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Norwood-Norfolk moving ahead on rail trail study

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NORFOLK - Norwood-Norfolk Central School officials are moving ahead with the study of a proposed “rail trail” project at the school.

But, Superintendent Elizabeth A. Kirnie said, it will take some time to implement if they eventually opt to move forward with the project.

“We’re exploring our options. It’s a large undertaking. But the consultant, Karl Beard from the National Park Service, was very high on the idea and thought it was worthy and gave us ideas for funding,” she said.

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

Mr. Beard, the project manager, will provide assistance during the 2013 federal fiscal year, which began on Oct. 1, 2012 and ends Sept. 30, 2013. He was on-site at the school on May 22.

“This is phase one. This is the consultation phase,” Mrs. Kirnie said.

The proposed 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. It would be an all-season recreational trail that could be used for activities such as snowshoeing, cross-country running, walking and running.

The idea for the trail surfaced after district officials were discouraged by their insurance carrier and the Department of Transportation from using Route 56 in front of the school for recreation. Instead of using the state highway, district officials began looking for an alternative off-roads alternative.

“The study by the New York state Department of Transportation tells us we need to keep our students off the highway, and this would be a viable option. That helps strengthen the case,” Mrs. Kirnie said.

But, she said, it will involve coordination between several agencies and would be a costly undertaking if they elect to move forward with the project. The rail line leased by Vermont Rail from the Ogdensburg Bridge Port Authority, and the district has been granted an easement by Vermont Rail.

“In many cases you can build a trail on an existing but abandoned rail line. In this case, the line is still active, albeit not heavily used. That is another layer of difficulty that makes a huge difference in the cost and the do-ability,” Mrs. Kirnie said.

The project, she said, could be as much as $500,000 a mile if the rail line remains active, and “scales down from there if they abandon the line.”

That means funding will need to come from somewhere.

“The next step is getting some political support, getting some community support and getting some grant funding. Maybe the first step is to look at planning grants, for example. As anxious as we are to implement this, it’s an extremely large project. It is a multi-million dollar project and there is a lot of work to be done,” she said.

“There is a lot of excitement about the prospect, but many unanswered questions. I have a feeling that the time will come when the timing is right for this to happen,” Mrs. Kirnie said.

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