Rail Trail Revitalization

by Todd Thomas

As a certified land use planner, I love talking about how transportation shapes the built environment. I am especially interested in how providing active transportation choices can improve the physical health and economic wellbeing of a community. With that being said, I will shortly tell you how the recently repurposed Lamoille Valley rail trail will eventually profoundly improve how you see and experience downtown Morrisville. But first, I want to explain how the introduction of a somewhat similar recreational amenity slowly but dramatically changed where I grew up.
For those of you that do not know, I am a flatlander. I hail from Boston’s North Shore. Growing up there, I was afforded a front row seat to the metamorphosis of towns like Newburyport and Ipswich just as recreational bicycling slowly invaded each of these downtowns, forever changing them. This “invasion” started when the commuter train line into Boston started replacing the train’s passenger seats with bike-racks in one of the train cars heading out to the coast on Saturdays in the summer. This train bike-rack pilot program quickly grew in popularity to where, before long, on various warm weather days, trains were rolling north out of Boston’s North Station seemingly with more cyclists and bikes onboard headed to Newburyport and Ipswich than regular train passengers. Not surprisingly, all of these cyclists starting patronizing my sleepy local lunch spots after a hard day of pedal-touring places like Plum Island in Newburyport. Pretty soon these lunch spots were no longer sleepy and the locals even had to contend with lycra-wearing road warriors for seats at our (no-longer-so-local) pub on Friday night. I think I finally realized how grand this recreational-induced transformation had become when a somewhat dingy local bait shop turned into a gift shop seemingly overnight – like a caterpillar turning into a beautiful butterfly.
In Vermont, everything is smaller and everything seems to take a little longer than it does in southern New England. So while I do expect the opening of the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail to profoundly and positively affect downtown Morrisville, like it did for Newburyport and Ipswich, it could take a few years before we all clearly see the impacts. When high-value active recreational opportunities like the new rail-trail in Morrisville, or even the Rec Path in Stowe, are offered to people, these recreation amenities become heavily used and become cherished attributes of the community.
So this spring I highly encourage you to dust off that bike in your garage and put it to good use on the rail trail. In doing so, you will be improving your health and making the already fabulous downtown Morrisville even more vibrant. Hopefully I will see you out on the rail-trail, where I will be pedaling or jogging towards a slimmer waistline and a more economically robust downtown Morrisville. And in ten or so years from now, my hope is that there will be no doubt about how important the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail was towards furthering the revitalization of our great little downtown.