NEWBURYPORT — For commuters coming home after a long day at the office, the sight of the Common Pasture can be a comforting sight.

This vast area is one of the assets that makes Newbury and Newburyport such a value as a place with a high quality of life. But what is now assumed to be an integral part of the area was once grossly in danger of becoming just another home of suburban sprawl and commercial development. 

In 1995, MassDOT transferred a parcel of land to the city that contained an abandoned stretch of highway. Urged on by the business community and some owners of landlocked property; immediate plans were made to build an access road that would have allowed large areas of the Common Pasture to be opened up to buildings and parking lots.

The problem was this area that extends all the way to exit 56 is shaped like a large bowl. The drainage from the commercial development on the “Plains” (Storey Avenue) was already causing massive flooding in residential areas as well as into the industrial park which was costing businesses located there millions of dollars. To increase impervious surfaces upriver would have exacerbated the problem.

In addition, the forests lining this area have been an efficient sound barrier muffling the roar of trucks on Route 95. Until the train arrived in the early ‘90s, you could have heard a pin drop at night on many city streets.

Two residents of Russell Terrace, Al Decie Jr. and Gloria Braunhardt, took it upon themselves to stop the eventual destruction of this “green zone.” To redirect the Planning Office’s initial plans, they began to gather signatures to place a citizen’s petition before the voters. They waged a campaign, along with other dedicated volunteers, called Axe the Access Road. 

 In a resounding victory, the petition passed to preserve this area for open space devoted to passive recreation. Even though it was a non-binding referendum, the message was clear – the voters chose quality of life over expanding the tax base.

The criticism was soon raised that the Citizens for Environmental Balance were simply against any development. To counter that, CEB followed with a ballot initiative to introduce the Community Preservation Act to promote affordable housing, open space and historic preservation. The measure passed.

In 2001, to educate the importance of the Little River Watershed, Parker River Clean Water Association proposed and received permission to establish the Little River Nature Trail. Later, the kiosk and the trail signage were funded by the Community Preservation Act.

Today at 11 a.m., a dedication ceremony will be held to present signs announcing the Gloria Braunhardt Bike Path. This presentation will mark the official renaming of the abandoned Route 95 road bed which stretches from Storey Avenue to Hale Street for 1.1 miles honoring Braunhardt, who passed away in 2010. Donna Hill, her daughter, will read a tribute written by Al Decie, Jr.

The naming of the trail will honor a woman who was on a mission to make her community a better place, doing what she could to right wrongs to the best of her ability.

Inspired by Braunhardt and Decie, Jr’s leadership; large areas of the Common Pasture have been protected from further development protecting local farms, homes and businesses downstream and preserving the area’s water resources.

The ceremony will be held at the Storey Avenue side of the trail by the Welcome to Newburyport sign. Parking is available at the Park & Ride and nearby Russell Terrace. A new kiosk, one of two, will be dedicated at the same time as the signs. The Newburyport City Council, after recommendations from the Community Preservation Committee, granted funding to construct and install two trail kiosks at either end of the trail. 

Weather permitting; a tour of the bike path and trail will be available after the ceremony.

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