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Get the Facts: Environmental Impact

Claim: Preserve the Beauty of the Trail. Dappled sunlight. Shade provided by a leaf canopy. Wildlife. Quiet. Peace. The smell of forest. These are what make this 1.7 miles of public green space so special.

We agree! That’s precisely why we want to make the space accessible to all, because many people currently do not feel comfortable using wheeled devices on the current dirt path. There are a lot of reasons for this, but there’s no question that more people will be able to enjoy the sun, shade, and peace of this trail if it is paved. If you look at other rail trails in the region, the tree canopy either remained or grew back..

These pictures of the Bruce Freeman Rail (sect. 2A, completed in 2018) show how quickly the canopy returns within just 4 years of construction. Photos courtesy of Aaron Bourret, all rights reserved.

Claim: The Extension calls for the removal of 1.7 miles of intact tree canopy in a public green space. The boundaries of the clear cut are undefined, and construction details ensure that the canopy will never return. Built East to West, the path will bake in the sun from sun up to sun down.

The boundaries are clearly labeled on the design plans with the standard industry language of “Proposed Clearing and Grubbing”. It’s misleading to assert that the “canopy will never return.” Other trails both locally and across the state have returned to full canopy within 4 years of their construction, and there is no reason to think that won’t happen on the RBT.

Claim: Cutting down any trees is irresponsible when we're in a climate crisis.

According to the Town's documentation, 20 public, street trees will be removed and replaced with 68 new public, street trees. Additionally, in the wooded area, a total of 4.34 acres of vegetation will be removed. While this may sound drastic, consider how much vegetation is lost when a residential lot is cleared for building a new house. The Town has committed $21,000 to replacing trees around this project and throughout Bedford to off-set the loss. The Town's tree policy, in fact, requires replacement of trees for any public project. Our fight against the climate crisis cannot be measured solely by the number of trees we have. Another way to measure the the impact of this trail is to consider how many car trips might be replaced by bike trips. You can use the EPA's calculator to play around with how much impact giving up cars might have. The short answer, though, is that if even 1 person gave up driving their car in favor of biking, that would offset 5.5 acres of carbon sequestration. That's far more than the 4.3 acres this project will take down (temporarily).

Claim: Now this trail is a place for our cross-country student-athletes to run. It is a quiet place to ski in the winter. It is a place to spot a Blanding’s turtle, an endangered animal. It is a safe place to see our neighbors, families walking, young children on bikes. Let’s don’t give up what we have.

The cross-country team will begin using a new route starting in the 2023/24 school year in the Elm Brook Conservation to avoid the use of the Evans Ave and Fern Way neighborhood. Work was recently approved by the Conservation Commission to make trail improvements within the Elm Brook CA to facilitate using this new course. The DPW is able to keep half the trail unplowed during the winter to facilitate skiing by using a smaller sidewalk plow if that is the desire of the community. With regard to Blanding's turtle, this project has been reviewed at the local, state, and federal level for environmental impacts. All relevant agencies have given their approval to go ahead. In fact, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) report is available to review. Page 99 of the linked document shows that the DEP looks for impacts on beavers, otters, turtles, minks, and certain birds, with "None noted" as their conclusion.

Claim: Root block materials laid under the path and extending beyond the path itself will prevent tree canopy from ever being restored.

The project does not call for root block materials to be placed beneath the path; only along the borders. As you can see from your own neighborhood, root eruption presents a problem for any sidewalk, path, or roadway. Additionally, trees do not need be planted directly on or next to the path for a canopy to form above, as the current paved and unpaved paths in Town demonstrate.

Claim: There was no environmental study.

As noted above, the Town and its consultants looked at everything from endangered species to stormwater. The project was reviewed and approved by the Bedford Conservation Commission and the project will be subject to monitoring by the Conservation Commission. The Conservation Commission application and order of conditions can be reviewed on the town’s project page.

Claim: There was no carbon footprint calculation. The amount of asphalt to be used by the project will be less than what is used by the town in one year for regular road repairs. Tree loss will be partially mitigated by plantings on the project and a contribution to the Bedford Tree Fund. And again, the impact of removing 4.3 acres of trees — in addition to the fact that they will be replanted at least at a 2:1 ratio elsewhere — is offset by even one person choosing to bike rather than use their car.

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