ROCKPORT — When the state agreed in March to fund a proposal to build a bicycle and pedestrian path along an old railroad bed, town officials were thrilled, and the chances of anyone opposing the plan seemed remote.
But four months later, residents of Limerock and Huse streets realized that the path might end and begin in their quiet neighborhood. Instead of images of quiet strolls through pastoral beauty, they imagined cars and tourists crowding their narrow lanes.
The neighbors submitted a petition signed by 26 people to the town office opposing the path, saying “it will severely degrade the quality of life on our quiet dead-end street, and our reasonable expectation of privacy.”
In response to the petition, town officials hosted a meeting Tuesday night to hear the concerns, and explain the plan as it now exists. By the end of the hour-long discussion, those who proposed the pathway agreed to consider the neighbors’ requests to reroute it so it does not connect at Limerock or Huse streets.
The link, as conceived last fall, was to pass through the Jacobs Quarry area off Union Street between the villages of Rockport and Camden, and sweep by Lily Pond and the site of a proposed YMCA building. Paul Cartwright, a Camden resident who served on the task force that conceived of the plan, and Rockport Town Manager Don Willard, who helped put together the grant application, envisioned a path that would allow people to bicycle or walk between the two towns on new sidewalks along Union Street, or use a loop that would leave Union Street and return at Limerock Street.
The state Department of Transportation was so enthralled with the idea that it awarded the town $280,000 in March to make the plan a reality. The town has yet to vote to accept the funds, which must be matched by $70,000 raised locally.
At the outset of the meeting, Cartwright and Willard stressed there are no firm plans for the route of the path. Willard said he was surprised to learn the town received conditional approval for the funds, since the application described a very preliminary notion of how the pathway would be built.
“These are hotly contested funds,” Cartwright said, arguing that the town was wise to seek them when it did. But he stressed that it was up to residents of the two communities as to how the money would be spent.
“We have a lot of leeway in what we do,” he said.
Many of the neighbors favored minimal improvements, and opposed the idea of putting in an asphalt path that could be plowed and kept in use all year.
Willard conceded it was his idea to create an asphalt path, which he based on those he has seen in Orono near the University of Maine. After further study, he said a gravel walkway would make more sense.
“I would like to see the brush cut,” Cartwright said in answer to a question about what sort of path he envisioned, “and a gravel surface footpath.”
The neighbors, whose properties back up against the fields through which the abandoned railroad bed runs, repeatedly said they worry about increased traffic and parking.
“One of the main reasons a lot of us live on that street is peace and quiet,” Graham Hanna, the petition organizer said. “A paved bike path is something we feel will turn upside down the aesthetics and quality of life,” he said.
Michelle Carleton said she worried that if the pathway were publicized on maps, tourists and others would come and use a Limerock Street entrance.
“Let us have a place at the table,” resident Bob Duke said. “These people,” he said of his neighbors, “want to live there because it’s so damned quiet.”
Willard suggested the path could be rerouted so it led into the property owned by the heirs of the late Albert Chatfield, which will be managed by the Maine Coast Heritage Trust.
The path concept also had its supporters at the meeting. Steve McAllister, chairman of the town’s conservation commission, said his group met earlier in the day and voted to unanimously support the plan. Resident John Doncaster, who said he discovered the rough trail along the railroad bed 15 years ago, said the community would be enhanced by having pathways.
Cartwright, Willard and Camden Town Manager Roger Moody urged the neighbors to attend the bicycle and pedestrian task force’s next meeting at 8 a.m. Friday in Camden’s town office.