A mile-long section of the trail atop the Weston Aqueduct is no longer off limits to dog walkers, joggers, stroller pushers or children hunting for colorful autumn leaves.
Nearly anyone can now access to the trail, which connects northern Saxonville with Nobscot and runs from Elm Street to Water Street. There remains a restriction on motorized vehicles along the aqueduct.
The town and the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority consummated an agreement that opened the trail to the public Monday, after decades of rusted no trespassing signs thwarted the ambitions of those who enjoy a stroll through the urban woods.
“This idea, this opportunity just needed the right time and place to gel,” said Framingham State Rep. Chris Walsh, who was instrumental in getting the MWRA to change its policies regarding public access to the aqueduct trails in Framingham and the rest of the state. “If government can make our quality of life better, we are doing what we need to do.
“Open space has an effect on everything around it,” Walsh continued. “Trails and open space add value. People will see a real bump in quality of life issues.”
Excitement and enthusiasm for the trail was palatable during Monday's hour-long official ceremony and subsequent quarter-mile stroll along the eastern most section of the trail from Elm Street to Bradford.
Approximately 50 residents, public officials, MWRA and other agency representatives, media types and Framingham Parks and Recreation staffers walked the trail under a cloudless autumn sky amid blowing yellow leaves.
Framingham is the first community to have a portion of the aqueduct trail system opened to the public.
“This is literally a trail-breaking milestone for public land use,” said Selectman Laurie Lee, who represented Framingham Selectmen at the opening of the trail.
“The agreement (between the MWRA and the town) strikes a good balance between the rights of abutting neighbors and providing residents access to an extraordinary trail system.”
About 5.5 miles of the Weston Aqueduct traverse Framingham and other sections of the Aqueduct may be open to public access within a few years.
Framingham Town Manager Bob Halpin indicated that by spring the Town of Framingham plans to paint crosswalks on streets that bisect the trail, signs will be put in place and some of the gates will be modified.
“This is a great asset to the town,” said Framingham Selectmen Chair Charlie Sisitsky. “It’s nice that Framingham is in the forefront of the thinking about open space. I’m sure everybody is looking at how we implement the management of the trail.”
Under Bob Merusi, director of parks and recreation, the town will maintain and manage the trail. The town will also be responsible for trash cleanup and discouraging motorized vehicles such as dirt bikes, snowmobiles and ATVs from using the trail.
Framingham Parks & Recreation and the MWRA held a public hearing about the aqueduct trail over the summer to hear residents concerns and issues. Most of the issues have since been resolved, but not everyone is happy.
“I’m not sure if I’m happy or not,” said Maryelaine Sullivan whose yard on Griffin Road backs up to the trail. Her concerns would be unauthorized use of the trail and late night activities. “Then there is litter and I hope the pet walkers are respectful. I’m taking a wait and see attitude.”
Others in the neighborhood are eager to embrace the trail.
“It’s great to have open, public space,” said Cait Shelton of Elm Street. “I run on the trail now and I’m happy with anything that gets people outdoors and a chance to meet neighbors.”
Trail walker Nels Anderson recognizes the practicality of the trail. “Any trail is an asset,” he said. “I’d buy a house on a trail in a minute. Property values go up when you have a trail.”
“I think it’s awesome,” said Tara Kilgallen of nearby Elmfield Road. She was heading to the trail with her three boys in tow. “We love being in the woods and its only a stone’s throw from the house. I can even bike to work if I wanted to.”