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Northampton rail trails win federal designation

NORTHAMPTON — The federal government has added the two main rail trails that snake through Northampton to its list of national recreation trails Friday.

The MassCentral Rail Trail, also known as the Norwottuck, and the New Haven and Northampton Canal Rail Trail, referred to as the Manhan, are among 21 trails in 11 states to earn the designation Friday from by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The roughly 11 miles of city trails are used for both recreation and transportation and are part of a larger network of rail trail that will eventually extend 100 miles from Northampton to Boston along the MassCentral trail and 85 miles from Northampton to New Haven along the Manhan.

Northampton’s sections are the first of either trail to be listed as a national recreation trail.

Wayne Feiden, director of Planning and Sustainability, said the designation is an honor for the city’s trails and will likely help attract visitors. But there is a larger goal in mind to get all of the MassCentral and New Haven-Northampton trails designated as national recreation trails, he said.

“We very much think of these as being one trail and we hope that they will eventually be designated as one national recreation trail,” Feiden said. “This designation in Northampton may get the ball rolling.”

The MassCentral trail in Northampton stretches from King Street to the Williamsburg town line, but does not include the state-owned portion of the trail that connects on the east side of the railroad at Woodmont Avenue. That portion of the trail runs into Hadley and continues to Belchertown.

Portions of the 5.3-mile trail were among the first municipal trails developed in New England in 1985.

In 2001, the trail expanded to connect to other rail trails and tie various village centers together. The trail runs through downtown Northampton and Florence, the Barrett Street marsh, Look Park, Leeds and the Mill River.

The Manhan trail extends from the north side of downtown south to the Easthampton town line — and continues into Easthampton.

The four-mile trail is within walking distance of 50 percent of the Northampton community. The highlight of the trail is a trail-related art mural on the rail trail bridge over Main Street.

Mayor David J. Narkewicz said the city is pleased that the Department of the Interior recognizes that the trails are of national importance. In addition to being used for recreation and transportation, the trails also support the economy by bringing in visitors who support hotels, restaurants and retail businesses.

“We expect that this designation will encourage more people to travel to Northampton to visit our trails,” Narkewicz said in a press release.

Friday’s announcement made by Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, on the eve of National Trails Day on Saturday, designates 452 miles in 11 states to national trail systems that link communities to recreational opportunities on public lands and in local parks across the nation.

Each of the new national recreation trails will receive a certificate of designation, a letter of congratulations from Jewell, and a set of trail markers.

In addition to Northampton, the other Massachusetts trail to earn the designation went to the Dedham Loop Water Trail, a 7.2-mile water trail on the Charles River in the town of Dedham.

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