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Quincy river walk approaches a milestone

Decade-long effort to link waterfront walkways is in line for key funding boost

Neponset River Watershed Association spokesman Steve Pearlman surveys the route for the next phase of a walkway running along the water near the Neponset Bridge in Quincy.

Debee Tlumacki for the Boston Globe

Neponset River Watershed Association spokesman Steve Pearlman surveys the route for the next phase of a walkway running along the water near the Neponset Bridge in Quincy.

The idea is massive and quite ambitious: to build a roughly 5-mile river walk along Quincy’s northern shores.

The plans envision a patchwork of paved pathways that blend into dirt paths, stretching from Milton up past Sagamore Creek, snaking along the Neponset River and along Squantum Point Park, over to Marina Bay and back down again, stopping at Wollaston Beach along the way.

 Pearlman and Quincy 9-year-old Brian Gutro explore an undeveloped stretch of the pathway near the river.

Debee Tlumacki for the Boston Globe

Pearlman and Quincy 9-year-old Brian Gutro explore an undeveloped stretch of the pathway near the river.

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In the decade since the endeavor was undertaken, proponents have accomplished less than half of the river walk. But the project is on the verge of reaching a milestone. Sometime this summer, the funding to finish the first section could be in place. And by next spring, organizers hope to have completed a 2-mile section of the trail from the Best Western Adams Inn all the way up to Squantum Point.

Only one section of the trail — running between Squantum Point and the Boston Scientific Corp. property — stands in the way.

Steve Pearlman, advocacy director for the Neponset River Watershed Association, said his organization had applied for grants to help build the connecting portion, but initially ran into problems.

“We had applied for a grant for federal transportation funds once before, and they said, ‘We don’t fund permitting,’ so we were denied,” Pearlman said.

Using $25,000 in Community Preservation Act funds from the city, the organization got a professional to design the project, which would elevate some of the land mired in the marsh’s tidal moods in Squantum Point Park and build walkable pathways through the overgrown and impassable areas.

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The watershed group has also received permission from state Department of Conservation and Recreation, as well as from Boston Scientific — which owns the land — to build on the property. Quincy’s Conservation Commission has also given its OK.

The only remaining unknown is the funding. NepRWA has again applied for $50,000 in federal transportation money to complete the project. Sometime this summer, the group will learn the outcome of those efforts.

Finding the money is one element of a river walk saga that began when a 280-apartment complex was proposed for 2 Hancock St. in 1999. As a condition of building the complex, the developer agreed in 2005 to include such amenities as the river walk, a canoe and kayak launch, benches, lighting, and a salt marsh restoration. These features, however, have been held up by conflicts over such things as easements, environmental issues, and funding.

Under the agreement, if the boat launch couldn’t be built, NepWRA was entitled to receive $100,000. With the boat launch still unresolved, the group took up the developer on that offer, and the money can be used to build the trail and install signs, benches, and put in some landscaping elsewhere on the walk.

Yet even that money is in question; it is tied up in litigation between the developers and neighbors, stemming from a disagreement about whether a boat launch is possible at Neponset Landing. The parties are slated to return to court Wednesday regarding the disagreement.

“If a settlement isn’t reached on a boat launch, we will use that money’’ for the river walk, Pearlman said. “Hopefully, we won’t have to. But I think we’re pretty close. I feel good that this will be built within a year or so.”

While far from complete, the ability to walk a sizable section of the riverfront is an exciting accomplishment, said Ward 3 City Councilor Kevin Coughlin; his district contains half the proposed river walk.

“I’m grateful to see this one further step in pulling this puzzle together,” Coughlin said. “I’ve been a supporter of this for the 11 years I’ve been on the council . . . Now we need to continue working in each direction along the river in order to bring [the full project] to fruition.”

Although the endeavor has taken more than a decade to get to this point, the finished product will be worth the wait, Coughlin said.

Debee Tlumacki for the Boston Globe

Neponset River Watershed Association official Steve Pearlman is looking forward to a walkway near the Adams Inn gazebo resembling the Squantum Point section.

“Every time I go over the Neponset Bridge to Pope John Paul Park and ride my bike to the Neponset trail over there . . . it makes me long for the day we can have something that replicates it on the Quincy side,” Coughlin said.

As he walked along the newly installed pathway near the Adams Inn, gazing out at the marshland and the blue sky beyond, Councilor at Large Doug Gutro agreed that the river walk is an amenity much desired for Quincy.

“It’s such an asset. It’s a [shame] people don’t have more access,” he said. “I can’t imagine how terrific it will be once it’s complete.”

Discussions are underway to upgrade existing parts of the river walk, Gutro said, such as creating a bigger walkway along Commander Shea Boulevard.

Despite all the work being put into this effort, the river walk isn’t universally popular. Ward 6 Councilor Brian McNamee, whose ward contains other portions of the river walk, isn’t sure whether his constituents want it.

“These are very presumptuous proposals by people who don’t live in the neighborhood . . . they shouldn’t be making decisions regarding access ways that affect these neighborhoods,” McNamee said.

Although the river walks would provide waterfront access, he said, he is concerned that the winding trails and meandering pathways could easily become a way for criminals to enter and leave the area.

“I’m not interested in narrow pathways that become new community crime highways,” he said.

Debee Tlumacki for the Boston Globe

Kathy Tavares walks along the Squantum Point section.

For Coughlin, McNamee’s concerns ring hollow.

“Crime happens everywhere, and I think that if you use that as a bar or a proscription to these types of amenities, then they wouldn’t exist,” he said. “People have to be prudent no matter where they are or where they travel. . . I don’t think that’s a legitimate reason to stop this from happening.”

Although there haven’t been any surveys of public opinion regarding a river walk, residents walking along the path on a recent sunny Saturday morning agreed that connecting the pathway was a fantastic idea, even with the threat of crime.

“I think it would be a slim possibility if there is next to no crime now,” said Jay Oberton, who lives in Quincy’s Squantum section. “I don’t think extending the river walk would bring in those issues.”

“I can see [the concern]. You open up walkways and you need added patrols and infrastructure,” said Sally Shaughnessy, who lives in Wollaston. “But for resident access, and to keep folks in town, the benefits outweigh the negatives . . . I think it would be great.”

Still, Steve Perdios, a Quincy Environmental Network, spokesman, cautions that both his organization and NepRWA have a long way to go before anyone should start celebrating. Proponents aren’t even contemplating the remaining walk to reach Milton just yet, instead focusing on a connection to Wollaston Beach

“We may be able to get [2 miles done] in a year, but we still have a lot of work,” Perdios said. “It’s a long project. We’ve worked hard on this for a long time and we have a lot of work in front of us. But I’m happy we’re moving forward.”

Jessica Bartlett can be reached at jessica.may.bartlett@gmail.com.

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