PHILLIPSTON – A cold and steady rain could not dampen the spirits of local trail lovers as they kicked off the new year with the First Walk 2021 along the Armstrong Trail at Phillipston on Friday.

Nearly 30 people showed up in the early afternoon of New Year’s Day for the soggy walk, which took participants on a three-mile round trip from the refurbished railroad turntable area at Phillipston to the Brady Tunnel and back.

Armstrong Trails executive director Chris Ziegler, who led the walk, said she was surprised by the number of people who still showed up for the walk despite the near-freezing rain.

During the hike, Ziegler also talked about the trail’s upcoming projects and plans for 2021.

“People want to get out of the house,” she said of this past year’s increased use of trails during the pandemic. She also said more organized walks would likely be held in the new year, including a possible tour of the northern portal of the Brady Tunnel starting at Sarah Furnace. “We’re looking at doing that as a regular thing.”

As hikers made their way along the Allegheny River on Friday, Ziegler said one of the group’s goals for the new year is to clear out brush on the river-side of the trail so that trail-users can better see the waterway.

“It has become like a tunnel,” she said of the overgrowth. “We want to open up river views, and provide access at Red Bank Creek for fishing.”

The work will compliment the trail group’s ongoing efforts to eradicate invasive plants, such as knotweed.

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“The goal is to make the trail not so closed in and to give you a spectacular view of the Allegheny River,” she said. “What’s the point of having a river trail if you can’t see the river?”

At the Brady Tunnel, which has been the site of several projects in the past few years designed to reopen the trail through the tunnel, Ziegler said the Armstrong Trail will use $350,000 in funding this year to work on the southern portal of the tunnel. A steel liner will be placed in the southern portal.

Ziegler also said that the group is in the early planning stages of a benefit event to help pay for lighting inside the tunnel. She said that a concert at the tunnel is a possibility sometime this year, depending on pandemic-related restrictions.

“It will be one of many fundraising efforts,” she said of the group’s tunnel efforts.

Also in the Phillipston area, Ziegler said the group hopes to clear out vegetation near the turntable to give trail-users a better view of the historic site as they approach from downstream.

And not far from the tunnel, work is being planned at the old coaling tower, which is in need of rehabilitation, Ziegler said. Noting that it is one of the few remaining coaling towers in the region, she said that fundraising efforts will be needed to help preserve the site.

Also in the works for 2021 along the trail is a rehab project at the 300-foot steel girder Mahoning Bridge, which was constructed in 1902.

For more information on trail activities this year, visit armstrongtrails.org or contact armstrongtrails@gmail.com.

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