By Mike LaBella
---- — The city has its eye on another stretch of the old B&M railroad line, in hopes of extending the Bradford Rail Trail to Groveland.
The extension would give walkers and bikers another half-mile on the trail, which runs along the Merrimack River.
While the city waits for an answer, it also is making plans to improve the existing trail along the Bradford side of the Merrimack River between the Basiliere and Comeau bridges. The plan is to open up views to the river; add benches, signs and possibly playground equipment; improve access; and add landscaping to create a premier recreational site.
Mayor James Fiorentini said he hopes to begin construction this fall, with state and federal money paying for the work.
One of the signs he wants installed along the trail would explain the history of the Georgetown stretch of the B&M railroad, which he said up until the 1930s carried freight and passengers. The supper train was discontinued and it stayed as a freight line until the 1970s, then it ceased to operate, he said.
“We met with Pan Am Railways last week and told them we’d like to buy the next section of the old railroad line between the Basiliere Bridge to where the new George Washington Landing Park is,” Fiorentini said. The park is next to the Crescent Yacht Club, just east of the Basiliere Bridge.
“The first thing we have to do is come up with an appraisal, then agree on a price, then find the money,’’ he said. “I’m very hopeful that we can extend that trail. My goal is to extend it all along the river until we get to Groveland.”
Fiorentini said that is some cases the city owns land along the river that would be used to extend the rail trail. National Grid and private developers also own land — but the city has easements for putting in a trail.
The land where Haverhill Paperboard Company operated before closing two years ago is being eyed for a zoning change to residential, the mayor said.
“We’ve told the owner that a condition for rezoning is to provide the city an easement for the trail,” Fiorentini said. “And the Don Orione property (along the river), we have an easement right there, too. So we think it’s a doable project to have a trail go all the way to the Groveland line, although in some areas it will be difficult.”
At its annual Possible Dreams event last week, the Team Haverhill volunteer civic organization announced new goals for 2013-2014 that include an “Art Walk” for the trail. Team Haverhill members will work with city officials and the Friends of the Bradford Rail Trail, an advisory group appointed by the mayor, to add several top-quality permanent sculptures to the trail.
Fiorentini said one aspect of the design calls for lessening the grade of a pathway to make it easier to walk up to the Basiliere Bridge. That would allow anyone who wants to walk the trail to get onto the sidewalk and over the bridge, then walk the entire route down Merrimack Street, Washington Street, over the Comeau Bridge and onto the other end of the rail trail. This loop linking the Bradford and Haverhill sides of the river is intended to merge art, recreation and commerce, and create a desirable public attraction.
The mayor said he met last week with Gus Scrivanos, who operates several Dunkin’ Donut shops in the city including one on Middlesex Street, where the rail trail begins.
“We asked for an easement across the edge of his property so we could have a nice entrance there, and he was nice enough to agree to that,” Fiorentini said. “He plans to set up outdoor dining once the trail is improved. We want to have a number of entryways.”
Recently, state officials unveiled a project to rehabilitate and strengthen the century-old train bridge that crosses the Merrimack River at the western end of downtown. Officials said the $60 million project will begin this fall and be completed by the end of 2016.
In preparation for that work, the MBTA last year bought a 30,000-square-foot piece of property on the Bradford side of the river near the Comeau Bridge to use as a staging area for the bridge repair project. The availability of the land, which was owned by Pan Am Railways, was triggered when the railroad company received a $65,000 private offer for the irregularly shaped property that contains open land and two buildings. One of the buildings is a liquor store and the other is a social club. The city was looking to purchase the riverfront land as an entrance to the Bradford Rail Trail.
Fiorentini said he met with MBTA officials and asked them to make sure there’s an area for parking and ensure the rail trail will able to connect to where the nearby Skateland roller skating rink is located.
Andrew Herlihy, who works in the city’s community development office and is involved in developing the rail trail walking and biking area, said he expects the MBTA will sell the land when the bridge repair project is completed.
“The city will have first right to purchase it, if the city is still interested,” Herlihy said.