To the good people of Manchester:
I write today regarding the proposed purchase of the rail trail recreation path. Understanding well the differing viewpoints on this matter, I thought it might be helpful to offer some history and perspective from my nearly 25 years of service as your Planning Director.
Creating a recreation path along the former Manchester, Dorset and Granville railroad bed had been a long-held dream, one of those ideas that “if we ever had the chance...”
Yet even though long abandoned, OMYA still owned the railbed and had paid taxes on it for many years. So when the Hosley family donated 10 acres of land just north of the Rec Area to the Town, we accepted gratefully, and together with engineer Ellis Speath, Jim Hand and others, we created a walking path through the woods to demonstrate the community value of such an asset.
Thanks to significant and generous donations by Bill Dailey and the local VAST club, a bridge was built over the West Branch of the Batten Kill, enabling this path to reach lands of Riley Rink. At that point, it was then possible to enjoy walking from the heart of downtown, through the path behind the school and Palmer House, to the Rec Area, and then through the woods to the Rink.
This was a wonderful resource on its own, and we’d always hoped that the newer path on the former Hosley property to the Rink could be the start of a “someday” path north along the railbed.
At some point afterward, we learned that OMYA was considering selling the railbed parcel. Thanks to several generous local residents and businesspeople, including Hand, Robin and Amy Verner, and Bill Drunsic, the stretch of railbed roughly from Riley Rink to North Road was purchased in order to preserve the possibility.
There was controversy to be overcome, as with many such projects, but despite that, the land remained in local ownership for future possibilities.
Since then, significant effort has been made over time to clear and improve this path, rebuild bridges over small streams, and turn this into a world-class recreation path. While for some peculiar reason, it has had to remain a private path, permission has been granted to many individuals to use and enjoy this path.
Now the Town has the chance to purchase and own this recreation path. It is clearly both the “best of times, yet the worst of times.” Municipalities throughout Vermont are facing fiscal challenges. Manchester is not immune to this, nor is Shelburne, where I currently serve as Town Manager. Yet sometimes, we get one chance to do the right thing.
Towns and cities all over the country are turning to recreation as important economic drivers. The Stowe rec path, itself fraught with controversy in its early days, has long been a huge economic asset. Kingdom Trails up in the Northeast Kingdom has been a similar economic driver.
Now Manchester has its own chance to do the same. Important on its own, it’s also a logical extension of the significant investments made at Applejack Field and the entire Rec Area over the past decade or more. It would be a wonderful asset for residents and visitors alike.
Think back as well to the earliest days of the Town Green project, how controversial that was back then, and what an amazing and wonderful investment and asset that has long been for everyone.
If we’d let fear and money get in our way back then, the Town Green would not exist; nor would Applejack Field, the roundabout and the entire Main Street reconstruction, and all of the other wonderful investments in community improvement that both public and private sectors have made over time.
While I no longer live in Manchester, I still care about the community very much and feel very connected emotionally. Thus, my reason for writing. I believe in the Rec Path project and hope that the Selectboard and community will once again step up, take the long-run view, and make an important investment in its own future. I will certainly donate to the cause and hope you will, too.
Thanks for listening. With best wishes to everyone.