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$25,000 donated toward rail trail

With a local bank's $25,000 donation, Salem's long-awaited rail trail project is chugging steadily along this summer.

Larry Belair, who heads the steering committee for the Friends of the Salem Bike-Ped Corridor, told selectmen on Monday night that the Salem Cooperative Bank donated $25,000 of the funds needed to pave the first section of the path.

The donation also gets the group closer to the $229,000 it must raise in order to receive a $910,000 state transportation enhancement grant for the construction of a 1.1-mile trail extension from the Windham town line to Old Rockingham Road. With the $25,000 donation, the Friends have now raised $95,000.

David Topham, co-chairman of the Friends group, said the project received a welcome boost last year when a contractor from Iron Horse Preservation Society offered to remove the old rail ties and railings along the former railroad bed.

"It was a huge break for us," Topham said, noting that an agreement with the state Department of Transportation allowed Iron Horse to remove the old railroad iron at no cost to the town or state in exchange for the value of the metal.

Work on the project began about a decade ago, when community members began discussing the possibility of a walking and biking path allowing residents access to retail areas along the main thoroughfare.

A citizen survey conducted in 2008 received positive feedback from 85 percent of participating households.

"It's definitely something residents would like to see happen," Topham said, noting that work crews from Iron Horse are currently removing railroad ties in the area stretching from Old Rockingham Road toward the former Granite State Potato Chip factory.

The project's second phase will connect Salem's five-mile railroad corridor to the Windham town line, staying within the rail bed as much as possible and branching out on a side path toward Route 28.

A third phase would bring the rail trail across Rockingham Park Boulevard, though project planners are still figuring out a way to get pedestrians across the busy intersections safely.

Made up entirely of volunteers, the Friends group currently has 82 members, all with the common mission of maintaining the former B & M Railroad bed for nonmotorized recreational use.

The group is affiliated with the Bike Walk Alliance of N.H.

Salem's railroad area dates to the mid-1800s, when the Manchester-Lawrence train service began. The rail bed has been dormant since the 1980s, when the last freight train passed through the area.

The Iron Horse group began removing rail ties this past fall, but had to stop for the season when the ground froze in December.About three weeks ago, work on the iron removal resumed, and a recent review with state DOT officials revealed no problems thus far."They were told to keep on going," Topham said.

Looking ahead, the Friends are hoping crews from Iron Horse can complete their job over the summer months, with fundraising to continue in order to match the state grant.aguilmet@newstote.com



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