Friday July 12, 2013

BENNINGTON -- Fueled by volunteers, work on a "ninja trail" is continuing to allow people a safe and scenic path between Bennington and North Bennington.

Volunteers began to create a path last fall that will eventually extend from downtown Bennington into North Bennington through a patchwork of existing public infrastructure and private. Volunteers have already cleared a significant portion of the projected pathway that will serve bikers and pedestrians.

"So far we’ve spent about $212. It’s amazing how far you can get on $212 here in Bennington, especially when people want to get out and get dirty, get full of ticks, use their machetes and chainsaws," said Joann Erenhouse, the executive director of the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce. "We’ve gone a pretty far distance already."

On Monday, Erenhouse and other volunteers asked the Select Board for its assistance on securing a state transportation grant to further the project.

"We’ve wanted a bike trail here in Bennington for 30 years. We’re never going to get the Vermont Rail System to give us the defunct rail bed, so we decided, ‘Lets take what we’ve got, maximize it, and let’s get going on it,’" Erenhouse said. "We wanted to create a safe and appealing running, bicycling and cross-country skiing route between Bennington and North Bennington."

"We called it the ninja trail because we’re just doing it," she added.

Town officials have discussed and sought a bike pathway for years.


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But the town has not been able to accomplish that goal as securing access to an unused rail bed for a trail has been elusive. Erenhouse and others have taken matters into their own hands and have created a route that connects existing sidewalks and trails with privately owned land.

Mark Anders, a transportation planner with the Bennington County Regional Commission, said the pathway project has been split into four phases. The first phase runs from Hicks Avenue off of Northside Drive to the Morse Industrial Park.

Additional Phases will connect the pathway to the Bennington College entrance road. The path will include cleared trails behind Walmart and Price Chopper, as well as other private property along the way with permission from landowners.

"It will allow people to walk and bike Š between North Bennington and Bennington, avoiding Northside Drive/67A, which is not the most comfortable or safe environment for walking and biking," he said.

The trails will be eight feed wide and be a hard-packed surface, according to Anders. "It’s a pretty big project," he said.

The volunteer group is applying for a $35,000 state grant that will help design a bridge across the Furnace Brook along the pathway, as well as a safe route between the Hannaford Plaza and Bennington College.

Erenhouse said the grant requires a 10 percent, or $3,500, local match. The town did not commit any funds Monday, but did agree to serve as the non-profit fiscal agent that will allow the group to raise funds.

However, Select Board members expressed interest in helping to ensure the project succeeds and some members indicated they would support contributing funding in the future.

"I think it’s needed, it’s something that people will use," said board member Justin Corcoran. "There’s a lot of support for it. People have given their time and property owners have given their property."

Select Board Chairman Joseph L. Krawczyk Jr. noted the town has long-supported such a path. "It’s been in our town plan to do this," he said.

The town has $100,000 in a reserve fund for construction of a bike and pedestrian path, Bennington Town Manager Stuart A. Hurd.

"There might be an opportunity to use those funds," he said. "It’s not the pathway plan that we started out with but it certainly would qualify."

The group is also seeking assistance from town highway crews to construct portions of the path.

Contact Neal P. Goswami at ngoswami@benningtonbanner.com, or follow on Twitter: @nealgoswami