WESTFIELD – The city of Westfield celebrated yet another milestone on its growing Columbia Greenway Rail Trail, cutting the ribbon on the third phase of the trail on Oct. 30. The newest portion extends the trail from East Silver Street to Main Street.
The trail opening celebration took place at the entrance ramp next to the Stop and Shop plaza on Main Street and was attended by local officials, the Friends of the Columbia Greenway Rail Trail and Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack.
Westfield’s portion of the trail begins at the Southwick town line and continues to Main Street.
Jeff LaValley, chair of the Friends of the Columbia Greenway Rail Trail Board of Directors, told Reminder Publications that though the project had been talked about for years, to see it come this far has been surreal.
“It was kind of symbolic because there were a lot of people that thought the project was never going to get off the ground. It had been shelved for so many years,” LaValley said. “It was just an idea, but then a small group of dedicated folks got together and rallied behind the effort.”
City Engineer Mark Cressotti called the Friends of Columbia Greenway group “the wind behind the sails” of the project, and Pollack said it is those in the community that serve as the driving force behind projects like this.
“As in Westfield, we couldn’t do it without Friends groups. In government, we know what we’re supposed to do. We know what we want to do. Some times it takes us longer to do things than we would like to,” Pollack said. “It actually helps to have folks on the outside who keeps us accountable, push things along, remind us that opportunities are there that are waiting to be taken. This is the perfect example of something that the community gets behind, the community benefits from. For us, it’s exciting to be a part of.”
Communities across the Commonwealth have taken initiative to bring rail trails to their community, Pollack said. It is “the most popular thing” her department does and with good reason, she said.
“More and more communities like Westfield have come to understand that a greenway like this, a multiuse path, a way for people to walk and bike, can really be something that brings the whole community together. It helps people live a healthier lifestyle by doing more walking and biking. The amazing thing is that they really do promote economic development,” Pollack said. “We think of them as recreational, and they absolutely are, but we find that businesses that are located along these trails, they’ll see increases.”
She said those who use the path are more likely to stop at businesses for food or water, giving the community an economic boost.
With the trail making its way toward the downtown area and continuing north in the coming years, Mayor Daniel Knapik said to expect economic benefits.
The next phase of the project, LaValley said, is to continue to move north toward the Westfield River, including rehabilitation of the bridge over the river. The project will then return to the central corridor and rehabilitate or replace five bridges on Main, Thomas, Chapel, Elm and Orange streets.
LaValley said he and his group can “see the light at the end of the tunnel” with the project, and though it has been a long time coming, it is a positive reflection of the Westfield community.
“The fact that we were standing there, it’s been a lot of hard work and a lot of literal and figurative miles to get there,” LaValley said. “It was so exciting to be there and see that when people do come together with great ideas, great energy and great enthusiasm, great things can happen.”
For more information about the Columbia Greenway Rail Trail project, visit www.columbiagreenway.org.