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Nashua;48.0;http://forecast.weather.gov/images/wtf/small/ra.png;2014-10-23 00:26:43
Saturday, October 20, 2012

Volunteers come together to help clean up the Nashua Heritage Rail Trail

Garden tools and good will transformed the stretch of the Nashua Heritage Rail Trail between Ash and Palm streets into a cleaner, safer place Wednesday.

“Having the kids clean the trail up makes it look like someone cares about it,” said Eileen Brady, who works at the Nashua Soup Kitchen & Shelter. “If it looks like someone cares, it will be safer. If it looks like someone has taken responsibility for the area, it will only get safer.” ...

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Garden tools and good will transformed the stretch of the Nashua Heritage Rail Trail between Ash and Palm streets into a cleaner, safer place Wednesday.

“Having the kids clean the trail up makes it look like someone cares about it,” said Eileen Brady, who works at the Nashua Soup Kitchen & Shelter. “If it looks like someone cares, it will be safer. If it looks like someone has taken responsibility for the area, it will only get safer.”

Brady walks the trail at least three times a week on her way to and from work. Despite the bad reputation the trail gets for illegal activity, Brady said she mostly sees families and children frequenting the pathway.

She was among the 25 volunteers who spent Wednesday evening cleaning the trail.

Brady said she has never encountered an unsafe situation using the pathway and feels safe in the area because she knows many of the people who also use the trail as a means of travel.

Volunteers from the Nashua Police Athletic League, Visualize Nashua, Daniel Webster College,
Positive Street Art and NeighborWorks N.H. gathered on Ash Street to clean the portion of the trail that Nashua PAL has adopted in hopes that their example would be followed by others in the community.

“It’s not necessarily about making places safer or areas of the city that are less desirable than others,” said Tom Lopez, a PAL volunteer and education and employment advocate at the soup kitchen. “It’s about recognizing that this is something we all share and it’s something we can all get involved in and make beautiful.”

Lopez also uses the path frequently, describing it as a thoroughfare that’s used by hundreds of people a day as their main route through the city.

If a city proposal to buy additional land goes through, the trail could extend to an east-west walking trail clear through Nashua.

The city is looking to buy two skinny pieces of land near East Hollis Street, which would allow for completing the route.

The trail runs 1.3 miles from Simon Street to Main Street, parallel to West Hollis Street, on land that once carried Boston and Maine Railroad’s Nashua-Worcester line.

The city has long wanted to extend it east of Main Street toward the Merrimack River.

Several years ago, Nashua acquired three pieces of land for that extension.

Under the proposal, the city would spend $70,000 as a match for $280,104 in federal transportation enhancement funds to buy the properties from Pan Am Railways.

Lopez described the trail’s reputation as misplaced, saying the negative image is a misconception by outsiders who don’t often use the path.

“Those people don’t live in this neighborhood and don’t walk up and down it all the time,” Lopez said. “With any dark place where there’s no care taken with it and it’s not really owned by anybody, things are going to happen.”

But when a community comes together to care for a space, the way people use it is going to reflect that, he said.

When the cleanup was over, roughly a dozen bags of trash and a trailer full of cut branches and leaves were pulled from the area, which stretched about 300 feet.

Children and adults from Nashua PAL chopped branches and raked piles of leaves, while volunteers from Daniel Webster College packed bags and piled branches.

Eight students from Daniel Webster College helped out as part of a collaboration with Nashua PAL and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Nashua.

Each student is matched with a young boy or girl from Nashua PAL through Big Brothers Big Sisters and mentors them during structured activities over the year, said Zachary Irish, assistant director of student life at Daniel Webster College.

The collaboration, part of a community service initiative begun over the summer, allows the college students to gain real-world experience with underprivileged children.

The program also allows the children from Nashua PAL to gain insight into college life and secondary education by visiting Daniel Webster College with their mentor.

Inspired by the service, tenants at the Ash Street Shelter cleaned debris from the driveway of their building.

“You can’t help but be inspired,” one tenant said as he swept trash into a garbage can.

Philip Gentile, a former resident of the shelter, said he was pleased to see the initiative the volunteers were taking.

Gentile, a Billerica, Mass., native, said that when he first moved to Nashua, he was warned not to use the trail. He was told he would be attacked if he used the thoroughfare.

But being an avid runner, he said he began using the trail to jog and hasn’t encountered anything worse than being asked for money.

“I think the sporadic police presence has helped,” Gentile said.

He also said he believes the volunteers who cleaned the trail are adding to its security.

“It can’t help but make you feel better about it,” Gentile said. “If people start to take pride in the way it looks, maybe it will lead to another good deed and then another.

“My father used to quote Gandhi, saying, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world,’ and they’re helping to do that.”

William Wrobel can be reached at 594-6426 or wwrobel@nashua telegraph.com. Also, follow Wrobel on Twitter (@Telegraph_WillW).