PARIS — The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously Monday evening to eventually sign a memorandum of understanding between the town, the Norway Branch Railroad and several local organizations to rebuild the railroad trail from Beal Street in Norway to Charles Street in Paris.
The memorandum would not commit the town to participating in the construction, which is expected to begin in the fall of 2019.
Carl Costanzi of Healthy Oxford Hills, representing the committee seeking to rebuild the trail, said that 14 or 15 years ago several organizations attempted to build a pedestrian path along a section of the rail bed.
“However, it didn’t really gain steam other than a few signs getting put up,” Costanzi said.
He said that a couple of years ago, “a group of us, including representatives from the Norway Progress Center, Norway Downtown, the Western Foothills Land Trust, Healthy Oxford Hills and Stephens Memorial Hospital, got together to re-engage that project.”
In a letter that former Norway Downtown President Andrea Burns wrote to the selectmen in 2014, the trail would be a walking/biking connector to the Alpine Street sidewalks linking the Donald Gouin Athletic Complex and Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School.
Costanzi said the committee received funding from the National Parks Service to hire a consultant to help it move forward with the project, and that one of the next steps was to see if Paris was interested in participating.
“The idea is that the expense of the project is going to be grant-funded,” Constanzi said. “We’re planning to apply for some recreation trail grants, specifically for the Norway side. The idea is that this would be a good collaborative project for Norway and Paris.”
He pointed out that Norway signed a memorandum of understanding with the committee in March.
Paris Police Chief Hartley “Skip” Mowatt Jr. said he was worried about how the trail would be patrolled once it was complete.
“We’ve had issues where there are fights in that area, or people are going off-trail to smoke and drink,” Mowatt said. “I’m not sure how we would patrol that.”
Constanzi said he talked with Parks and Recreation Director Shannon Moxcey and Town Manager Vic Hodgkins about whether Paris was interested in participating in the project.
Hodgkins said he was “not against the concept, but I do have issues with parts of it. For one, I’m with Skip in terms of figuring out how that trail would be enforced, and whether abutters have any issues with the trail. Also, I’d rather have Norway do its portion of the project, and then the town of Paris can learn how from Norway’s portion and have a conversation on whether to do it or not.”
Selectman Chris Summers said he liked the idea of the trail, and that “anything that gets people around town without using their right foot sounds good to me.”
Selectman Scott Buffington agreed, adding, “Anytime we can add to the recreational qualities of the town, it’s a good thing.”
Rusty Brackett, chairman of the Paris Board of Selectmen, listens to Carl Constanzi (not pictured) of Healthy Oxford Hills on Monday night explain a project to rebuild the Norway Branch Railroad trail that connects Norway and Paris. (Matthew Daigle/Sun Journal)