Stoneham – Tri Community Greenway

For those of you who do not leave in Eastern Massachusetts, you now have my permission to skip this post.

Those of you who live in the greater Boston area – not so fast.

This amazing tunnel runs under I93 and connects the communities.

I live in Stoneham – a small town that happens to be 11 miles from the soaring skyline of Boston. My community was hit hard by both September 11th and the Marathon bombings, but it’s generally a quiet place. I really enjoy living here. I have phenomenal neighbors. The schools are (so far) excellent. I can walk to just about anything worth walking to, including a used book store and a theater. (In the sadly lacking department, I CANNOT walk to good coffee. Woe!) Just yesterday, we had the annual Stoneham Town Day where the entire town turned out wearing their Stoneham gear and bounced in bouncy houses, painted faces, raised awareness and hung out.

A hundred years ago, my community – like so many others – had a railway running through it for local deliveries. Again, following the pattern, with the rise of the car the railway fell into disuse. Now in the 21st century, we’d like to reclaim our right of way and build a bike path alone the publicly owned lands. This is FANTASTIC. It will connect our community to two neighboring communities, going under the freeway. (I wrote about the really neat freeway underpass here.)

The project – the Tri Community Greenway – has been in progress for longer than some voters have been alive. But it’s ALMOST THERE. Here’s what they’ve accomplished:

  • Almost all the route has been planned, with official plans accepted by Mass DOT.
  • The bikeway has obtained legal rights to the land with a 99 year lease from the MTA. All previous leasees’ leases have expired and the land is now legally free and clear for the public good of Stoneham.
  • With one exception (we’ll get to that in a moment), every business who had previously been using the public land has created and executed a plan to get the bikeway through the route. Special thanks to companies like Cleveland Fence who worked hard and negotiated in good faith to make it happen.
  • Most critically, the Bikeway has obtained federal funding for construction for 2014. Seriously, people, they can break ground before my kid hits third grade.

Of course, there’s one catch. One person has decided their driveway is more important than an entire community’s needs, and despite many good faith efforts by the Greenway committee, this person is refusing to move the 500 trucks worth of fill they put ON PUBLIC LAND and is now trespassing. They have been served with an eviction notice. I have to admit that it makes me really angry to think of one person ignoring both legal and moral obligations, who is willing to destroy a project that will serve the people of the community their business is in.

So… what can we do? First, there is a meeting of the Stoneham Board of Selectman on Tuesday, September 10th 2013. I intend to be there – with my children – to let the Selectmen of Stoneham know how important their leadership on this issue is to me, and to my community. This is not a project that needs you to open your wallet (see also: federal funding!). This is a project that needs you to use your voice to make sure that the community comes together to push it across the finish line.

You can find contact information for the Stoneham Board of Selectman here: http://www.stoneham-ma.gov/board-of-selectmen – let them know what you think! You can also find WAY MORE details about the greenway here, including the published plans, a map of the final route, the history of the project and community, and tons of pictures.


For your voting reference, I have also sent an email to every single one of the Selectmen, letting them know about my feelings on the topic. I’m including the replies below! I sent them all emails on 9/8/13 at 7:45 pm.

Ann Marie O’Neill – 8:50 pm 9/8/13

Dear Brenda,

Thank you for making your voice heard. The bike path is important not only because it will be a good asset for Stoneham, but also because bringing the citizens of Stoneham out to demand action from their leaders represents a major policy shift. We deserve better and we have been over looked for too long. Thank you for getting involved and thank you for encouraging your friends to speak out as well. If you are able to come to Tuesday’s meeting please introduce yourself. One of the most rewarding aspects of this role has been to meet my neighbors.

Thank you,
Ann Marie

Robert Sweeney – Chairman – 8:30 am 9/9/13

i support the bikepath always have feel free to call me

Thomas Boussy – Vice Chairman

Strong Greenway supporter.

