WESTFIELD – Excitement about the completion of the central downtown section of the Columbia Greenway Rail Trail later this summer is building, said Carmel Steger, president of the Friends of the Columbia Greenway Rail Trail.
Activities to support the trail are multiplying around the city. ArtWorks is planning a mural for the esplanade, and city officials are looking into bringing Valley Bike share rentals downtown, among other activities.
Steger said the support is appreciated. “Part of the excitement is that it’s finally coming to a point of completion. The Friends of the Columbia Green Rail Trail really appreciate all of the supporters of this project. We look forward to having events where we can engage with this on the Rail Trail,” Steger said.
Steger said right now they are looking for continued very active progression of the Rail Trail, which will be completed this summer. The last part to be completed will be the Elm Street bridge, which is being renovated.
Steger said the Elm Street Bridge will be a stopping off point, where riders and walkers can rest on benches installed there and look around at that elevation. She said the bridge was wide enough for two trains. “That’s why they can do so much there,” she said.
Elm Street will be the last of five bridges to be completed before the elevated trail is paved and ready to open. Steger said City Engineer Mark Cressotti and the entire department have done “so much” to move these plans along.
Once completed, riders and walkers will be able to get on the new section at Stop and Shop, which will cross five elevated bridges and end at Women’s Temperance Park. “Westfield is one of the few cities with this much elevation on a rail trail,” Steger said.
Cressotti said there have been some structural items with the Elm Street bridge that has slowed down the anticipated completion date. He said right now the paving of the entire trail is expected in late summer, but the entire section is under the contractor’s responsibility and authority. “They’re responsible, liable for any accidents that occur. They’re going to be cautious,” he said.
The complete plans and artist renderings of the central downtown section are available at www.cityofwestfield.org/407/Columbia-Greenway.
Meanwhile fundraising and activities continue. In a recent newsletter, the Friends of the CGRT urged residents to join as members for $15 a year, and businesses to become members for $150 a year, to help make Westfield a more pedestrian and bike-friendly community, and drive changes to benefit all. More information is available at columbiagreenway.org.
Four more historical signs are also being installed on the rail trail and there will be two more after that. “The signs talk about Westfield’s history, indigenous people who lived in and around Westfield, and early cultural and commercial times,” Steger said.
The Friends also announced that registration for the 2021 Great River Ride, scheduled for Oct. 10, is open at BikeReg.com. There are a variety of distances to choose from for this year’s ride, including an all-new 30-mile Winery Ride from Westfield to Brignole Vineyards in East Granby, Conn. The registration fee for all rides is $50 per cyclist, with proceeds going to the Friends of the Columbia Greenway Rail Trail.
Even before the completion of the central section, the rail trail is being used more actively by riders and pedestrians than ever. Steger said there have been two or three times as many riders on the rail trail this past year than in 2019. Another trail count will happen in May, which will involve a manual count and traf-x counters that are installed on a few different places along the trail, to get an accurate 24-7 count.
“My husband and I were coming back from a bike ride, coming up from the Big Y and getting off at the Stop & Shop rack. Two elderly women were walking with walkers down the rail trail – they just looked so adorable. Many families were out on the bike path, walking, riding bikes, rollerblading, skateboarding. People feel safe up there; they use this bike path to get and out and exercise and feel connected to each other,” Steger said.