GROTON -- Peter Cunningham, an avid bicyclist who frequents the Nashua River Rail Trail, knows the 11-mile stretch is more than just a place to go and listen to birds chirping.
Some commuters bike on it to get to the Ayer train station every day. Others enjoy cross-country skiing and inline skating. Those in a wheelchair can coast on it, too. After all, the trail is one of the top 100 New England attractions handpicked by Yankee Magazine last year.
So when Cunningham, a selectman, heard some people are trying to turn an abandoned railroad bed between West Groton and Townsend into a trail, he joined the effort. And he thinks voters attending the upcoming fall Town Meeting will get behind it as well.
"I am sure of that because of the way people have responded to the Nashua River Rail Trail," Cunningham said.
Selectmen are proposing to spend $10,000 in Community Preservation Act money to conduct an environmental and engineering study for the Groton portion of Squannacook River Trail Project. The trail would run for 3.3 miles along part of the railroad tracks once used by Boston and Maine Railroad, between the Bertozzi Wildlife Management area near Route 119 in West Groton and Depot Street in the center of Townsend.
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority currently owns the railroad bed, and the Groton and Townsend town governments have copies of a drafted release agreement with the MBTA, which would allow them to use the property for 99 years at a price of $1, according to Bill Rideout, assistant chairman of the Squannacook River Trail Committee. The railroad actually starts at the Ayer train station, but the MBTA considers the portion up to the Bertozzi Wildlife Management area as an active railroad.
The committee was formed in 2002 by Rideout and Steve Meehan, both of Townsend, after groups of residents began looking into the possibility of creating a trail there. The committee now includes Cunningham, Groton Trails Committee member Bruce Easom and Al Futterman of the Nashua River Watershed Association.
Townsend has already obtained a $20,000 grant from the state Department of Conservation and Recreation toward the engineering study for the 2.4-mile portion of the trail that lies in Townsend. Residents there also backed the trail project when voting on a referendum question in May 2006.
Now, Groton selectmen hope residents here will vote for the $10,000 Community Preservation spending for the study on a .9-mile portion within the town. The trail would not only provide recreational opportunities but help attract tourists, said Interim Town Administrator Jeff Ritter.
"People who use bike trails -- they often spend money locally," Ritter said. "Potential is there to attract tourists to the area because it's a very popular scenic area. I envision that when this all comes together, it could be a desirable destination for those who enjoy bicycling, and they may decide stay at hotels locally or eat dinner."
Rideout said the trail would also allow residents near the Groton-Townsend border to walk to the nearby Harbor Village Shopping Center.
According to Rideout, the typical cost of trail construction is $250,000 per mile. Cunningham believes federal grants will be available to cover the construction cost. Groton selectmen plan to issue a request for proposals for the engineering study in mid-August and ask for voters' approval for the CPA funding at the fall Town Meeting.