The dream took a big step toward becoming a reality yesterday.
Ian Bowles, state secretary of energy and environmental affairs, arrived with news the state is pitching in with $400,000 to help Haverhill purchase a soon-to-be abandoned railroad bed on the Bradford side of the river. The 1.1-mile railroad bed runs from the Comeau Bridge at the western end of downtown to the Haverhill Paperboard company just east of the Basiliere Bridge.
The city hopes to replace the dilapidated railroad bed with a recreational trail and eventually connect it to boardwalks and pathways on the downtown side of the river. The 2.5-mile loop would be connected on both ends of the downtown at the Basiliere and Comeau bridges, forming a continuous loop.
The city is negotiating to buy the unused railroad bed from Pan Am Railways, Mayor James Fiorentini said. The railway is part of the old "Georgetown Branch" line, which was built in 1851. It has not been used in three decades.
Haverhill is counting on the rail trail and several other projects, including a boardwalk along Washington Street, to revitalize downtown and take advantage of the river as a tourist attraction. The idea is that the proposed pathway will increase foot traffic in the business district, giving a boost to shops and restaurants and creating a lively atmosphere.
The railway land is expected to cost more than $400,000, but the city has secured private donations to pay for the remainder, Fiorentini said. The Greater Haverhill Foundation has committed an unspecified donation and the Crescent Yacht Club has donated $20,000, city officials said.
State Reps. Brian Dempsey, D-Haverhill, Barbara L'Italien, D-Andover, and state Sen. Steven Baddour, D-Methuen, pushed hard for the state money, Bowles said.
Each of the lawmakers attended yesterday's press conference at the Crescent Yacht Club, which is next to the eastern-most point of the proposed rail trail. The city plans to build a park next to the club where people who want to use the rail trail can leave their automobiles, the mayor said.