SALISBURY — It’s been five years in the making, but yesterday Salisbury officially unveiled the latest addition to its ambitious rail trail project.
The Salisbury Point Ghost Trail, which follows the route of an abandoned rail spur line from Salisbury Center to a point near the intersection of Interstate 95 and Route 110, was opened with some fanfare at one of the trail’s entrances behind the Extra Innings indoor batting cage on Route 110 (Elm Street).
The gravel 1.8-mile trail was the product of state and local funds, donations from local banks and businesses and a substantial amount of volunteer help to clear brush, regrade the old railway and clean up debris. Besides the trail entrance at Extra Innings, there are also parking areas on Rabbit Road next to the solar panel array, Bartlett Street and Lion’s Park.
Edward Lambert Jr., the commissioner of the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, told the gathering of about 30 people that the rail trail fits in with Gov. Deval Patrick administration’s intensions to create a wide network of parks and trails that are intended to improve people’s health with activities that make them feel “happy and healthy” and “refresh their spirits.”
Despite its small land mass and dense population, Massachusetts has the ninth largest park system in the nation, Lambert noted.
Salisbury now has the most extensive network of rail trails in the region, with the 1.3-mile Old Eastern Marsh Trail, the 1.8 mile Ghost Trail, plus a yet-to-be-built “border to Boston” trail segment that will run from the Seabrook line to the Ghost Trail.
Amesbury and Newburyport both have rail trails that are a little over a mile long apiece, and both communities will have new segments added when the Interstate 95 widening and bridge project is completed within the next few years. A walking/biking path will be added alongside a portion of the highway and over the Merrimack River. When this project is completed, nearly every segment of rail trail in the three communities will be connected to one another.
The gathering yesterday paid some homage to the man that state Rep. Michael Costello called “the godfather of the rail trails,” Salisbury Selectman Jerry Klima. The Ring’s Island resident has spearheaded the construction of Salisbury’s trails and continues to advocate for the state highway department to create links that will tie Amesbury’s Point Shore neighborhood and Amesbury’s Riverwalk trail to the I-95 trail.
Klima noted that volunteers played a key role getting the rail done. Stratham, N.H.-based Timberland sent volunteers down on a regular basis to clear and groom trails; Salisbury-based SPS construction company fixed drainage problems, and Newburyport-based banks Institution for Savings and Newburyport 5 Cents Savings Bank donated money that will be used to leverage $4.2 million from the state to complete the “Border to Boston” segment of the trail.
“We’re going to get a 70 to 1 payback, thanks to the local banks,” he said.
The Ghost Trail’s name derives from a phenomenon of the 19th century rail line. The rail spur linked Amesbury to the B&M main line. Amesbury carriage manufacturers would load open rail cars with their newly built black carriages and would cover them in white muslin sheets. The site of the flapping white sheets racing across the landscape gave rise to the nickname “ghost trains.”
As the event wrapped up, someone at the state agency showed they have a pretty good sense of humor. The audio system played the well-known Roy Rogers tune, “Happy Trails To You,” as the crowd thinned out.