Above, a report on the Neponset Greenway from the non-profit Press Pass TV, which works with Boston-area students to produce video reports. This one was produced in collaboration with the Dorchester Reporter.
Braving one of the worst heat waves of the season, a small group of residents, conservationists, and health advocates explored a much-contested “missing link” on the Neponset Greenway last Thursday.
The tour, organized by the Boston Natural Areas Network and sponsored by the Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition, gave about a dozen residents a chance to see firsthand where and how the one-mile trail extension, running from Mattapan MBTA Station to the existing trail along the Neponset, could be implemented.
Beyond offering walkers a ground-level view of the trail’s potential route, tour leaders also asked residents to consider how best to traverse Mattapan Station, which is wedged between Mattapan Square and the Neponset.
The MBTA recently balked at a proposed at-grade crossing along the train tracks, citing safety concerns and suggesting altering the trail despite local concerns that an alternate route would make the trail difficult to access. But Lydia Rivera, a spokeswoman for the T, told the Reporter that a site review earlier last week, separate from the BNAN tour on Thursday, had an at-grade crossing on the table.
Rivera said that engineers and planners from the T and the Department of Recreation and Conservation took a separate tour of the area around Mattapan Station three days prior to the BNAN excursion.
According to Rivera, the site review led to three possible solutions for pedestrian crossings: an overpass, an underground tunnel, or an at-grade crossing that would guide walkers through the station. While Rivera said the project would not stall in the planning process, she was unable to give an estimate as to how long it will take for the organizations to arrive at a proposal for public consideration.
“We’re working closely with DCR and we don’t expect [the planning process] to be prolonged,” Rivera said. “But we want to be sure we make a smart decision about this.”
But Thursday’s walkers weren’t making decisions; they were just looking.
“This isn’t the most scenic place to start a tour,” said BNAN project manager Candice Cook as a bus was cutting through Mattapan Station. “But it is fitting, because this is where we hope to see the gateway to the greenway, in the heart of Mattapan Square.”
Walkers stopped several times along the tracks during the first leg of the trip, checking the area for alternative routes that would keep riverside walks within arm’s length.
Clearwater Drive resident Jeanne Jacobs was one of the many residents who said a walk over the trolley tracks was not a source of concern.
“I cross the T tracks all the time; it’s not as though the trains come every three minutes,” she said.
An avid walker and hiker, Jacobs said a completed trail would be a major boon for the neighborhood’s quality of life. “Just the possibility that we could create something that runs all the way from the Blue Hills to John Paul Park would be magnificent,” Jacobs said. “Right now, most of my best workouts are well out of the city.”
Hikers were not the only people in attendance excited by the possibility of a completed Mattapan connection. Holden Pierre lives across the Neponset in Milton and said he and his friends stumbled upon the area during a high school project. But he has come to see the area as an ideal summer hangout.
“We’ve been here a few times, playing in the water; it’s definitely a good place,” Pierre said. “But I think a lot more people would come down here if it was easier to find.”
Several walkers who had never set foot on the trail prior to the walk echoed Pierre’s concerns about visibility.
“People may live in the community, but know so little about what’s really available in the neighborhood,” said Cassandra Cato-Louis, a property owner on Riverbank Place. Thursday’s walk marked the first time that Cato-Louis had explored the trail, an experience that left her excited. “I love it, it’ll bring up the property values around here and make things safer; you’re going to have a lot more people walking around, keeping an eye on everything.”
For her part, Food and Fitness Coalition member Vivien Morris was happy to hear the MBTA was considering solutions to the station-crossing issue. She said her organization would outright oppose an underground path for safety concerns and said that an overpass could make the project financially impossible.
“Some sort of bridge type structure may be a workable solution,” Morris said. “But this project has zero dollars allocated to it, and I could imagine funding a bridge could be the rationale for ending the process and the MBTA washing its hands of the whole thing.”