Survey of Norwottuck Rail Trail Hadley Abutters
Friends of the Rail Trail
P. O. Box 975
Belchertown, MA 01007
Belchertown, Massachusetts is currently seeking ISTEA funds to design and
construct a 13.5 mile rail trail through town. The Town committee
appointed to oversee the project has encountered resistance from some
abutters, some property owners, and some individuals in town. The Friends
of the Rail Trail, a citizen advocacy group for the rail trail, decided
to contact a neighboring town with a rail trail. This town, too, faced
strong opposition during the planning and design stages for their trail,
the Norwottuck Rail Trail.
This trail is now built, successful, and very popular with users throughout
the state and some neighboring states. Was the same true for the people
who live next to it? In July 1997, the Communication Committee of the
Friends of the Rail Trail mailed out a survey to all the abutters of the
Norwottuck Rail Trail in Hadley, MA. There were 67 property owners of 88
parcels of land which abuts the four miles of the Norwottuck Rail Trail.
(This is actually more abutters than is the case for the first 5.5 miles
of the Belchertown Rail Trail. There are 49 property owners of 99 parcels
of land in Belchertown along the first 5.5 miles. This does not include
the property owners along Federal Street from Cheryl Circle to the east
end of Federal Street. The total number of property owners along the
entire 13.5 miles of the Belchertown Rail Trail is 77 owners of 143 parcels
The Communication Committee was hoping to find out several things. Had the
of property owners changed once the trail was built and operating? Is
a problem? Did the abutters get the privacy screenings they were promised?
Department of Environmental Management (DEM) responsive to their needs and
We asked a total of twelve questions and encouraged people to add comments
be helpful to the Belchertown Rail Trail Committee in designing an improved
trail for Belchertown. (Why not take advantage of the insights gained by
others who have
been living with an active, heavily used, and initially controversial
Twenty-nine survey forms were returned. Three additional forms were returned
This gave a 43% response rate, very high for any mailing, where 10 15% is the
Our findings were that most abutters liked, used, and had no problems with the
Rail Trail. There were a few individuals -- four -- who opposed the trail
oppose it now, do not use it, and feel the trail is responsible for their
property being vandalized. In all cases but one, people's initial support for
the trail either
remained the same or increased. (The one person whose opinion changed
went from initially supporting the trail to being not sure about it now.)
Most abutters now support the trail.
* * * * *
The following is the breakdown by question of how the respondents answered the
How did you feel about the rail trail before it was built?
Strongly Supported Supported Not Sure Opposed Strongly Opposed
6 (21%) 10 (34%) 4 (14%) 3 (10%) 6 (21%)
How do you feel about the rail trail now?
Strongly Support Support Not Sure Oppose Strongly Oppose
13 (45%) 8 (28%) 4 (14%) 1 (3%) 3 (10%)
The Friends of the Rail Trail were looking to see if there was a sizable
change of people who initially opposed or were not sure about the trail but
it was built changed their minds and came to accept or even became strong
of the rail trail.
There were initially nine people who said they either opposed or strongly
the project. Once the trail was built there were only four people who still
not favor it. That means five respondents changed their mind. There was one
respondent who went from not sure about the trail to supporting it. This gave
people who had changed their opinion, a 21% change overall and a 46% change in
opposed or not sure group.
No one went from initially liking the trail to opposing it.
The Friends were able to contact five out of the six people who went from
or neutral to the trail to supporting it. Indicative comments were:
The fear and anticipation of the trail were not realized for these
- "anticipation was high that it would be terrible -- trash, loud
Nothing like that ever happened."
- "Against it to begin with -- didn't want..taxes raised -- now loves
that it was built."
- "wish it had been available for her kids -- loves to see families
Question 3 Question 4
What do you like about the trail? What do you dislike about
everyone very courteous uninformed users -- no courtesy
a good place for our daily workout the crowd
a great addition to our town cost too much money
keeps the bikers off the road and makes bikers that do not stop for
it safer for drivers of vehicles
serenity, ease of use snowmobiles in winter
it connects our community too narrow
cleaned up an overgrown corridor people who litter
there is a presence near my house poor upkeep in areas
whether I'm there or not
great place to bring kids the controversy inspired by trail
very attractive rollerblades
safe to take children in strollers
The above comments all came from supporters of the trail. It is interesting
that many of the comments cancel each other out. Even though they support the
they all tend to see it differently.
Those who loved the trail when asked what did they like said
"everything;" those who
did not like the trail responded with they liked "nothing." The
opposite was true
when asked what did they dislike. If they supported the trail the answer was
"nothing;" if they disliked the trail the answer was
"everything." People with strong opinions
(supporters and opponents) were invariably on opposite sides, even years after
rail trail was open.
