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Orange eyes riverfront foot trail

ORANGE — The town is hoping to attract more hikers, boaters and other tourists through a series of trails that will increase access to the Millers River above and below the dam, and meander around the old factory mill buildings downtown.

Community Development Director Kevin Kennedy said the town recently submitted a grant for $26,000 to the state’s Department of Conservation Resources to develop a Downtown Riverfront Trail and provide safe and equitable access to the Millers River.

The total project cost is $32,000, which includes an in-kind match of $8,000 in donated labor and materials.

The project creates about 2,000 linear feet of paved walking/biking/cross-country ski trails through the old industrial area along the southern bank of the river in downtown Orange. At the end of the trail, there will be a launch into the river for kayaks and canoes.

There will also be a trail around the dam, so that boaters traveling down the river can portage their craft around the dam and launch in the waters below.

Kennedy said that boaters using the portage trail around the dam can safely negotiate a small craft all the way from Athol to Turners Falls. He added that there are rapids in certain areas below the dam that can be easily avoided if boaters take care when they travel along the river.

The trail will extend to a railway trestle over the Millers River. The proposal states that local property owners have committed to renovate the trestle to serve as the connection with the opposite bank, the north side of the river.

When the old railroad trestle bridge is renovated, Kennedy foresees that the bridge could become a tourist attraction, akin to Shelburne Falls’ Bridge of Flowers.

“It could become a bridge of edibles or vegetables … that people could walk on and enjoy,” he said.

The project will also increase access to the river for people with limited mobility through the existing boathouse. The project will install a floating dock, a hoist, and a nearly level boat ramp so that people in wheelchairs and others with limited mobility can get in and out of boats more easily.

Kennedy envisions this grant as the first phase in a wider vision to get more people using the river, and to bring more hikers and bikers downtown.

The state will announce awards in October.

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