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Neponset River Greenway extension nearly complete

Jule Pattison-Gordon
Neponset River Greenway extension nearly complete
State Rep. Dan Cullinane, Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry and members of the state Department of Conservation and Recreation stand before the Harvest River Bridge over the Neponset.

The nature path follows the Mattapan trolley to Central Ave station.

This spring, Dorchester, Mattapan and Milton residents will be able to enjoy a nature walk connecting Central Avenue Station to Mattapan Square Station as the state finishes the Neponset River Greenway extension. Once completed, the trail segment will knit together the three neighborhoods, connecting Boston’s Blue Hill Avenue with Milton’s Central Avenue and provide the missing link in a path from Hyde Park’s Neponset Valley Parkway to Dorchester’s Pope John Paul II Park. Residents also will gain new opportunities for recreational activities while experiencing local natural beauty.

“It’s about communities getting connected to their natural environment and history and to other communities,” state Rep. Dan Cullinane said of the extension.

Legislators Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry, state Reps. Cullinane and Dan Hunt and reporters toured the newly-constructed, gently winding 1.3-mile pathway along the river and Mattapan trolleyway. Toward Mattapan Station, the route turned to an elevated canopy walk, with orange and yellow fall foliage on full display. Construction included footbridges and an arching red steel suspension bridge over the Neponset. State Department of Conservation and Recreation representatives also pointed to where newly-seeded wildflowers and perennials will bloom along the path, and said residents will be able to bring their canoes to a launching area by Ryan Field.

An elevated canopy walk leads to Mattapan Station.

Timeline

The extension has rolled out slower than anticipated, due in large part to weather and scheduling complications. Project manager Stella Lensign said she anticipates completion by the end of February 2017 and a public opening in March 2017. Originally pegged for just under $14 million, costs rose to $15.1 million, which Lensign says is within standard contingency plans for such an undertaking. The state is funding the project.

Heavy 2014 snows postponed the project’s start date from December 2014 until mid-March 2015. Winter again is holding up the project, as workers will wait until spring to plant grass seed and turn Ryan Field from dirt and gravel into a field suitable for soccer, football or lacrosse.

Other delays came from competition for labor and materials, as other cities in the region experience building booms, Lensing said. Another challenge has been the need to schedule installation and labor on bridges that cross over MBTA lines at times that would not unduly upset commutes. Bridgework has been constrained to three hours per night on weekends.

Left to install: a topcoat layer of asphalt onto path sections and some railing and fencing. Construction of a Central Ave plaza with seating is underway currently, said Cullen Meaves, landscape architect from Crosby Schlessinger Smallridge LLC. And in the spring, Ryan Field will be seeded.

Bikeable neighborhoods

Officials expressed excitement with the path, and Cullinane noted that once another part of the Neponset Greenway vision is completed residents will be able to bike all the way into Boston. Thanks to the extension project, new bike racks were added at the Mattapan Square and Central Avenue stations, and the ten-foot wide path is sized for bike and pedestrian travel.

Momentum for biking is strong in Mattapan, Cullinane noted, evidence by Mattapan-on-Wheels bike-athons and get-active initiatives from Mattapan Food and Fitness.

“It’s not just that this path exists but there is an organizational infrastructure ready to take advantage of it,” Cullinane said.

Cullinane has been seeking to site Hubway rental bikes at Central Avenue and Mattapan Square stations, which he said could further capitalize on the riverway’s potential.