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the Economic Impact of a Completed Massachusetts Central Rail Trail

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A Small Portion of the 19th Century's Grand Idea

is Becoming the 21st Century's Biggest Recycling Project.

       So here we are, deep into the 21st century and now, over 40 years since the Mass state parks agency planted a seed and bought the western-most 8-mile-long section of this 104± mile former railroad corridor--and redeveloped it into a biking/walking trail.
       Over the ensuing years DCR’s project-- called “Norwottuck Rail Trail”-- has grown into an idea of creating a state-wide project with a unifying name: MASS CENTRAL RAIL TRAIL;  Boston to Northampton.  This name mirrors the original name of the railroad—MASSACHUSETTS CENTRAL RAILROAD. 
       Today, over ninety miles of the land of the former railroad is now in some sort of public or protected status.  That is to say; a state agency, or a municipality, or a land trust is now preserving it from being segmented or damaged. Of that protected mileage, almost fifty-four miles are now open and safe for families to enjoy. In two years, we'll be around 70-75 miles open.

       However, getting to 104± miles open will be expensive to build out. For example, several, long bridges will need to be rebuilt or replaced. Corridor acquired. A 1,000 foot tunnel needing renos etc. etc.
       Recently the Massachusetts Department of Transportation commissioned a “feasibility study” of the gaps. Is it even possible to reassemble the missing pieces?  To "fill-the-gaps" as they say. The report says that it is feasible, but It will be complicated. If I can use a bit of railroad jargon, we are now at a "junction".

       To have the state commit large sums of public money to ‘fill-the-gaps’ begs these important questions. 

  •  What would it mean to have a completed Mass Central Rail Trail?  “A trail that connects with 17 other trails? 

  • Will the investment of large sums of public dollars be worth it?”


We think it will, because of the compelling metrics found in this report below.

·       Between 4-5 million users a year.

·       About 960,000 visitors just in Worcester County

·       400,000-500,00 over-night visitors a year.

·       About $200 million a year in economic impacts

Below to the right is a short, 8 page executive summary of a recent report by Kittelson & Associates ​for MassTrails that has compelling info about environmental, transportation and climate impacts of four well-known trails in Massachusetts. Three of which are a part-of, or directly connect to, the Mass Central Rail Trail. 

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 Did you know there have been 4 previous reports written in the past 35 years that talk about this corridor as being something very important to save?
These Tracks Don't Go Anywhere. May 1988.  Chuck Fisk and sons.  This is a never published manuscript about this corridor.

The father and sons walked the entire length from Northampton to Boston and this interesting  narrative ended up on the desk of one of the top officials at DEM who loved the concept and gave me a copy.

This is how the idea of a 100 mile trail started.  And now we are at the edge of pulling it off. 
Commonwealth Connections. July 1999 by DEM.  One of 7 reccomendations in this report is to create a cross-state multi-use trail reaching from Boston to the Berkshires.  (quotes are from the report.)

"Given the length of the proposed cross-state trail and the complexity of issues surrounding the funding of such an endeavor, it is critical to remain focused and provide support and encouragement to the many organizations and efforts forging the way for this trail."
Benefits of Shared Use Paths. May 2019 by Mass Trails.. Here's a great Executive Summary or Primer about the benefits or impacts of trail in four, 21st century metrics. Health, transportation, environmental and climate change. 

The great and easy to under-stand graphics here are notable. 

And three of the four trails that are the focus here are either on or directly connect to the MCRT. 
Mass Central Rail Trail Feasibility Study.  March 2021 by MassDOT.  In 2020, DOT became aware that the MCRT is 53 miles open right now and in 2 years it will be 70+ miles open. 

They did an investigation to see if it was even possible to piece the rest together.   Turns out that it is possible, but it will be be complicated.   

That then begs the question; what would a completed trail mean to the Commonwealth and the communities along the way?   Turns out that it will mean a lot.  See the MCRT Economic Study above.  LINK HERE
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