John Depinto – no response yet
Sent second request on 9/28/2014 11:20 am

Frank Vallarelli – no response yet
Send second request on 9/28/2013 11:25 am

Adventure-uncovered secrets

Yesterday, a friend came over. Our plan A had included a picnic in the Middlesex Fells, but the weather was chancy, so we opted for a shorter, more local walk. I offered to show my husband, friend and eldest son the hidden tunnel running under I93, where in former years a train had run, that is the future path of the Tri-Community Bikeway and currently home to a very talented set of artists.

Tri-county bikeway - tunnel graffiti
Tri-county bikeway - tunnel graffiti

We got there and marveled, but our feet felt light, my mother-in-law (the saint!) was home with Thane, and we had no deeds to do or promises to keep. I offered to take us home the long way or the short way. With a lazy Saturday afternoon in front of us, under overcast skies, we took the long way.

And so we walked. I have always, always loved going on walks. I fondly remember the Connecticut College Arboretum, and the green. I love evening walks, right before bed, in bitingly cold or fondly warm dark. I love daytime walks through seemingly familiar but unexpectedly new paths. I have a tendency to drag people through bush, briar and bramble long past the polite mark, explaining that we’ve come so far that the fastest way home is forward. Sometimes this is even true. But I confess, I have never tried this with my eldest. I know my weakness is to push people past when I’m tired, and I’m an indefatigable walker.

But the path stretched so freely in front of me, and the company was so congenial, I decided to begin teaching my five year old my love of walking adventures.

We stopped at McDonald’s for ice cream and coffee. We stopped at Woodcraft to admire all the possible ways to remove digits and daydream of lives with room for whittling. We ducked off the road to try to identify an old abandoned building, and then circled back to it. We quoted each other poetry, discussed programming design patterns and explained some small section of the world to Grey.

We were getting a bit tired, by the time we walked past the gate.

The welcoming gate
The welcoming gate

The poem on the door reads:

Welcome to the Cotton-Arbo retum;
Please do step inside.
Here you’ll find a peaceful respite
And a feast for weary eyes.

Weary from a world that’s become
Plentiful with neon signs,
Blaring out wherever you go,
Up ahead and from behind.

Now the chaos of a crowded garden
Overwhelming seems to be,
But once you center your attention
Focus on the true beauty
Of a tree’s bright leaves or flowers,
Of a waterfall’s great power,
Soon you’ll find your vision shifting,
As the minutes roll to hours.

And to unwind you begin,
Like pluming grasses in the wind,
As a breeze can comfort you
And help you see the world anew.

The war with life’s resounding din
Can sound like raining rocks on tin.
This battle we hope you will win;
So take the first step,
Please come in.
– Mindy Arbo

We entered the hidden garden
We entered the hidden garden

Finding ourselves ready for both adventure and respite, we went in. It was probably an average sized suburban lot – maybe a little larger than the uniform green lawns we’d been walking past, but not unusually so. But this garden was so invested with love, you could palpably feel it. There were statues tucked into corners, poems printed on gates, pools of water with koi or fountains of cheerful water. There were blocks of rose quartz and a thousand varieties of plant. And through it all was the warm sense of welcome – to be invited as strangers into this labor of love and trusted to tread there with light and respectful feet. What a precious gift to give to strangers – the labors of your years!

The adventurers in the secret garden
The adventurers in the secret garden

We weren’t the only ones who liked the garden:

Baby bunny, big world
Baby bunny, big world

We left with light feet and light hearts, to return home.

Return to the world
Return to the world

The next block, we found a candy shop:

The advisability of stopping at a Gingerbread house while tired on a long adventure is not lost on me
The advisability of stopping at a Gingerbread house while tired on a long adventure is not lost on me

Grey, admittedly, got tired by this point. The entire journey was about 4 miles, which is rather a long walk for a five year old. I talked about the plants we passed on our long walk home: the walnut trees, foxglove, dogwood. (I got accused of making things up.) With tired feet, we came home – infinitely richer for our adventures.

I had forgotten. I had forgotten how many secrets you cannot see from the thirty-five-miles-an-hour world I live in. I had forgotten how lovely it is to walk with friends. I had forgotten the infinite variety of homes people live in. I had forgotten how liberating it is to step off the path and onto another path that does not lead to your goal.

I am so grateful to have remembered, and to have won a battle against “life’s resounding din”.