For over 30 years, the former Pan Am rail lines of Bradford have lain dormant under overgrown weeds and accumulated garbage.
But now the city and a coalition of volunteers are proud to officially announce the rebirth of the railway as a mile-long walkway for pedestrians and cyclists under the title of the Bradford Rail Trail.
The public trail, which stretches from Middlesex Street to South Elm Street in Bradford, is open. It's unpaved and has no benches or other amenities. But the 160 year-old rails and years of built up weeds have been cleared, and a thin layer of recycled asphalt chips will be spread over the trail to make walking easier.
"Everything is gone," said Andrew Herlihy, the community development division director. "It's a pretty striking difference. We have gone from something unusable to something usable."
Iron Horse Preservation, a nonprofit organization based in California, removed the rails and ties along the path, starting work late last June. Iron Horse resells the pulled rails and charges site owners nothing. Iron Horse estimated the value of the Haverhill rails at $28,000.
The trail property was purchased by the city from Pan Am Railways in 2008 for $400,000, paid entirely by a state grant.
According to the Friends of the Bradford Rail Trail, the coalition of Haverhill volunteers working to open the trail, more work remains to be done.
"This is really a work in progress," Larry Olasky, a member of the Friends of the Bradford Rail Trail, said. "This is the first step."
Herlihy said the city hasn't spent a single dollar on the trail thus far and could soon qualify for a $880,000 federal grant to aid in the trail completion, provided the city submits a completed engineering design to the state.
"It was kind of neat we got to this point without money," Herlihy said. "If we can get it designed we can get the state to pay for it."
The design, however, won't come cheap, with a pricetag around $500,000. To help with fundraising efforts, the Friends of the Bradford Rail Trail have become an independent body under the auspices of Haverhill's Brightside.
Brightside, a nonprofit that coordinates volunteer efforts throughout the city, won't directly control the Friends but will guide the group toward different grant opportunities.
"They'll drive it and we'll help them," Doug Edison, president of Haverhill's Brightside, said. "We're still in the early stages of what can be done."
Edison said Brightside will also help with volunteer efforts, including trail cleanups and awareness campaigns at city events.
An added benefit of clearing the trail includes forcing out some of those who used the cover of the brush to hide out and who tossed trash into Bradford back yards.
"By opening up the area they'll have less places to hide," Herlihy said.
Herlihy added that the city will propose a number of ordinances at July 12 council meeting on establishing trail conduct and rules. Current rules follow park regulations, which prohibit motor vehicles, alcohol, camping and hunting. The trail will not be lit and will be off limits at night.
Deputy Police Chief Donald Thompson said while problems along the rails have diminished over the years, police will set up patrols along the trail as traffic increases to "make sure it's clean and safe."