By Ann Reily
---- — SALISBURY — The Gillis Bridge Rail Trail Connector is in the spotlight this weekend.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony yesterday marked the official opening of the $1 million, one-quarter-mile project, and the Salisbury Art Stroll today will also celebrate the new connector and the seven murals that decorate it.
The connector, which links the Old Eastern Marsh Trail and Newburyport’s Clipper City Trail, allows walkers and bicyclists to safely cross Route 1 by traveling under the bridge.
“We all realized that trying to get over to the other side, you took your life into your hands,” state Rep. Michael Costello said during his opening remarks at yesterday’s ceremony.
“It took a great effort to get this done,” Costello said, acknowledging the efforts of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission, as well as Larry Pleau of Bridge Marina and John Golden, who donated land to the project.
“Not only do we have a rail trail, we have a waterfront park here,” Costello said. “It’s a multimillion-dollar view.”
State Sen. Kathleen O’Connor Ives, who chairs the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development, called the connector “an amazing hub for tourism.”
“This is an amazing framing of the vista in Newburyport,” she said.
“All it comes down to are these really critical connector pieces,” said Bill Steelman, director of heritage development for the Essex National Heritage Commission, who attended yesterday’s ceremony. “This is an important connection that was made today.”
Jerry Klima, a former Salisbury selectman who helped select the murals and organized the Art Stroll with Salisbury Planning Director Lisa Pearson and Assistant Planner Leah Hill, said he is happy with the way the connector turned out.
“It’s beyond what we ever could have thought,” he said after yesterday’s ceremony. He said he is hoping for a large turnout today, so people can “take a stroll and visit this new wonderful place.”
Today’s event, which runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., will feature around 20 artists, sculptors and crafters who will display and sell their work along the Old Eastern Marsh Trail, Klima said. Plein air artists will also be stationed along the trail, painting scenes of the marsh.
Admission is free, and refreshments, including ice cream, will be available to purchase.
At noon, mural artists Jim Angelone, Raymond Guertin, Edith Heyck, Debi Libuda, Stephanie Noah, Peggy Omer and Claudia Owens will be recognized with a formal ceremony.
The Old Eastern Marsh Trail is located at Friedenfels Road at the Route 1 bridge. Plenty of free parking will be available there and at Stripers across the street, Klima said.
Yesterday’s ceremony, which coincided with Bay State Bike Week, also included remarks by MassDOT Highway Administrator Frank DePaola and Salisbury Town Manager Neil Harrington.