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Neponset Greenway connection is essential to wellness in Mattapan

Missing Link: An observer makes a point while on an extension-siting tour along the potential route of the Neponset Greenway extension into Mattapan last summer. Photo by Chris Lovett.Missing Link: An observer makes a point while on an extension-siting tour along the potential route of the Neponset Greenway extension into Mattapan last summer. Photo by Chris Lovett.

To the Editor:

One of the joys of living in Mattapan is that the Neponset River runs through it. Yet most Mattapan residents are unaware it’s there, hidden as it is behind walls and wooded spaces that are not maintained. In fact, there is no location in Mattapan that offers a clear view of the river.

Last summer, as part of the information-gathering phase of the effort led by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) to complete the Greenway, interested residents were taken down into the woods behind Ryan Playground, and, on a separate day, via trolley to the area on the Milton side of the river. It’s such a lovely place.

The current Greenway, starting at Central Avenue in Milton going eastward, and along the Neponset Valley Parkway in Milton going westward , affords lovely Neponset River views and encourages physical activity.

So what happened in Mattapan?

The Greenway project has been in process for 20 years. It has been completed from Central Avenue to Pope John Paul II Park at Boston Harbor and from Blue Hill Avenue to Hyde Park – save for the small section that potentially would give Mattapan residents direct access to the pathway. This yet-to-be-completed section runs from Central Avenue in Milton to Mattapan Square and is called the “Special Study Area.”

Efforts to gain consensus in years past on that section have been met with opposition. Many Mattapan residents are unaware of the conflict or even of what a “greenway” is. That’s history that can be left alone.

The current reality is that 70 percent of Mattapan residents are above healthy weights, according to data from the Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance System. The Mattapan neighborhood has some of the highest rates of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease/stroke in the city. All these health problems can be positively addressed by increasing physical activity. We need direct access to the Greenway.

The Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition was formed in 2007 to address health problems that stem from poor diets and limited physical activity. We have worked hard on food-access issues with support from many partners. Principal among them are the Boston Public Health Commission and the Boston Collaborative for Food and Fitness. Our efforts to promote increased physical activity through walking and biking have met with resident concerns about having safe places to walk, run, and bike. In a survey conducted by our youth in 2008, safety along walking paths and parks was described as the principal impediment to increasing physical activity.

Many of our residents walk or drive to the existing Greenway sections to enjoy safe places to walk and bike. It is not fair that our residents who need it most must put forth the most efforts to enjoy benefits created with tax dollars that are currently enjoyed with ease by others.

Since the two site visits during the summer of 2010 described above, DCR has been reviewing public comments and its own studies to determine a suitable path for the Greenway Special Studies Area. They have acquired property adjacent to the Mattapan MBTA station with a plan to have a very visible entrance into the Greenway in Mattapan Square. This plan requires an “at grade” crossing somewhere within MBTA property. They have sought approval from MBTA and our understanding is that approval was denied. Please note that there are many at grade- crossings along MBTA routes and that safe crossing is doable with the correct measures in place.

The community seeks leadership from elected officials to resolve this in the interest of all, especially underserved communities like Mattapan.

VIVIEN MORRIS, chairperson,
Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition

Related editorial: State leaders must step up on Neponset Greenway— June 9, 2011