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Trail hopes get a boost

'Warrior' speaks at Hitchcock Academy

Southbridge’s Scott Benoit, vice president of the Grand Trunk Trailblazers, talks to Craig Della Penna before the latter’s talk in Brimfield last week. Gus Steeves. (click for larger version)
November 15, 2009
Making passing references to the recently publicized lawsuit regarding the Providence & Worcester railway route, rail trail advocate Craig Della Penna urged about two dozen enthusiasts to reach out to as many people as possible to get the proposed Titanic Rail Trail built.

"The longer they've been in the ground, the more loved [trails] are," he said at Brimfield's Hitchcock Academy Thursday, Nov. 12, noting he's "been on 250 rail trails."

For years, Della Penna has traveled the eastern United States helping trail groups — in some cases, even buying abandoned rail routes to give land trusts time to collect funds to buy it from him at cost — and educating the groups in both how to start trails and what to watch out for.

But Della Penna said he didn't originally intend to get into the politics of trail building. For years, he worked in the rail freight industry and used that background to write several books on rail-related subjects. While researching one, he attended a public meeting in Southampton where opponents shot down a rail trail proposal by convincing senior citizens "outsiders would come in" and threaten their way of life, he said. That was the only town he'd seen that rejected a trail.

The experience pushed him into lobbying for trails and start "parachut[ing] into the wars" against what he dubs "dead-ender extremists." Such folks, he said, stoke fear of things that only occur rarely, including criminal use (especially thieves or pedophiles), the idea that trails don't fit near homes, that they'll be unkempt or mismanaged, or even that they won't be used at all and thus waste money.

For more on this story, please see Monday's Southbridge Evening News.

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