been stripped, screened and stockpiled, and the contractor has shaped, graveled, and graded the woodland trail section between March’s Hill and Parker Street.  The contractor is treating all of the invasive and poisonous vegetation along the trail corridor.  Looking ahead to the fall, the contractor will finish grading and shaping the section of trail between Water Street and Harrison Street, and will pave the base course of asphalt in this section in October and then install privacy fencing.  The contractor also plans to pave the base course of asphalt along most of the woodland section of trail south of March’s Hill, and work on the timber retaining walls south of High Street.  In addition, the contractor will mobilize to the shoreline section of trail between Joppa Park and the central waterfront to excavate the stormwater drainage trench, grade, and shape the trail, as well as build a boardwalk bridge at a small embayment behind the Starboard Galley.


7-21-16: Construction update

During the past month, the state Rail Trail contractor completed clearing trees and is in the process of removing stumps and stripping, screening and stockpiling topsoil along the old rail corridor.  The trees were predominantly invasive Norway Maples which took over much of the corridor after the trains ceased running decades ago, and many were in decline.  While some people were dismayed by the extent of tree and vegetation removal, a significant majority of abutters and other citizens supported removing as many trees as possible due to a desire to open up the corridor and concerns about the trees’ dense shade, risk to property during storms, and crowding out of other species.  Representatives of the City, state, and contractor worked closely with a number of abutters to accommodate requests to remove additional trees as well as preserve some trees.

The contractor has also been digging multiple test pits to clarify the exact location of underground infrastructure in the corridor and the associated streets.  Underground work is always a challenge due to the unknowns beneath the surface, as existing plans often do not have completely accurate information.  The contractor is finishing determining the exact location of various buried electrical, gas, sewer, water, and drainage lines, and making adjustments to the location and installation approach for drainage lines and structures and retaining walls.  Looking ahead, the contractor will install a new overflow stormwater drain line and associated drainage structures underneath Water Street in mid-August, which will require some temporary traffic disruption in the vicinity of Joppa Park.  (Note that the City is also conducting some periodic sidewalk work further to the east along Water Street which is unrelated to the Rail Trail project.)  We apologize for the inconvenience, and appreciates everyone’s patience.  After the street work is done, the contractor will move inland along the trail corridor in order to install the underground water infiltration system.  There is currently little to no existing infrastructure for managing stormwater in the rail corridor and surrounding area which is prone to flooding during storms, so the Rail Trail project is installing a substantial system of catch basins, perforated pipes for storage and controlled discharge of stormwater, overflow connections from intersecting courts, and an outfall connection at Water Street.


6/10/16: Tree clearing begins on Phase II Rail Trail; Dumping of private yard waste in corridor needs to cease

During the past month, the Rail Trail contractor has been providing a number of “submittals” – information provided for approval of subcontractors, equipment, materials, etc. before they are fabricated and delivered – so that MassDOT and the City’s consultants can verify that appropriate products and quantities will be installed on the project.  Surveyors have marked the centerline of the trail as well as labelled trees for protection vs. clearing.  The contractor has begun mowing and brush-cutting portions of the trail corridor.  Tree clearing is scheduled to begin the week of June 13 at the southern end of the trail off Parker Street, and the first week of tree clearing will be devoted to the corridor between Parker and High Streets.  Tree clearing crews will continue to move north along the corridor for the rest of the month of June.  The contractor’s superintendent and City representatives have had individual discussions with a number of abutters regarding the clearing vs. protection of individual trees.

Some abutters have been observed continuing to dump private yard waste into the trail corridor.  Please note that all such dumping is illegal, potentially punishable by fines, and hinders development of the trail.  Some abutters have indicated that they thought such waste would simply be buried on site, but it all must be removed in order to install appropriate fill and foundation for the trail.  For many years, numerous abutters have dumped large quantities of yard waste and other items into the corridor owned by National Grid and formerly by B&M Railroad.  However, the corridor is now public land controlled by the City of Newburyport, and we ask that all such dumping cease going forward.  Homeowners can take yard waste to the City’s Crow Lane Yard Waste Facility or place it in backyard compost bins on the homeowners’ property.  We appreciate everyone’s cooperation.

Construction update 5-12-16:  

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) has contracted with E.T.&L. Corporation to build Phase II of the Clipper City Rail Trail.  In the coming weeks, neighbors will see workers clearing debris from the corridor and establishing the pathway’s centerline and limits of work.  Abutters should remove any property that might be stored in the corridor.  The first major phase of construction is expected to begin in late May or June once the state’s survey workers have marked the trail, with the contractor’s crews clearing trees and other vegetation along the corridor primarily between Parker and Water Streets.  Trees and other vegetation need to be cleared in order to excavate and grade the pathway, as well as provide clear and open sight lines for the eventual users of the trail.  The majority of trees that will be removed are formally listed as “invasive species” that threaten native plants, primarily Norway maples and black locusts as well as others.  Note that new trees, shrubs and other plantings will be installed along the corridor towards the end of the job.  Tree clearing is almost never pretty, and the corridor will look very different from the existing conditions with which people are familiar.  We appreciate everyone’s patience with this phase of construction.

Trail Overview

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 enhancements for the trail corridor including sculpture, murals, interpretive panels, and custom signage. 

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 2012 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.

Art and Features

Click on the photo below to see art and features along the trail.


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
  • Massachusetts Department of Transportation: Route 1 and the Route 1 rotary are a major obstacle between the Phase II Rail Trail and the MBTA commuter rail station. This connection is anticipated to be "Phase III" of the project.
  • New England Development (NED): The formal connection of Phase I of the 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 and it is anticipated that a Chapter 91 settlement will lead to the installation of a paved trail connection.
  • 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.

(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. There is a similar safe connection on the Salisbury side.  A feasibility study is needed 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. Also see information regarding the “Border to Boston” trail concept.  The Clipper City Rail Trail is part of the much larger vision of the East Coast Greenway.

Staff Contacts

Name Phone
Andy Port (978) 465-4400 ext. 1