Athol seeks grant for Rabbit Run land survey

Athol Town Hall.

Athol Town Hall. FILE PHOTO


For the Athol Daily News

Published: 02-28-2024 3:59 PM

Modified: 03-06-2024 3:34 PM

ATHOL – Planning and Development Director Eric Smith went before the Open Space and Recreation Commission on Tuesday to announce that he has applied for a MassTrails that would allow the town to start work on the proposed Rabbit Run Rail Trail.

When completed, the 6.2-mile trail would run the New Salem town line to downtown Athol.

The total amount of the grant, nearly $345,000, includes $69,000 in matching funds from the town. The remaining $276,000 would come directly from MassTrails.

If approved, money from this latest grant would pay for “more detailed survey work” from the

town-owned Bidwell property to Route 2,” Smith told the commission. The survey work would cover about a mile of the proposed first phase, which runs from the intersection of Tunnel Street and South Athol Road to the intersection of Thrower and South Athol roads.

Smith said the grant would also allow for the completion of engineering work to lay out the course of the trail, as well as permitting and outreach to property owners who may have questions about allowing a right of way through their property.

Completion of the survey work would allow the town to move forward with the first of the trail’s four-phase development project. Smith said the town should receive an update on its grant application in late spring or early summer.

Town officials are working to secure rights of way from several property owners whose land includes portions of the original Rabbit Run rail bed. Other sections of the rail bed are already owned by the town.

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According to its website, MassTrails is a collaboration between the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), MassDOT, and cities and towns which aims to “fill gaps in the state’s growing network of off-street multi-use paths and trails by providing matching funds to local fundraising efforts.”

In June 2022, Athol received a MassTrails grant of nearly $46,000 – which included a $10,647 match from the town – to pay for a feasibility study on development of the Rabbit Run Rail Trail.

Representatives of Howard Stein Hudson Associates, the firm hired to undertake the feasibility study, determined it would be best to develop the trail in four phases, in part because of the scope of the work but also to facilitate the acquisition of funding.

Rabbit Run was the name given to the old Enfield & Athol Railroad, which ran through the Swift River Valley. The railroad began operations in 1871 and provided service between Springfield and Athol until its last run in 1935, when the Swift River Valley was flooded to allow for creation of the Quabbin Reservoir.

Greg Vine can be reached at