By Mike LaBella
---- — HAVERHILL — It’s nice to have a walking and biking path along the Merrimack River in the center of the city, but not enough for some residents.
They want the city’s Rail Trail to have an artistic touch for the neighbors and visitors who use it.
Other communities have rail trails that feature displays of public art. Now the Team Haverhill volunteer group wants to do the same for the Bradford Rail Trail. At its annual Possible Dreams community brainstorming event last week, Team Haverhill rolled out a set of goals for 2013-2014, including an “Art Walk” for the trail. Members of the volunteer group will work with the city, the Friends of the Bradford Rail Trail and design firms to integrate three to five top-quality permanent sculptures into the trail design.
The half-mile walking and biking path between the Basiliere and Comeau bridges on the Bradford side of the river opened in July 2011. Future plans are to extend it along a corridor stretching to Georgetown, which was once traveled by trains, and also to enhance the trail’s beauty and accessibility.
Team Haverhill President Alice Mann said artists will be selected to create sculptures for the rail trail either by a direct commissioning of works or through an art competition.
“We’re raising funds for this project now, and one of the sources will be our gala auction this fall,” Mann said. “Pentucket Bank will be the sole business sponsor, as they’ve committed to this.”
Local metal sculptor Dale Rogers is working with Team Haverhill to help it develop a “Call to Artists,” a sort of request for proposals, to ensure the group gets the best-quality designs possible.
“We expect that call to go out mid-year,” Mann said.
Team Haverhill members Tim Jordan and Rebecca York are heading a committee in charge of helping to select the artwork and raise money for the project.
“When we issue the Call to Artists, we’ll select three permanent sculptures to go on the trail, and in addition there will be an art competition in which artists will submit their proposals and the public will be invited to vote on the finalists and select two additional sculptures to go on the trail,” Jordan said.
The kinds of sculptures being discussed include metal pieces that can withstand the elements.
“One idea is a nautical theme, while another embraces Haverhill’s history,” Jordan said. “But we have not come up with a definitive theme yet.”
The trail, which is open for walking, is due for a major face-lift, with ongoing discussions about adding art and sculptures. Mann said art and the appearance of the downtown frequently come up during Possible Dreams events.
When Team Haverhill was founded in 2005, members had a vision of connecting the Bradford and Haverhill sides of the river with a walking loop incorporating the Basiliere and Comeau bridges. Mann said the city is a key player in the project and, along with the Friends of the Bradford Rail Trail, is working on designs for an extensive renovation and expansion. Team Haverhill’s focus is on helping to create a continuous walking loop that will incorporate art, recreation and commercial activity intended to attract a “critical mass of users so that it’s a safe and exciting place to be,” Mann said.
“Team Haverhill felt that we could add a dimension to the trail by bringing good quality public art into the design,” Mann said. “Many rail trails today have public art built into them, with Newburyport’s rail trail as an example.”
Jordan said the Clipper City Rail Trail in Newburyport features a variety of sculptures, including two by Dale Rogers.
“Public art creates another draw and gives people another reason to come and walk the trail,” Jordan said.