Merrimack River Greenway in Concord gains a boost from U.S. fund that may end

Last modified: 9/12/2015 12:31:52 AM
Work could begin as early as this year on the first leg of the long-discussed Merrimack River Greenway Trail, thanks in part to $100,000 from a 50-year-old federal program that may expire at the end of this month.

The prospect that Congress won’t renew the U.S. Land and Water Conservation Fund, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars from offshore oil leases to environmental projects throughout the country, was part of the reason U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell came to Terrill Park in Concord on Friday afternoon.

Jewell and U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, along with a host of city and state officials, were ostensibly there to celebrate the start of building a multi-use trail along the east bank of the Merrimack River. But they were quick to say they hoped Congress wouldn’t abandon a fund that has transferred $38 million toward hundreds of New Hampshire projects, including this one, since its launch in 1965.

The conservation fund began in 1965 and was set to run for 50 years. It will expire at the end of September unless Congress renews it.

“It doesn’t just fund big projects, it does projects like this that make such a different for so many people,” said Shaheen, speaking of the greenway.

As proposed, that greenway would run 14 miles from Pembroke to Boscawen, connecting with other trails as part of a continuous, multi-use path from the Massachusetts border up to Hanover. A 2011 feasibility study estimated the Concord portion would cost roughly $12.2 million, not including buying land or rights-of-way.

Claudio Prendergast, a trustee of the Friends of the Merrimack River Greenway Trail, said work could begin as early as this year on the first phase of the trail, including a paved trail in the park and a raised boardwalk over wetlands adjoining the river that will include a viewing platform.

This phase, covering about a mile, will be entirely on city-owned property. The $100,000 grant from the Land and Water Conservation Fund is being matched by private donations.

There is no exact timetable for the construction of this phase, Prendergast said, but it could be open as early as next summer.

In her remarks, Shaheen compared the greenway to a major wildlife refuge in northeast Vermont, near the New Hampshire border, that was created with LWCF money.

“People don’t get to go every day to the Silvio Conti Wildlife Refuge, but they are going to get out every day to something like this,” Shaheen said.

Concord Mayor Jim Bouley told the gathering that the city had used roughly $2 million in Land and Water Conservation Fund money through the years for more than 25 different projects, including neighborhood swimming pools.

“More than 1,000 children learned to swim because of that money,” he said.

And for her part, Jewell, former CEO of the outdoor clothing and equipment company REI, pointed to economic benefits.

“When people say, ‘Where am I going to live, where am I going to put my business?,’ (they) look at projects like this,” said Jewell of the Greenway project.

Jewell was also in New Hampshire to celebrate an environmental success story: The decision not to put the New England cottontail on the endangered species list because efforts to restore “scrubland” habitat for the species were improving its status.

Before coming to Concord, Jewell and Shaheen were at a public event in Dover, where captive-raised cottontails were released on restored habitat on Ambrose Farm, the first such release on private land.



(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313, dbrooks@cmonitor.com, or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)




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