LYNNFIELD — One thing was clear at the start of the hearing Tuesday night on the proposed Wakefield-Lynnfield Rail Trail.
Lynnfield is divided.
“We are a town in crisis,” said Debbie LaConte as she choked back tears. “I love Lynnfield, but between the rail trail and the proposed cinema at MarketStreet, our town is so divided.”
At issue is the 4.4-mile path that begins at the Galvin Middle School on Main Street in Wakefield and extends to the Lynnfield and Peabody line.
More than 100 residents and others filled the Lynnfield Middle School auditorium to let Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) know where they stand.
Shahpar Negah, MassDOT’s project manager, was ready for what could have been an unpleasant night. Before opening the hearing to comments, she told the crowd that the state is aware there is opposition to the trail.
“We respect that,” she said. “I just ask that you relax, and sit back. We are not here to push it. If Lynnfield decides they don’t want a rail trail, we won’t pursue it.”
Police Chief David Breen told the attentive audience that he received a call on Tuesday about pro and con rail trail signs being stolen from properties.
“Please respect each other,” he said. “You don’t have to agree with your neighbors, but please respect each other’s rights.”
MassDOT has pledged $10.2 million that would be used to construct the trail, erect fences along the route, and build a boardwalk across Reedy Meadow. If approved, construction on the asphalt 12-foot linear path is expected to begin in 2022.
Board of Selectmen Chairman Richard Dalton gave strong support to the project. He praised volunteers who have devoted hundreds of hours to researching how a path would benefit Lynnfield.
Gerard Noumi, a member of the Recreational Path Committee, offered the eight-person panel up as a resource to answer any questions about the trail.
Patricia Campbell, an outspoken critic of town government, said while she is not an abutter, she opposes the path because of the environmental damage it will cause.
“Reedy Meadow is a treasure and the wetlands must be protected,” she said. “This is a needless expenditure.”
Resident Patrick Curley said he fears bike riding with his children because of distracted drivers.
“The idea of having a safe place to recreate is a great comfort for my family,” he said. “My Cub Scout den will love it and they’ll get to see nature up close.”
Peter Perlmutter, who described himself as a recreational cyclist, said a rail trail will separate the bike riders from motor vehicles.
“About 98 percent of drivers are prepared to share the road with cyclists,” he said. “But the other 2 percent are distracted and unwilling to share the road.”
Stephanie Rauseo said while she likes the idea of the trail, she fears what will happen to the wildlife at Reedy Meadow.
“Where will the animals go?” she asked. “The rail trail is a great idea but I’m worried.”
Kristen Cooper, a mother of a 1- and 3-year-old, said when she seeks pictures of what the trail will look like, she sees the future of Lynnfield.
“The trail is the right thing at the right time for Lynnfield,” she said.
Voters will have their say about the trail at the annual town election ballot on Tuesday, April 9. A non-binding referendum will ask voters where they stand.