By Doug Ireland
---- — It’s been years in the making, but now there’s hope construction of a rail trail from Salem to Concord will move full steam ahead.
The Regional Trails Coordinating Council recently approved a plan its members said will help complete a trail system for cyclists, hikers and others that enhances transportation and recreation in Southern New Hampshire.
For residents of Salem, Windham, Derry and Londonderry, it’s hoped approval of the Regional Trails Plan will help them fund and expedite the portions of the 115-mile rail trail — from Methuen to Lebanon — that pass through their towns.
“There are many bits and pieces,” said David Topham of Salem. “It’s about connecting people and projects.”
For more than a decade, Salem residents have worked to establish a 5.1-mile trail in their town along the old Boston & Maine rail line, laid in 1849.
People in Windham, Derry and Londonderry have been doing the same thing, with varying degrees of funding and success.
While most of Windham’s portion was completed several years ago, work in Salem only began late this fall despite years of planning. Much of Derry’s portion is completed as well, while much work remains in Londonderry, where a warrant article to be presented to voters in March seeks funding for the project.
Residents and town officials in each community have worked on their own. With development of the trail plan, the goal is for these people to come together and complete the segments in the many towns along the route, according to David Preece, executive director of the Southern New Hampshire Planning Commission.
The commission, the council and the Central New Hampshire Regional Planning Commission are combining efforts to complete the Salem-to-Concord corridor. Rail trails also extend west to Lebanon and to northern New Hampshire.
The plan helps identify the needs of each town’s rail project, Preece said.
“What we want are connections, so you can go to Salem, to Concord and to the Lakes Region,” Preece said. “It’s getting these people together and carrying out their plans.”
There’s no shortage of dedicated volunteers working to make it all happen. But there is one major shortage — money.
“Funding is very limited for rail trail projects,” Preece said. “We really need to work together because funds are limited.”
Preece hopes development of the plan will make it easier to obtain money for the work, whether it’s securing grants or private donations.
“It’s really a public and private partnership,” he said. “The communities can’t do this alone.”
Mark Samsell of Windham, the rail council’s treasurer and vice president of the New Hampshire Rail Coalition, praised the plan.
He said it will promote the work being done and help raise the money needed for construction.
Topham, a member of the council and the Friends of the Salem Bike-Ped Corridor, also lauded the plan.
“It puts all the facts and figures together for the region,” he said. “Prior to (the plan), there was no way of knowing who was doing what and where.”
Salem’s portion of the project was progressing well until work had to stop in December, he said.
A 2.8-mile section of the trail was being worked on by the Iron Horse Preservation Society — a group of railroad enthusiasts who travel around the country and pull up old track and rails for free. They fund the work by selling the track and rails to restore historic railroads.
While all the rails were removed this fall, the group was only able to pull up about 35 percent of the ties before the ground froze, Topham said.
The rest will be removed this spring and once the last tie is pulled, they will be transported by truck to Pennsylvania for disposal since they too rotted to be reused, Topham said. Six piles of ties lie along Route 28, waiting to be taken away, he said.
Part of the trail has been completed near Tuscan Kitchen restaurant, where Topham said owner Joe Faro has worked diligently to beautify the area.