MANCHESTER — The owners of the rail trail have not given up on hopes the town might take over the multi-use path and they approached the Manchester Select Board about it Tuesday night.
Bill Drunsic, along with Robin and Amy Verner, logged into the Select Board’s Zoom meeting Tuesday and asked for a signal that the town still wanted the trail.
They acknowledged the difficult budget situation the town finds itself in but hoped there was some way to move the project forward.
Drunsic told the board that the hoped-for state grant the town applied for was rejected, leaving the trail in limbo.
“We’re trying to come up with a plan B to come to closure on this process,” Drunsic said. “We need to have the town say, ‘we want this or we don’t want this.’”
Board chair Ivan Beattie told the board that he and Drunsic had engaged in conversation about the trail and said he was a big fan of the multi-use path the owners have built on the old rail bed from near Riley Rink at Hunter Park to North Road.
But, Beattie said, he couldn’t support anything this year and couldn’t promise with any certainty that next year would be a “yes” either.
“Bill and I have had some discussion about this and I’ve been opposed to moving forward on it this year,” Beattie said. “I would have a hard time to go back to all the department heads after asking them to accept no raises and then go ahead on this. I’m really dug in on this.”
Beattie praised the owners of the trail, which is built on the old Manchester, Dorset & Granville railroad bed.
The 1.6-mile trail connects to an existing trail that runs from Riley Rink to Manchester Elementary Middle School.
“Strictly from a personal sense, I love the fact that the trail is there,” Beattie said. “I think all that’s happened has been positive.”
But, Beattie said he wanted to explore alternatives to the town buying the trail.
“There may be some other option to bring this to fruition,” Beattie said.
Drunsic said the group was amenable to alternatives but said the trail had been completed to the point it wouldn’t cost the town much thanks to all the work that has been done.
“The trail is at the point where it’s very useable,” Drunsic said. “The town doesn’t need to put a lot of money into it when it is taken over. The maintenance issue should be minimal.”
Beattie pointed out that there were plans in Dorset to connect a Dorset trail to the rail trail.
“There is talk of extending it into another town which makes it a regional path,” Beattie said. “Which, I think is a great idea.”
The trail has been enormously popular and Amy Verner said the town should appreciate its potential.
“This is the best thing that’s happened to this town since COVID started,” Vener said. “The town is missing out on a great opportunity. It will bring people into town.”
She said the owners, who bought the former railroad right-of-way, cleared the land, built the trail, installed bridges and more, have been told the town would take the trail over.
“We have been led since 2009 or before that the town wanted this,” Verner said. “And the people really do what this. We have gone out on a limb that the town would take it over.”
She said people have offered to donate, but they can’t accept donations until the town is involved.
Board member Heidi Chamberlain said she spent a decade serving on the board of the Vermont Land Trust and she offered to connect Drunsic and the other owners to folks in the Land Trust.
“They deal with these kinds of things all the time,” Chamberlain said.
Drunsic said he was open to that, but added that the owners are interested in getting something done soon.
“We were heading down a path we thought would bring this to closure,” Drunsic said. “But this state grant issue put up a detour sign and we don’t know what this detour looks like right now.
But, putting this off two years or three years or four years, we can’t just live in this never, never land of kicking the can down the road. I’m looking for anything that brings us to closure in the near future.”
The board decided to put the issue on the agenda for its next meeting, which will be a special session Tuesday, Jan. 12.
In the meantime, Drunsic said he would forward a proposal he had in mind to Town Manager John O’Keefe, to be distributed to the board.
The board will then discuss the proposal and see if there are any options that can be added to the Town Meeting Day warning this year or not.