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NNCS ‘rail trail’ project draws national recognition

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NORFOLK - The study of a potential “rail trail” project at the Norwood-Norfolk Central School District has caught the eye of a national group.

Rails to Trails Conservancy recently posted an article on their website about the efforts of Norwood-Norfolk and others who are working on similar projects. Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., whose mission is to create a nationwide network of trails from former rail lines and connect corridors to build healthier places for healthier people.

In Norwood-Norfolk’s case, their location on state Route 56 makes a rail trail project even more feasible. The trail would be in the vicinity of a rail line that goes through the playground. Vermont Rail leases the property from the Ogdensburg Bridge and Port Authority.

Superintendent Elizabeth A. Kirnie said the project, which would create an all-season recreational trail that could be used for activities such as snowshoeing, cross-country running, walking and running, would make sense because they’ve been discouraged by their insurance carrier and the Department of Transportation from using Route 56 in front of the school for recreation.

“Almost immediately they sent a team out to study the feasibility of having a recreational easement (on Route 56) to make it safer. Their study was pretty conclusive - abandon all hope. They concluded that because of the bridges, easements, existence of Barrett’s (Paving) and a number of reasons, they would not approve or upgrade Route 56. It was their suggestion, which we already knew, that we look to alternative off-roads means. That bolsters our case,” she said.

Mrs. Kirnie, Norfolk Town Supervisor Charles A. Pernice and Norwood Mayor James H. McFaddin sent a letter earlier this year asking for assistance for the proposed rail trail project through the National Park Service Rivers Trails and Conservation Assistance Program. They received word recently that their request had been accepted, and they’ll be receiving technical assistance for the proposed project.

Karl Beard, the project manager, will provide assistance during the 2013 federal fiscal year, which began on Oct. 1 and ends Sept. 30, 2013.

Since then, Rails to Trails Conservancy picked up on the district’s plans and wrote about them on their website. But Mrs. Kirnie said their participation, if any, is unknown as this point.

“It was on basis of article that someone at the Rails to Trails Conservancy, which is a national organization, saw that and included it on their website,” she said.

The website touts the advantages of Norwood-Norfolk’s proposal and similar projects. Mrs. Kirnie said in their case it would allow runners a safe place to run off the highway and open up a trail for other community health, wellness and recreational opportunities.

“With the help of Norwood, Norfolk and Potsdam, we had an engineering study done by Tisdale Associates in Canton. We used that as the basis of applying for several Parks and Recreation grants, which were unsuccessful. It’s a big project. By and large, the grants we could find couldn’t even touch the whole project. Grant funding sources don’t like to do part of an unfinished project. They like to do something that has closure to it,” she said.

When she saw the opportunity to apply through the National Park Service Rivers Trails and Conservation Assistance Program, Mrs. Kirnie said she contacted Mr. Beard.

“He was great. He recommended that before we actually applied for a monetary grant through the National Park Service that we take advantage of their consultation level grant. That does not bring in money. But you then have the Department of the Interior as your ally to help you frame a project,” she said.

“Once the project is framed and they are satisfied that it’s a worthy project, then you’re eligible to go after an actual Park Service Implementation Grant,” she noted.

The effort to bring a recreational trail to the area will involve several stakeholders, including Vermont Rail, the Ogdensburg Bridge and Port Authority, the village of Norwood and the towns of Potsdam and Norfolk, according to the superintendent.

“We have started the process of sharing information with the National Park Service. We will be launching initial meetings after the first of the year and inviting all interested stakeholders,” Mrs. Kirnie said.

“I’m very excited about it. We don’t know if it’s ever going to get off the ground. But just the fact the National Park Service is willing to give us consultation services is a huge boost,” she said.

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