Did DEM fulfill its promises to provide privacy screening (trees,
Yes No Not Applicable No Response
11 (44%) 7 (28%) 7 (28%) 4
The Department of Environmental Management is aware of only one person not
the plantings promised. That person has so far not given DEM a list of
that he would like. That person, when contacted, admitted that this was the
Three respondents answered this question in the negative because they did not
plantings. Another answer in the negative came from a couple who live on the
side of the street from the Norwottuck Rail Trail. They do not abut the trail
were never promised any plantings. Their complaint is that DEM removed brush
trail across from their house. A gentleman claims that he was misquoted in
paper as saying that he did get a fence. This is a claim he now denies. The
respondent in the negative did not give his name or address so we were not
able to contact
him. At best this means that according to our survey two people did not
the promised plantings. This would change the negative response to 8% (2
out of 25 responses).
Our caller was given a bit of advice on plantings. The plans for the
Trail like all plans were much more comprehensive than the final budget
He told our caller that those people who filled out the individual
and stayed on top of DEM got their planting. His advice, fill out the
applications and stay in touch with DEM.
Does DEM adequately maintain the trail?
Yes No (no response)
22 (92%) 2 (8%) 5
When you call, is DEM responsive to your concerns?
Yes No No problems, never called Sometimes (no response)
6 (25%) 2 (8%) 15 (63%) 1 (4%) 5
Has your property been vandalized by trail users?
6 (21%) 23 (79%)
The Friends found that a troubling number of respondents claimed that they had
vandalized. Of the six who said they had been vandalized, four gave us their
and telephone number. The Friends tried repeatedly to contact all four. We
only successful with two. They returned our phone calls, the other two did
One person, a farmer, had a long conversation with our caller. While he is
upset with the rail trail, he finally admitted that his vandalism comes from
several large apartment complexes near his farm. It seems that the students
live there use his corn fields as a short cut to the nearby shopping mall. At
one time there
was a fence between his land and the active railroad. DEM has given him
material. The farmer just doesn't have the time or laborers to install it.
leaves his property open to the students as a shortcut.
In the second incident, it seems that some expensive T-shirts were stolen from
at a housing complex. The manager of the complex thinks that people from the
trail took them. A visit by the DEM trail manager and some on-site walking
convinced the DEM manager that this was not likely. The clothesline was in
of the complex behind a wall and out of sight of anyone on the rail trail.
combined with the fact that the housing complex shows two well worn trails
from it to the rail trail, raised the question, "could it have been kids
from the complex
riding through the parking lot, entering the trail at one end and riding down
the other end of the complex?" Riding a circle around the complex, they
likely to see the T-shirts. There is no proof either way.
While it is troubling to have 21% of our respondents claim vandalism, it is
to hear that not all those claims of vandalism may have actually come from
users. The rail trail is a change and so when things happen, it is natural to
blame them on the change in people's lives. It does not always mean it is
I feel the rail trail has
had a mainly negative impact: 7 (24%)
had a mainly positive impact: 16 (55%)
had no impact: 6 (21%)
on my privacy/or quality of life.
do do not
use the rail trail.
18 (62%) 11 (38%)
Members of my family
do do not
use the rail trail.
(no response -- 3)
17 (65%) 9 (35%)
All those who opposed the trail from Question 2 responded that neither they
of the family use the trail.
Any comments regarding the design of the trail, the construction of the
maintenance of the trail, or any other comments.
One opponent said, "I'd prefer bikelanes."
- should be 10 12 feet wide
- not wide enough
- need to sweep it more often in spring and fall
- design of the trail looks good
- use of recycled glass...causes flat tires
- afraid of vegetable robbing when farmers apply poison on fields
- afraid of road crossings
Other comments of note are:
1) "I am a handicapped person, use a cane, and am elderly person
over eighty. I do
plant a garden. Have a nice view of the trail when I do the dishes or work at
sink. If you would like to visit or see the yard or place you may stop by and
2) "To whom it may concern,
I have never had any trouble or problems with people who use the Bike
Trail). They are very polite, always tell or call to your left when they are
you so that you or the bikers do not get hurt.
When my granddaughter was alive we always used to put her in her wheel
chair and walk
from my house to the shopping mall which is about 5 miles. We could of
it was great to walk.
I wish the Friends of the Rail Trail all the luck in the world so that
they get the
Rail Trail and have it completed real soon. Its great for long
3) "I can see the Rail Trail from my sun porch. My cat sits by the
window and watches
the people go by. When I leave my home she has a lot of baby sitters so she's
lonesome she just sits there and has a ball."
For the opponents, the Rail Trail is not as bad as they believe and for the
it is not as trouble free as they had hoped. The Rail Trail in Hadley is a
resource that like all other parks has people who totally love it and those
who only see the trash and the crowds. The truth must be somewhere between
these two viewpoints.
It is the belief of the Friends of the Rail Trail that the truth lies closer
"rail trails are good for the community." Our survey indicates that
more respondents in all cases were pleased with the trail, its maintenance,
it as a community resource.
There are hard core opponents to the Norwottuck Rail Trail. It is probable
will never change their mind. The encouraging thing about this survey for the
of the Rail Trail is that some of the initial opponents to the trail did come
value it, use it, and find the trail not an intrusion after it was built.
fears were not confirmed; they were groundless. We have some hope that the
will be true for our trail.