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Trail advocates raise hopes for connected 80-mile ride.

Byline: Brian Lee

The Grand Trunk Trailblazers have macaroni pieces, but want spaghetti.

The nonprofit organization, a group of 50 to 60 trail advocates, has a goal of establishing a continuous 60- to 80-mile, 15-town trail from Palmer to Franklin. Stretches of the trail exist in various conditions, while other portions are just proposals.

Much of the route is under the control of federal, state and local governments and some is privately owned.

Many stretches are already used by hikers, equestrians and bicyclists, according to the group. Some sections have missing bridges.

The segments already usable with fat-tire bikes are:

A three-mile East Brimfield section; the quarter-mile Sturbridge Trolley Trail; the 1.25-mile Quinebaug River Lands Trail; the 3.5-mile Grand Trunk Trail-Westville section; a six-mile stretch of the Airline Trail in Thompson; the 26-mile Southern New England Trunkline Trail from the Connecticut border to Franklin.

"There are areas that don't have active trail groups. We want to start advocating for those areas," said Patrick McGarrah of Sturbridge, a member of the trailblazers group, which met recently in Thompson.

The group said the proposed 80-mile trail isn't likely to garner financial support from the state anytime soon.

The state recently published its Bay State Greenway plan in which it indicated its funding priorities.

Only three miles of the Palmer-to-Franklin trail are listed as a priority. That portion, which heads into Rhode Island, overlaps part of the Blackstone River Bikeway. Most of the other 77 miles is on a secondary greenway funding list.

"We are way down on the list," Mr. McGarrah said, adding that the group pushed hard to make its case to get on the primary greenway list.

The group is also seeking an official name for the trail, and is leaning toward the Titanic Rail Trail, to prompt inquiry into the connection between the trail and the famous ship, Mr. McGarrah said.

Charles M. Hays was president of the Grand Trunk Railways, which in the early part of the last century aimed to develop a port in Providence and connect it to the Grand Trunk's Central Vermont Railway in Palmer, spanning about 53 miles.

In 1912, while returning home to Ottawa from a meeting in London with the Grand Trunk's financial backers, Mr. Hays booked passage on the Titanic. He was among those who died when the ship sank.

When construction was halted for good, much work was complete, but it never became a railroad.

Meanwhile, Kenneth Pickren of the Southbridge Trails Committee said at the meeting

the group should put together a list of things that need to be done and baseline cost projections; otherwise, it's a pie-in-the-sky initiative.

Mr. McGarrah said in an interview the reasons are numerous for the general public to advocate for trails, including reports that the country last year sold more new bicycles than cars, and the development of trails, at an average $30,000 per mile, is a fraction of the cost for a golf course, at about $500,000 per hole.

ART: MAP

PHOTOG: T&G Staff

CUTLINE: Grand Trunk Trail
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Nov 14, 2008
Words:511
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