The Town of Hopkinton’s Upper Charles Trail Committee (UCTC) held a public forum at the Hopkinton Senior Center on December 8, 2021, to present their proposed route for the trail through town. The UCTC members were joined by representatives from VHB, a civil engineering firm, and David T. Daltorio, the Town’s engineer. Norman Khumalo, Hopkinton’s Town Manager, attended via video conference. Approximately 75 citizens attended in person, and the meeting was live-streamed by HCAM on local cable access TV and YouTube.

Prior to the start of the meeting, attendees were able to look over a number of posters around the room showing detailed views of the route and other information. The meeting began with an introduction of the committee members and a brief overview of the committee's history and process by the committee chair, followed by a presentation by the VHB engineers. The presentation included a Google Earth flyover of the proposed route. Finally, Norman Khumalo made a statement of his support for trails in town and his interest in the Upper Charles Trail Project.

Following the presentation, the public was invited to comment. Eighteen people rose to speak. Three were in support of the UCTC route and plan; thirteen were against for various reasons; and two offered neutral comments.  Everyone was respectful and most everyone thanked the UCTC for their work.

The primary focus of the comments was on the section of the proposed trail along Hayden Rowe Street (Route 85) from the schools to the Milford parking area. The UCTC & VHB said they are working on this area first because the land is primarily Town-owned so there are few easement issues. It was emphasized that the route has not been finalized and changes are likely.

The majority of the objections were centered on traffic & safety concerns. Several speakers mentioned the accidents in that area in the recent past, including a youth fatality. The proposed route would have three crossings of Hayden Rowe, and those were cited as areas of concern. VHB noted that a variety of means were available to increase the safety of those crossings - signals, painted crossing lines, speed humps, etc. Some speakers felt that these changes would indeed improve the safety, primarily by slowing the traffic along this stretch of Hayden Rowe, but others still felt the crossings were a problem. One speaker questioned why the trail wasn’t just a straight run down one side of the road, eliminating two of the crossings. A question was also raised about whether a new traffic survey would be conducted (the last was done in 2017). The UCTC chair said there were no plans for a new survey at this stage of the design process.

Other concerns included the proximity of the trail to the elementary schools (safety & security) and parking worries (capacity & break-ins). There was also discussion of the type of surface (paved or stone dust). The UCTC is planning on a 10 foot wide paved trail, citing requirements from funding agencies. Robert Weidknecht, who led the creation of Holliston’s stone dust trail (and advised on Hopkinton’s Center, Echo, and Hughes stone dust trails), said that stone dust trails DO meet all requirements, and offered details of costs for building and long-term maintenance of the two types of trails. He said that stone dust trails cost much less than paved to build. VHB estimated the paved trail will cost about $1.5M per mile, and Holliston's stone dust trail cost an average of $50K per mile. Stone dust trails are also less expensive to maintain. Robert specifically mentioned the issue of tree roots breaking through pavement, requiring re-paving. David Dollenmayer provided details of a survey of Center Trail users, where nearly all favored a stone dust surface. A petition calling for stone dust surfaces for the trails in Hopkinton currently has 230+ signatures.

Another area of concern came from property owners along Hayden Rowe Street. As part of the safety mitigation plans, the trail along that street would be separated from the roadway by a 5 foot buffer. There would then be a 10 foot wide trail and an additional 2 foot buffer, for a total of 17 feet. This would be across the front yards of 15-18 properties (depending upon which side of the street is used). Some of this land may be the Town’s right-of-way, but some might require an easement or land-taking from the owner. For nearly all of these properties, that land is currently lawn and/or plantings maintained by the owner, and the prospect of having it replaced by a trail was viewed as less than ideal. A business owner on the road also expressed concern that existing access and parking issues for her customers would be negatively impacted by the trail.

A number of speakers mentioned the alternative western route suggested by the Trails Club. It would avoid the schools and have a single crossing of Hayden Rowe. In addition, it would travel primarily through woodlands (several people stated a preference for a trail through a forest versus one along a road). One speaker noted that it’s possible to ride a bike down Hayden Rowe now, and didn't see a need to build a bike path there to do that. The UCTC said they had explored the possibility of that western route early in the committee’s work, but the landowners weren’t interested. Peter LaGoy said he had been in touch recently with two of the three landowners, and they were open to discussions. [Not mentioned at the meeting - The third property is Chapter 61 land, and the Town has the right of first refusal to purchase it.] Peter contrasted the need to negotiate with three property owners versus potentially 18 property owners along Hayden Rowe for the UCTC’s route.

Several speakers mentioned a lack of outreach from the committee, and most attendees indicated they had only heard about the meeting via word-of-mouth. One of the final speakers, Joe Markey, also raised concerns with the committee’s process. He reviewed the example of the 2011 Elementary School Building Committee. That group developed their proposal in their committee meetings, held a single forum to present it to the town, then brought a plan for three district schools to Town Meeting. The response was heavily negative and the proposal was soundly defeated. A second committee was formed and followed an open and participatory process, with a series of public forums to collect feedback and ideas. The result was the widely admired Marathon School. Joe urged the committee to adopt the second approach as they continued their work.

Another of the closing speakers asked why the emphasis was on the Hayden Rowe section of the trail rather than the section from Hopkinton State Park to Legacy Farms. He felt that other section would offer many benefits, providing trail access to the park and the commuter rail stations, and linking them to downtown Hopkinton. The UCTC/VHB cited issues with obtaining rights to the land in that area, and the cost of that section.

During the opening presentations, the UCTC’s chair said they planned to go to the Select Board in mid-January to seek permission to proceed with the proposed route. A raise-of-hands poll of the meeting attendees was taken, asking if that should be postponed while the UCTC considered the feedback from the meeting. The group overwhelmingly supported a postponement. The UCTC was urged to use the comments and feedback from the evening’s meeting to reevaluate their proposal, and to continue to work with the citizens to develop a trail that works for everyone.

HCAM’s recording of the meeting can be viewed on YouTube: