Walking the Neponset Greenway with thoughts of spring in mind

Elected officials joined engineers last week on a walk-through of a new segment of the Neponset Greenway in Mattapan, which includes this elevated section near Mattapan Square. Jennifer Smith photo

Favored by the bright fall foliage and fresh plantings, Department of Conservation and Recreation managers gave elected officials and reporters a tour of the 1.3-mile Neponset River Greenway extension last Thursday morning, offering an update on the project, which is expected to be completed by next spring.

Project manager Stella Lensing said the delay on an anticipated completion this fall was caused by pressures from the regional construction and development boom, which has slowed access to materials and labor.

Although these factors have slowed the overall project timeline, Lensing said, the project budget remains within normal parameters – up from about $14 million to just over $15 million.

State Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry and state representatives Dan Cullinane and Dan Hunt joined DCR’s project managers, design experts, and engineers on a trek from the Ryan Playground off River Street to the Central Avenue trolley stop, then back to the playground, before they continued on to the extension’s end at Mattapan Square.

“I think it’s beautiful,” Hunt said as the group walked. “It’s a very significant financial commitment by DCR and the state. For users who are used to have to navigate Central Ave now to have a completely safe and aesthetically pleasing route is amazing.”

Bridge under construction on Neponset Greenway in MattapanBridge under construction on Neponset Greenway in Mattapan

Other considerations were aired during and after the walk. Community members have called for a pedestrian-friendly use for the small onetime mattress shop at the Mattapan end of the extension. No official proposals are being officials considered yet, but ideas for cafes and bike stops have been floated.

Cullinane said he would like to see a bike-sharing Hubway dock at the site. “It’s just the mentality, you know, that people would say there’s not enough bike ridership, that there’s not a need,” he said. “But you can’t evaluate the need unless the opportunity’s there.”

The winding stretch of the greenway path – 10 feet wide to allow bicyclists to safely travel in opposite directions, plus one foot of grassy buffer on each side – is covered in an initial layer of asphalt, Lensing said, adding that the second, finishing layer, is still to come.

As the group trooped on, a familiar sound was heard every few minutes: the rattle of the Mattapan High-Speed Trolley echoing along the greenway path. “One could say this is a good location for TOD,” Cullinane said with a smile at the Central Avenue trolley stop abutting the pathway, referencing the Transit-Oriented Developments sprouting around Boston transit hubs.

“We love our trolley,” he called to the conductor as one of the Presidents Conference Committee (PCC) cars rolled into the station.

Neponset Greenway Tour: Sen. Forry, right, and Rep. Cullinane walk a new bridge installed this summer over the Neponset River. The span connects Milton and Mattapan.Neponset Greenway Tour: Sen. Forry, right, and Rep. Cullinane walk a new bridge installed this summer over the Neponset River. The span connects Milton and Mattapan.
Forry and Rep. Cullinane have advocated for increased funding for the high-speed rail connecting Ashmont to Mattapan and the state Department of Transportation has pledged about $8.5 million for the maintenance of the line and for a study of its long-term future. Listening to talk about the trolley being the only one of its kind to pass through a cemetery, Forry said, “So we’re going to see if we can get some federal dollars for that, because that’s pretty unique.”

In other areas of interest:

• Lensing said that DCR will plow the greenway path during the winter, but there will not be any de-icing due to environmental considerations.

• The Neponset River lapped low at the riverbanks on this crisp fall morning, but engineers said, a season of snowmelt and rain should bring it up to a better level for canoeing or kayaking, which would be ideal for the student-constructed canoe launch near the Ryan Playground stretch of the river.

• Final touches are needed to both the dramatic Harvest River Bridge and decorative railing installations on the canopy walk bridge before the entire stretch is deemed passable.

• The final field-resettling is the last stage in the project, Lensing said. Ryan Playground’s field is covered in gravel and big piles of offset dirt where engineers and their equipment are encamped. Community members have weighed in on the best use for the fields, Lensing said, mulling options for a baseball or soccer field before deciding on an open, athletic-grade field.

Though the field will be sodded in the spring, Lensing guessed that it would remain out of commission for a season, to let the grass settle. The path could be opened to the public before the field work is completed, engineers said.

One strategic bit of planning will pay off when the extension opens in the spring, DCR officials said: a mixture of grasses and perennial flowers have been seeded along the trail, ready to burst into bloom just before the first cyclist pedals down the path.

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