METHUEN — Volunteers say the Methuen Rail Trail is gaining popularity among walkers, runners, bicyclists and others looking for a quick outdoor retreat just minutes from the heart of downtown.
Across the region, local officials and community groups are working to transform abandoned railroad lines into recreational trails. In addition to Methuen, rail trails have been built in Haverhill, Derry, N.H., and Windham, N.H.
In the year and a half since it opened to the public, Methuen Rail Trail Alliance President Tim Vermette said more and more people are using the 2.4-mile trail, which several years ago was left clogged with thick weeds and litter.
“It’s a 180-degree turn, really,” said Vermette. “It’s usable. It’s clear. We’re happy with the work we’ve done, where we’re at now. We’re just looking at the next level.”
It will likely take some time to get to that next level, Vermette said. Rail trail volunteers eventually hope to replace the current crushed asphalt path with a more even and durable asphalt surface, among other improvements.
But that could cost upwards of $1.5 million, according to Methuen Rail Trail advocate Joyce Godsey. A frequent attendee at City Council meetings, Godsey has openly criticized city officials for failing to take the lead.
“This needs to be tackled as a grown-up project,” said Godsey. “I would like to see them be a part of our group instead of the opposition.”
The Methuen Rail Trail begins near the Manchester Street Park in Lawrence and extends northward to Hampshire Road, just off Broadway (Route 28) in Salem, N.H. The rail bed was originally part of the Manchester-to-Lawrence branch of the defunct B&M Railroad, and was used by the Hood dairy company as far back as the 1800s.