Being a spiritual person and a cyclist, Lynn Shelley’s letter published May 27, and the Springfield Diocese’s decision to sue the Northampton Planning Board, saddens me. I think the church’s proximity to the rail trail is a huge asset. Connecting to it could enhance the church community in so many ways.
Ms. Shelley’s letter objects to the Planning Board’s requirement for a connection to the rail trail on spiritual grounds. I can appreciate her wariness of having non-attenders interrupt services and events. I wouldn’t want that either. The site will not be developed as currently configured. Buildings and parking are being relocated. Why not put the rail trail connection away from the buildings? Post signs that the parking is private.
But these concerns only take the rail trail as a burden to be suffered, rather than a unique opportunity which could enrich the parish community.
As a child, I attended youth events at my church by bike, on the road. Here in Northampton, we’ve provided the community with the means to travel to all sorts of places on a safe rail trail. I wonder if some of the parents of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton will be more likely to send their children to church events knowing they can travel by bike or walk. The church of my youth had a thriving youth program precisely because so many of us could get there on our own. I’d have to think twice about letting my children travel that stretch of King Street.
Might this connection to the rail trail become an asset to parish youth programs?
In my adult years, I continue to use my bike to travel to my faith community. I see many adults using the rail trail for exercise and to attend to errands. As Ms. Shelley notes, many attenders of the parish are elderly. Driving a car will not always be an option for them. Alternate means of transportation for elderly members could include walking and biking the rail trail, away from the traffic of King Street. Perhaps those who can no longer drive would appreciate the freedom that the rail trail affords them? What about current attenders who choose not to drive?
Could the rail trail provide a means for arriving at services for those who cannot, or choose not to drive?
I’m not Catholic, so I have not felt the pain of giving up a beloved worship space as parishes consolidate. But as Catholic Churches in Western Massachusetts are now regional, instead of neighborhood, places of worship, try thinking of a connection to the rail trail as a way to help worshipers be part of your community. I have faith that it can.
Gina M. Nortonsmith
Letter sent to the Editor of the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Northampton, MA on May 29, 2011, in response to a letter by Lynn Shelley objecting to the requirement for a 15′ connection to the rail trail published the same day as a note in the paper’s ‘A Look Back’ column stating that 25 years ago then Mayor David Musante led a walking tour of what was to become the 1st section of the rail trail in Northampton. Published by the Gazette in an edited form, Monday, June 6, 2011.
Note: For more background on this story, see the Northampton Media article, Diocese Sues City Over Bike Path Access Requirement.