White Pond lovers alarmed by plan to create a rail trail

By Sally Heaney, Globe Correspondent
Boston Globe
Thursday, June 22, 2006

Although not as well known as Walden Pond, which in hot weather attracts hordes of swimmers to its public beach, Concord’s White Pond has ardent fans who enjoy its natural beauty and private swimming access.

Many of them fear that the health of White Pond and the tranquility enjoyed by those who live near it will be disturbed if an abandoned rail bed that skirts the pond is improved for recreational use. They worry that users of the proposed Bruce Freeman Rail Trail will discover the pond and be enticed to trespass on private property or violate town regulations to take an illegal dip.

“They call us Nimbys,” said Julie Melbin of Stone Root Lane, referring to “not in my backyard.” “That’s a thing to be proud of sometimes. Somebody has to be stewards of these resources that other people are not aware of.”
But proponents of the 3.5-mile Concord section of the 25-mile trail, which is planned to run from Lowell to Framingham, say that it will be an asset to the White Pond area as well as the rest of the community. They say that cyclists, joggers, and parents with strollers using the trail will be unlikely to leave it and despoil the pond and nearby environment.

“For the most part, people who use rail trails honor the corridor,” said Bob Armstrong, president of the 400-member Friends of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail. “Once in place, these things become one of the best-loved assets in town. People from the White Pond area will be able to bike to West Concord.”

People already walk and ride horses on the abandoned rail bed. A committee appointed by the selectmen is preparing to hire a consultant to do initial design work on an improved trail. The surface material, such as asphalt or crushed stone, is under discussion.

“We’ve got a trail right now and the question is how do we want to improve it to make it more usable by more users,” said Virginia McIntyre, who is chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen and a member of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail Advisory Committee. “We want to work with the abutters to have as little impact on what they regard as precious as possible. I think it will be a fairly lengthy process to make sure we do it right.”

She said the committee’s charge is to move the trail project forward, not to decide whether the trail should be built. Town Meeting this spring approved spending $160,000 of Community Preservation Funds to do the first 25 percent of the design work. After it is completed, if more town money is needed, a future Town Meeting will have another opportunity to accept or reject the project.

About 25 citizens attended a 7:30 a.m. meeting of the committee last week and several asked for the committee to meet in the evening so that more interested residents can attend. The committee members decided to keep most working session meetings in the morning, because of their schedules. But they agreed to meet at 8 p.m. on July 13 to obtain community input on the draft document seeking proposals from design consultants.
McIntyre said the meetings have generally been well attended by residents who want to ensure “that we don’t willy-nilly put a 20-foot-wide highway through the woods.”

There have also been residents concerned about cyclists and other trail users discovering the 36-acre White Pond. The pond is owned by the state but has no legal public access for swimming, according to Delia Kaye, Concord natural resources administrator. The town is taking measures, including hiring two rangers this summer, to step up enforcement of a no-swimming rule at the town-owned section of shore.

Swimming is also prohibited at a public access canoe launch owned by the state. The rest of the shore is private property, including a section owned by 27 homeowners in the Stone Root Lane neighborhood and a members-only beach owned by the White Pond Association.

Jim Coutre of Stone Root Lane said he is concerned about liability if trail users trespass to reach the water. He would like a section of the trail routed off the rail bed and onto town streets to bypass the pond and “circumvent the sensitive areas.” He suggests that trail users could detour to Old Marlborough Road at Williams Road and then along Old Pickard Road, which becomes Dakin Road when it crosses into Sudbury. Then bikers could take Route 117 in Sudbury, back to the rail bed.

Coutre said that other issues are safety, environmental and wildlife impact, parking, and trail access. He said that parents are concerned about their children’s safety if trail users are allowed to park at the Sanborn School to access the trail, which goes behind the school’s athletic fields.

“The real key is to get people together and talk about these issues and respect the fact that some people are impacted more than others,” Coutre said. He submitted a petition to the selectmen with 77 signatures asking that he be appointed to the one vacancy on the nine-member committee.

Selectmen Monday night put off the decision on who should fill the vacancy until at least this coming Monday.

Armstrong said he doesn’t think sending trail users onto the street with cars is a good idea. “Can you picture a wheelchair on 117?” he said.
He said he doesn’t know if there is a safe alternative route around the pond that would accommodate all users, including families with young children.
He said he doesn’t think the trail will bring an unsavory element into the community.

“The profile of the user they see is very different from what I see,” he said.
In his view, trail users will be people who want to enjoy nature and get some exercise.

Coutre also said that the trail’s surface material is a “huge issue.” “It should be dirt or stone dust,” he said. “People don’t want a wide corridor of blacktop.” He said White Pond relies on surface water for replenishment and runoff is a serious concern.

Armstrong said the surface issue is “very divisive” with differences of opinion among the members of the friends group. It is an issue that the committee will be exploring.

Sally Heaney can be reached at heaney@globe.com.