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Saugus pair dreams of bikeway to ocean

SAUGUS – Jim Tozza has a dream shared by over 130 others from Saugus and surrounding communities who hope to build a bicycle trail along abandoned railways.The project is called the Knotted Strand Community Trail. It will wend for 10 miles through Lynn, Saugus, Revere, Malden and Everett, slowly snaking its way to the Atlantic Ocean, hence the organization’s name – Bike-to-the-Sea.Amid Friday’s cold wind and drizzle, Tozza and the Bike-to-the-Sea treasurer Gus Fish, both Saugus residents, led a guided tour along a defunct railway behind a pub at the corner of Boston Street and Hamilton Avenue. They stopped at a 100-year-old wooden railroad trestle bridge that spans the Saugus River about 50 yards down the path, affording panoramic views of the marshland.According to Fish, when spring arrives in earnest, the area is abloom with wild shrubs, small trees and colorful flowers that frame the trail. “It’s a completely different place in the spring and summer,” he said. “It’ll be a nice stretch along the river for people to walk, run or ride their bikes.”Fish, who is retired, pedals a 24-speed. He estimates leg power nets him roughly 2,500 miles a year. Tozza, president of the 130-member Bike-to-the-Sea group, prefers an Australian-made GreenSpeed trike.”Some people think my trike is a wheelchair. I finished a race once and people kept saying, let the handicapped guy through,” he said.If all goes as planned, the communities involved will all do their part to make the bike path a success. Malden and Everett are already working on pulling up the iron rails. Eighty percent of the rails and ties are removed in Everett. Lynn is still examining the legal aspects of the trail.”Town Meeting passed this 37-6 last year, allowing us to try to make a rail trail,” said Tozza, an emergency medical technician at Brooksby Village in Peabody. “Since then, the selectmen voted to send it to the town counsel to review the legal aspects. Once that’s done, it goes to the town manager and then hopefully to the MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority) for final approval.”The MBTA owns most of the railways and stretches of land vital to the project. The state agency plans to long-term lease the land at no cost to the participating communities.Fish said Saugus has 2.5 miles of railway that would be part of the trail, adding the immediate goal is to find a contractor willing to do the job in trade for the scrap metal value of the iron rails. “The only cost we would have is liability insurance for the town and that will be a very minor number,” the ex-banker said.The key may be in the Iron Horse Preservation Society, which makes a business out of removing unwanted railroad ties and rails for free and turning a profit by reselling the metal. In some instances, the society restores the rail bed with gravel or other stone. The arsenic-laden railroad ties are taken to a special incinerator in Pennsylvania where they are safely combusted.”That organization is already working with Danvers and Everett to remove rails,” Tozza said.”It takes time, even when you get something for free,” said Fish, a former vice president at State Street Bank. “But when it’s done, it’ll be similar to the Minute Man Trail in Lexington, only it’ll be used by more people.”Selectman Steven Horlick at a recent board meeting said cutting back the brush along the trail would be a boon to law enforcement and an enhancement for residential abutters.”We’d be turning a No Man’s Land into open space,” said Clay Larsen of Malden, a member of Bike-to-the-Sea.Tozza said the group is awaiting word on whether the track removal contract must be put out to public bid.Founded in 1993, Bike-to-the-Sea works with the Saugus River Watershed Council, the Mass Bicycle Coalition, Rails to Trails and the East Coast Greenway. Its members are raising funds through its sponsor-a-mile program in which contributors can sponsor the design of a particular segment of the trail.

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