With its neutral-sounding name and mandate from the Board of Selectmen, the Lynnfield Recreational Path Committee sounds like the perfect instrument for slicing politics and animosity out of the Great Rail Trail Debate and guiding the town to a sound, common sense decision about bringing a bicycle and walking path through town.
Randall Russell, one of the committee’s nine members, took pains in a letter to the editor to explain the committee is not an advocacy organization or a group opposed to the rail trail.
“We have all pledged to be objective,” Russell stated on behalf of his fellow committee members.
Like a lamb wandering onto a battlefield, the Recreational Path Committee could end up in the wrong place at the wrong time in short order. The rail trail debate turned last April’s Town Meeting into a faceoff with a one-member margin separating pros and cons over the vote to allow the selectmen to enter into an agreement to purchase land for the rail trail from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.
The purchase is going forward along with a preliminary rail trail design. The committee, according to Russell, will exercise the mandate assigned to it by the selectmen and prepare a status report on the project to be distributed in advance of a planned state hearing on the design work.
It’s difficult to guess how that report will be received by town residents and officials, but it’s sure to become fodder for opposing sides in the rail trail furor.
Russell and fellow committee members deserve credit for trying to advance the town’s position on a controversial local issue. It would be cynical to suggest the committee is not a neutral body committed to, in Russell’s words, answering ” … many of the questions that have been assigned to us to the best of our ability… “
In preparing those answers, committee members are sure to ask themselves how they can stay above the rail trail debate that engulfed town meeting and still fuels disagreement among town residents.
Why are rail trails such a source of division in communities? Peabody successfully plotted out trails and could see an additional one along the North River. Swampscott’s protracted fight over a rail trail ended in a ballot box victory for trail advocates and trail proponents are looking to new leadership in Lynn City Hall to make a West Lynn trail a reality.
An experienced trail advocate observed that Americans would still be driving on toll roads if the interstate highway system took as long to construct as a comprehensive two-wheeled trail network. Implicit in this remark is the suggestion that trails, by definition, are popular additions to communities.
In Lynnfield, the verdict appears to be out on popular support for a rail trail and the 25 percent design review coming up later this year, along with the Recreational Path Committee’s report could serve as a backdrop for town residents to declare, “Yes, we want a rail trail,” or, “No, we’re not ready for its incursion into town.”
Its pledge of neutrality is commendable, but the committee could find itself in the crossfire with renewed debate over the rail trail.