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Ashland, Hopkinton

Second group proposes Marathon-centered facility

A marker recalling the original Boston Marathon starting line stretches across  Route 135 in Ashland.

Stephen H. Flynn

A marker recalling the original Boston Marathon starting line stretches across Route 135 in Ashland.

While plans move forward to build a $15 million to $20 million global marathon center in Hopkinton, a group of Ashland residents is pushing on with plans for a museum and function hall to celebrate the original starting line of the Boston Marathon.

Steven H. Greenberg, with the Ashland Sporting Association, said his group has verbally agreed on a price with the owner of a home at 329 Pleasant St. that sits between the town’s Marathon Park and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2331. The site is 3.6 miles east of the location proposed for the Hopkinton museum.

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On Wednesday night, Greenberg took his plans before the Board of Selectmen to ask for $279,000 in Community Preservation Committee funds to buy and raze the house, and pay for a master plan to redevelop the site.

While the Ashland group’s vision is considerably smaller and more regional than the international marathon center proposed in Hopkinton, the themes of distance running, fitness, and a heavy emphasis on the history of marathoning in general and the Boston Marathon in particular are similar.

The leaders of the projects will not publicly express frustration with the other, but the groups are not communicating or cooperating with each other.

“Are we trying to compete with them, absolutely not,” Greenberg said. “We’re just trying to build a facility that can serve the community and the community of runners 52 weeks a year.”

Tim Kilduff, with the 26.2 Foundation in Hopkinton, which is behind the effort to build the marathon center at Legacy Farms, said his group is trying to build a “substantial facility” that will have a positive effect on the entire region.

“Competition between towns doesn’t advance the cause,” he said. “And the cause is to create an institution that attracts people to the region and promotes the global network and sport of marathoning.”

He said that people visiting his Hopkinton complex will be going to restaurants in Westborough, Ashland, and other area communities.

“We are trying to build a global marathon center that will attract people 12 months of the year,” he said.

The master plan for the Ashland museum would include expansion of Marathon Park with new walking and running trails, along with a complete renovation of the VFW post, with the veterans continuing to use the building’s first level, and a marathon museum and function hall installed above it, according to Greenberg.

He said the museum would include memorabilia from Ashland’s history as the starting point for the Boston Marathon from the first race in 1897 until 1924, when the event’s distance was lengthened from 25 miles to the Olympic standard of 26.2 miles. With the finish line anchored in Boston, the starting line was moved west along Route 135 to downtown Hopkinton.

Plaques telling the story of how Ashland was once the center of distance running will also be installed in Marathon Park and at the proposed museum, he said.

“I envision runners coming to Ashland to get married overlooking the original starting line of the Boston Marathon,” Greenberg said. “It’s a historic site, you can’t take the history away from us, and that’s what we’re trying to sell.”

Stephen Flynn, secretary of the Ashland Sporting Association, said he does not know the specifics of the Hopkinton proposal.

“They’re shooting for the moon. Our theme will be the Ashland era of the Boston Marathon,” he said, calling the town “the cradle of distance running.

“It really was the Wild West of road racing with some great runners, some great stories, and some great, great characters,” he said.

Funding for the renovations to the VFW post is expected to come from grants as well as proceeds from benefit road races organized by the sporting association.

Greenberg said the association is expecting to receive its official nonprofit status from the state soon.

Two years ago, the group started a half-marathon road race that winds through town, and this year it is planning four races of varying lengths to help raise money for the project and to promote fitness, Greenberg said.

The three selectmen at Wednesday’s meeting said they liked what they heard, and unanimously supported Greenberg’s plans to apply for Community Preservation Act funds.

“I think it’s a great project,” board chairwoman Yolanda Greaves said.

This is the second year Greenberg has attempted to obtain funding. Last year the two parties could not agree on a sale price for the house, and the proposal never made it through the Community Preservation Committee to Town Meeting, which has the final say on funding.

“The Marathon may start there,” Greenberg said of Hopkinton, “but it started here.”

Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at eishkanin@gmail.com.
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