NEWBURYPORT — It can take the cutting of red tape to create a blue-ribbon outdoor experience.
Following up on the completion of the Clipper City Rail Trail I, a walking and biking trail winding 1.1 miles from the Merrimack River to Parker Street, city officials are making progress in their plan to extend the rail trail east along what is known as the City Branch, a former rail corridor that runs through the city's South End and along the waterfront.
The current rail trail I, which one can traverse from Cashman Park to the MBTA station adjacent to Route 1, has been adjudged a success by many who use it.
Now, city officials are pushing to extend the trail east from the boardwalk on the central waterfront to Joppa Park, though much of their work involves legal procedures rather than moving land and crafting walkways.
"The Rail Trail gets a lot of use, and I am often stopped when I am on the trail by people who are enjoying it," said Geordie Vining, senior project engineer who is supervising much of the extension planning.
"We are working to extend it, and it is a process of meetings and negotiation that takes time. But we are making progress."
Vining said that city officials will be holding a public hearing in late spring or summer to obtain resident input on the work ahead.
The City Branch corridor, which is long since abandoned, is a 19th century rail spur line that connected the city's waterfront docks to the main rail line that is still used today for the commuter rail. It was used primarily to bring rail cars to massive coal storage buildings that once stood on the city's central waterfront.
Traces of the rail line can easily be seen today. It runs along the waterfront, next to Oldies Marketplace and through several privately owned parcels. A long stretch of it behind the city's water treatment plant is used by some residents as a walking path. It emerges from the waterfront at Joppa Park, then cuts through the South End. It crosses under High Street at March's Hill, then skirts along the Newbury town line on its way to the main rail line.