Melanie Lovell recalls driving through Lynnfield for the first time and thinking, “This place is so beautiful; look at all these trees.” She moved there from Malden in 2012 and noticed an abundance of deer, coyotes, foxes, and rabbits.
A member of the Lynnfield Conservation Commission and an abutter of a proposed bike trail, Lovell decided she was against the project out of concern about trees coming down, plant and animal species in Reedy Meadow being disturbed, and what she called the inevitable litter.
Many in Lynnfield are enthusiastic about the creation of a 4.4-mile trail that would run through Lynnfield and Wakefield and be used by walkers and bicyclists. But Lovell is part of the opposition group Citizens of Lynnfield Against the Rail Trail, whose concerns include the environment, safety, finances, and a potential decrease in property values.
Half of the communities in Essex County either have rail trails — paths developed from old, unused railways — or are in the process of developing them, said Bill Steelman, chief operating officer of the Essex National Heritage Commission.
The state gave Lynnfield money for a feasibility study in 2007. The construction of a trail is expected to be funded by state and federal funds, said Janet Long, chair of the Lynnfield Recreational Path Committee. The town would be responsible for trail maintenance afterward, but those costs are very small in comparison, she said.
Engineers were supposed to wrap up the preliminary design study in December but encountered permit delays. Because trail advocates want residents to see the engineers’ report before voting, Long said, the rail trail question was pushed off the warrant for Monday’s Annual Town Meeting.
Meanwhile, Long has been encouraging Lynnfield residents to walk neighboring Peabody’s Independence Greenway.
“Nobody feels afraid, and it’s a social thing,” she said. “It’s a very friendly environment.”
Bob Breslow, another abutter to the proposed Lynnfield trail, has concerns about safety, especially because the proposed route runs directly behind the Lynnfield Middle School and is close to the Summer Street Elementary School. “A lot of bad things happen near schools, and it’s just because that’s where there’s a lot of activity, and where there’s activity, there’s issues,” Breslow said.
Lynnfield’s police chief, David J. Breen, who is “not on one side or the other right now,” downplayed the fears about safety.
“The issue with regards to criminals using the rail trail for access is anecdotal at best,” he said.
He spoke with police chiefs in Peabody, Danvers, and Topsfield — communities with rail trails — and said none had anything negative to say.
“The vast majority of our complaints have been some youth disorder as far as hanging around, congregating, a few minor reports of vandalism,” Captain Patrick Ambrose of the Danvers Police Department said. “But for the most part, we haven’t had any of the problems.”
Ambrose said he would not suggest that there is a higher percentage of calls about the rail trail than any other part of the community.
‘We’re trying to make sure everyone understands the impact.’
Breslow also questioned what the trail would do to abutters’ property values. Lexington realtors Jeff Lyon and Charla Coleman both said that if anything, the Minuteman Bikeway in town has had a positive effect on property values.
For the fiscal year that ends June 30, the average single-family home in Lexington was assessed at $820,366, compared with $553,557 in Lynnfield.
“Rail trails are an enhancement to the value rather than a detriment,” Lynnfield assessing manager Dick Simmons said, “and people generally want to be along the rail trail rather than be away from it.”
Simmons is a member of the Recreational Path Committee and was chairman for about 10 years.
Other communities north of Boston considering rail trails have not seen the same level of organized opposition as in Lynnfield. One such place is Groveland, which is planning a 3.25-mile path that includes repurposing abandoned railroad tracks.
The article went to a vote at the April 2014 Town Meeting and “passed nearly unanimously,” said Mike Davis, a member of the Groveland Open Space and Trails Committee.
“There were a few people who dissented,” he said, “but the room did erupt in cheer in the announcement that the article had passed.”
Another project moving forward is the Border to Boston Trail, which will run 28 miles from Salisbury to Peabody. “I’m sure that there have been some isolated land owners along some of the trails that have expressed opposition to the project,” said Tony Komornick, transportation program manager at the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission.
“But it’s been a very small opposition voice that we’ve been hearing.”
The opposition in Lynnfield, Komornick said, could be because it is more densely populated than some communities farther north.
Dot Halpin, a member of the Wakefield Rail-to-Trail Committee, said that while Wakefield is used to having people come from all over to walk around Lake Quannapowitt, Lynnfield is “a little less open” and people fear invasion of privacy.
“The reason why our small scope of a town has been able to organize opposition is because you can only push us so far with development,” Lovell said.
Breslow wants people to question whether this is something they would use.
“Let the people decide, and we all believe in democracy, and we support whatever the decision is,” he said. “We’re trying to make sure everyone understands the impact.”Erica Moser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.