Crowds on rail trail have Newburyport mayor concerned

BRYAN EATON/Staff photoNice weather brought out people to the Clipper City Rail Trail in Newburyport late Friday morning in this view looking south from the High Street railroad bridge.

NEWBURYPORT – Mayor Donna Holaday implored residents using the Clipper City Rail Trail to stay six feet apart from others, saying on Friday that unless people follow the city’s social distancing guidelines it could lead to the trail’s closure.

“Please do not force us to make changes,” Holaday said in a phone interview Friday morning.

Her words echoed a similar plea she made Thursday afternoon during her roughly 20-minute broadcast on Facebook Live when she updated residents on what the city has been doing to combat the spread of COVID-19.

David Schumacher of Newburyport said it would be “pretty devastating” if the rail trail closed.

“I think it’s a horrible idea. It’s one of the key things to hold on to,” Schumacher said Friday morning while walking on the trail near Haley’s Ice Cream.

Liz Kelsey, also of Newburyport, said it would be “super sad” if Holaday was forced to close it.

“It is especially important” now, Kelsey said.

The Clipper City Rail Trail is 3.9 miles long and starts at the city’s Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority station and ends on Parker Street at the base of the Oak Hill Cemetery, with one incomplete portion behind the city’s wasterwater treatment plant in the South End.

On Monday, Gov. Charlie Baker ordered non-essential businesses to close and advised residents to stay at home except to buy groceries, go to medical appointments, and to get some fresh air. Many restaurants have closed all together but others remain open offering take-out and delivery services.

As of Friday morning, three Newburyport residents had tested positive for the coronavirus. Schools have been closed for two weeks and will remain closed until at least May 4. Holaday said all reports show the worst is yet to come and that the city may need to enact even more stringent social distancing measures.

She said she understood how challenging virtual home confinement can be and the desire to stretch one’s legs and get some fresh air. But residents need to be vigilant about how they get exercise and not bunch up in clusters while walking on the rail trail.

“It’s critical,” Holaday said. “I really need people to pay attention to social distancing.”

Holaday also said she understood the urge to flock to the trail when the weather is good like it has been most of the week. But with colder temperatures expected next week, she is hoping Mother Nature will play a role in keeping the city safe. She also encouraged residents to stretch their legs elsewhere to avoid rail trail congestion.

Kelsey said if the rail trail no longer was an option, she would transfer her walks to city streets just to keep limber and maintain her morning routine. But she feared that popular streets would become just as congested.

A reporter visiting the rail trail near the Low Street bridge Thursday around 3 p.m. had trouble keeping social distancing as there were families walking together with strollers and many people on bicycles.

Heather Goodrow of Newbury, who was walking the trail Friday morning with Kelsey, agreed it can be tough adhering to the six-foot rule.

“It is a challenge, it’s narrow,” Goodrow said.

Dave Rogers is a reporter with the Newburyport Daily News. Email him at: drogers@newburyportnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @drogers41008

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