Leverett moves to discontinue Rattlesnake Gutter Road

Leverett Town Hall.

Leverett Town Hall. STAFF FILE PHOTO

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 12-10-2023 3:00 PM

LEVERETT — Despite an appeal from the town’s fire and police chiefs to reopen a section of a long-closed gravel road, the Selectboard is moving forward with permanently discontinuing much of Rattlesnake Gutter Road as a public way.

Acting on a request from members of the Rattlesnake Gutter Trust, the board voted unanimously last week to send a letter to the Franklin Regional Council of Governments asking that it initiate a process to discontinue the town-owned portion of the road. A more than mile-long section has been closed to vehicular traffic since a steep embankment gave way in June 2001. Before that, the road, which provides a connection between areas just north of Leverett center to the Moore’s Corner part of town, was closed only during the winter months.

Selectboard Chair Tom Hankinson said the board’s request to the county agency comes because the road has far greater value to the town as a recreational trail. Over the past two decades, it has continued to be used by hikers, bicyclists and small motorized vehicles, but gates at either end prevent automobiles from driving on the road.

For Eva Gibavic, a trustee for the Rattlesnake Gutter Trust, the discontinuance would allow town officials to apply for grants from the MassTrails program and access local Community Preservation Act grants for recreation. That money could pay for continued improvements to the road so that emergency vehicles could continue to traverse it as needed.

Over the summer, the town’s Highway Department spent considerable time repairing significant washouts that compromised the road.

The Selectboard’s decision was not without objections, however.

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Silas Ball, who has worked for the town’s Highway Department, said the town should invest in proper infrastructure for the road and bring it up to the necessary specifications. An engineer is expected to examine the road and provide details about the costs associated with that.

Selectboard member Patricia Duffy, though, said that work to restore and maintain the road is likely to be expensive and remain challenging from a geological standpoint. The road was originally built in the 1830s, with a stone retaining wall brought there by teams of oxen and horses.

A letter from Police Chief Scott Minckler and Fire Chief Brian Cook calls for reopening the entire road for “efficient and timely access” to all parts of town. The Public Safety Complex is located on Montague Road north of the town center, with cruisers and fire engines possibly saving time if they could use Rattlesnake Gutter Road, rather than going over Cave Hill Road and North Leverett Road. Their letter also cites the road’s strategic significance for the safety and well-being of Leverett residents, as well as when providing mutual aid to Shutesbury and the continuing police patrols for Wendell.

Even with this argument, though, Brian Emond, a former member of the Fire Department who lives in North Leverett, told the Selectboard that the road offers no time savings, and that residents in his part of town would only have more timely fire service if a fire engine were returned to the North Leverett station.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.