By Doug Ireland
---- — SALEM — Work on the rail trail is back on track after a five-month hiatus, but organizers have reached a critical point in the project.
The Friends of the Salem Bike-Ped Corridor are trying to come up with the approximately $76,000 in matching funds needed by June 24 to receive a federal transportation grant.
“We need community support to make it happen,” Friends co-chairman David Topham said.
The organization has already raised $94,000 for the bicycle and walking trail, he said.
Topham met with officials from the state Department of Transportation, Salem and Windham yesterday afternoon to request a change of scope for the project, which he said would reduce the grant money needed.
Meanwhile, a railroad preservation group has resumed removal of wooden ties along a 2.8-mile portion of the 5.1 miles of rail line in Salem.
The group, Iron Horse Preservation Society, began removing rails and ties in late October, but had to stop in December because the ground was frozen.
The work resumed in late May, Topham said.
Crews from Iron Horse, based in Nevada, travel around the country and pull up old tracks for free. They fund the work by selling the track and equipment to help restore historic railroads. The organization is doing about $400,000 worth of work, Topham said.
Iron Horse operations manager Ryan Hattrup said his crew is making progress and expects to finish the work this summer.
“There’s a lot of stuff to remove,” he said. “We’re getting everything in the ground.”
The area will be graded, then paved or covered with gravel.
But the project hit another stumbling block yesterday afternoon when Topham met with state and local officials.
Topham asked to use some of the grant for paving instead of putting in a side path along Route 28, reducing the amount needed from $910,000 to $675,000.
That would significantly reduce the Friends’ 25 percent matching grant commitment, meaning they would have to come up with $168,750 instead of $227,500.
But Topham said changing the project’s scope would require a $30,000 engineering study — something his organization of volunteers did not anticipate. Additional money would be needed for the engineering, he said.
The Friends’ immediate goal is to raise the $76,000 needed to receive the federal money, Topham said. He’s confident that goal will be attained and said there are no plans to halt the project.
To help generate support, there will be a public informational meeting at Town Hall on Monday at 7 p.m. No taxpayer money is being used for the project.
“We will bring people up to speed on what’s going on and the need for funding,” he said.
The Friends will update selectmen at the board’s meeting June 24, Topham said.
The trail also passes through Windham, Derry and Londonderry.