Friday, May 8, 2009
Earlier this week, as I came out of the local grocery store, I was accosted by two small boys holding out containers, which were lettered--in the appealing, lopsided printing of small children--"Fix the Sinkhole." Obediently, I emptied my pockets of change, and the boys ran off to bash into a shopping cart (or something along those lines). Coincidentally--or perhaps not--I'd also just received a flyer from the Friends of the Manhan Rail Trail asking for money to fix the sinkhole. And that very morning, the annual charity race, Derrill's Race, had been run, and a chunk of the money raised (over $11,000 in all) was going to help fix the sinkhole as well.
I live on a busy-ish street with no sidewalk, so I've always considered it a perk that behind the houses across the street is the Manhan Rail Trail, otherwise known as the Easthampton bike path, which runs for 4 1/2 miles from Route 5 to the Southampton border. Before I started running, I'd only used the bike path a couple of times, but now it's become a regular haunt.
Except that since last fall, a section of the path not far from my house has been closed due to the Great Washout of 2008, parts I and II.
In September, an old culvert below the trail collapsed, leaving a 20-foot sinkhole behind. But that was nothing compared to what happened a few months later, when the whole thing washed out in another storm, leaving a gaping ravine where the bike path had once been. Once all the leaves were gone, you could see it from the street, the path on either side of the hole ending abruptly, only air between.
As the months passed, the estimates for how much it would cost to fix it grew and grew. Originally, word was that it would cost somewhere around $50,000, but within a few weeks, that number multiplied until the number floating around (even before washout #2) was close to $400,000. By December, it was up to $450,000.
Given the economy, it was easy to think that the bike path could remain interrupted for years to come. Thankfully, that's not the case. It turned out to be a lucky thing that the washout also damaged a sewer outlet pipe, which would have to be repaired whether or not the bike path was on top of it. That meant that the town is eligible for a low-interest state loan to repair it, and in April, the town agreed to take out a 10-year environmental bond to pay for it all. It turns out, though, that paving and fencing the trail are not included in the bond, which explains the flurry of local fundraising to cover it.
I didn't run in the direction of the sinkhole that often anyway--it's a shorter route because it ends at Route 5, and it gets loud as you approach the Route 91 overpass, where there's a loud, messy and seemingly endless construction project going on. But there are lovely views of the river that way. I took this in the morning, but imagine it at sunset, and it's much prettier.
The Amherst bike path, where I also occasionally run, is prettier overall--there are woods and fields and beaver ponds and the occasional very scenic house--but I kind of like the grittiness of the Easthampton path. I like it that my landmarks, as I'm puffing along, include the school for juvenile delinquents (which has a much nicer official name), the huge pile of gravel and several abandoned mill buildings as well as a couple that have been renovated.
One thing I discovered on my brief visit to the sinkhole this morning is that the hole is not stopping some intrepid runners (though I think it might stop even the most intrepid biker or roller blader). I saw a guy approaching from the Route 5 side and wondered if he'd stop and turn around:
The answer was no. He picked his way down one side and up the other side, hopping over the trickling water, and kept running:
In other bike path news, we also learned this week that federal stimulus money is going to help pay for several new miles of bike path that will connect the Easthampton bike path and the Northampton bike path. This is very exciting news--for me, at least--because, once it's done, it will mean that I'll be able to ride my bike to the community garden almost entirely on the bike path. It's not that it's that far--maybe 3 or 4 miles--but currently, you either have to go on very, very bumpy and sometimes washed out dirt roads or on Route 10, part of which is a 50 mph zone. Neither option is appealing. But once the bike path extension is done, I'll have no excuse.