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New life for Orange-Athol bike path?

Stakeholders of an Orange bikeway came together recently to discuss the possibility of dusting off prior plans to construct a bike path linking downtown Athol and Orange. The project, first proposed some 20 years ago had originally envisioned a “greenway” path along the Millers River’s edge starting at the Alan E. Rich Environmental Park in Athol and ending in Riverfront Park in Orange.

After the meeting, state Rep. Denise Andrews reported there is a renewed interest at the state level to fund rail trails, bike paths and river walks across the state. “I want to do everything in my power to support towns in my district, to ensure they get a fair share of economic development and transportation investments,” she said. “The goal of this first meeting was to bring together different people that had worked on the idea in the past to help me learn about the current status of the project, its evolution, and about sticking points holding it back.”

At the meeting, Andrews, Clare Green of Warwick and Dave Small of Athol, both members of the original Millers River Greenway were joined by representatives from the Montachusett Regional Planning Commission, state Department of Transportation, Franklin Regional Council of Governments, Athol Board of Planning and Development, Orange Community Development, and the Orange Revitalization Partnership.

“Many of the players have changed since this idea was first hatched,” Andrews reported in a press release. “The idea is certainly as relevant today as it was 20 years ago and my thinking is that it’s worth dusting off the plans, especially if funds are available to support the project. It will certainly be important to gauge if the local interest is there to breathe some new life into the idea.”

In recent years, a river-based “blue trail” was developed to highlight the recreational opportunities on the Millers River between Athol and Orange. Last summer, the community boathouse at Riverfront Park, operated by Peak Expeditions opened its doors.

Just last month, the town of Orange voted to move forward with an additional $300,000 of investments in projects to revitalize Butterfield Park and adjacent land along the Millers River for recreational purposes.

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