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The Clipper City Rail Trail in Newburyport, Massachusetts, is a new public space that has a distinct and attractive character due in large part to the extensive public art the City has installed along the corridor.
From Geordie Vining, Planning Office, City of Newburyport
Art along the Clipper City Rail Trail in Newburyport, MA
(photo by Rob Lorenson)
Contractors began building Newburyport’s Clipper City Rail Trail in the summer of 2008 after a decade’s worth of negotiation, fund-raising, design, and permitting. The project was substantially completed in the spring of 2010, and thousands of people flooded the trail for a Grand Opening celebration on May 23, 2010.
Newburyport is a small coastal city located north of Boston with a population of about 17,000 people. The community has a vibrant downtown and architecture reflecting a heritage reaching back centuries. Located on the banks of the Merrimack River at the mouth of the Atlantic Ocean, tourism is a significant part of the local economy in addition to an industrial park.
The Clipper City Rail Trail is a 1.1 mile trail running between a commuter rail station and the shoreline of the Merrimack River near downtown Newburyport. The trail corridor ranges from about 40 to 80 feet wide, and the multi-use asphalt pathway is 10 feet wide for walkers, bicyclists, and other non-motorized users.
In a relatively short distance, the trail corridor cuts through hills and climbs above the harbor, passing through a variety of environments from the industrial park, a densely developed neighborhood, and the waterfront.
One of several abstract works of steel and aluminum by
artists Robert Lorenson and Dale Rogers (photo by Dale Rogers)
There are a number of connections to side streets as well as amenities such as an ice cream store and an ice skating rink. Two public schools located nearby now regularly use the trail for students and teachers to walk to the downtown, the harbor, parks, and other destinations.
The City secured $3 million in federal and state transportation funding to construct the basic trail. However, in addition to establishing a non-motorized alternative transportation corridor, the City envisioned the trail as a linear park. The state transportation agency considered sculpture, murals, signage, etc. to be “non-participating” costs. Consequently, the City raised over $160,000 from contributions by individuals, local businesses, nonprofit organizations, community yard sales, charitable foundations and other grants to support the Rail Trail Enhancement Project and finish the trail.
Several years earlier, Geordie Vining, the City’s Senior Project Manager, had traveled to Paris for a family vacation in 2004 and was inspired by the sculpture along the banks of the Seine River. “Public art” is generally defined as art that people encounter as part of their everyday landscape.
More people may encounter such works of art, and thus the cultural impact can be greater, than art situated behind closed doors. Public art can enhance any community’s quality of life through physical manifestations of creativity, beauty, and vitality, and there is a growing recognition of the significant economic activity that can be generated by the arts.
Back in Newburyport, he worked with a curator and others to create a small sculpture park at the City’s central waterfront. The years of experience in selecting public art for annual exhibits and developing a network of artists supported the more ambitious initiative of commissioning and selecting over a dozen pieces of permanent public art for the Rail Trail corridor.
stainless steel Native Fish by artist Bob Kimball on a granite
block wall on the edge of the Rail Trail
Today, the Clipper City Rail Trail has a variety of figurative, abstract, and interactive sculptures, a mural along a highway underpass, custom signage, a garden installation by the local “Green Artists League,” and a boardwalk, pedestrian bridge and other functional elements designed to be aesthetically pleasing.
Some of the public art and creative structures that help define the Clipper City Rail Trail are briefly described below.
The City of Newburyport’s Senior Project Manager Geordie Vining commissioned a steel “Steam Locomotive” play sculpture with a cow catcher, coal car, bell and whistle by artists Scott Kessel and Matt Niland. Evocative of the real trains that used to run along the corridor based on historic photographs, it is a magnetic interactive destination for young children and their families.
The City’s Senior Project Manager commissioned eleven stainless steel Native Fish by artist Bob Kimball to be mounted on a large granite block wall on the edge of the Rail Trail, including half a dozen foot-long herring, two three-foot tuna, a five-foot cod and striped bass, and a seven-foot bluefin tuna.
The City’s Senior Project Manager commissioned local muralist Robert Leanna to create 40-foot mural of iconic and historic Newburyport buildings which is installed on ten panels along the abutment wall of an otherwise utilitarian highway underpass.
The City purchased several large and beautiful abstract works of steel and aluminum at significantly discounted prices from Massachusetts artists Robert Lorenson and Dale Rogers who had exhibited previously at the City’s waterfront sculpture park.
The City’s Senior Project Manager asked Landscape Architect Ronald Headrick of Stantec to design sculptural planters made of corten weathering steel to enhance a waterfront overlook. The planters’ shapes are reminiscent of boats.
Steam Locomotive play sculpture by artists Scott Kessel and Matt Niland
The City’s Senior Project Manager approached the regional “Green Artists League” to create a garden installation at one end of the trail, and co-wrote a successful $20,000 grant to support it from the New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA). This unique interdisciplinary garden will include “living sculpture” of a grass couch and a basket willow pavilion in addition to edible berries, fruits and nuts for trail users.
The City purchased two sculptures made from bicycle parts by Rob Hitzig and Simon LaRochelle for the Rail Trail in order to echo current uses of the trail, installing them temporarily at the central waterfront before a final placement is selected.
Inspired by the Native Fish installed on the granite block wall, some abutters of the Rail Trail pooled their resources in the spring of 2010 to commission a stainless steel sculpture by Bob Kimball of a Great Blue Heron to be installed further down the trail’s granite block wall as a memorial to a neighbor who recently died. The deceased resident was a watercolor artist, and the sculpture, which is in production, is based on one of his paintings.
The City designed unique signage of Corten weathering steel and stainless steel at the trail’s various entry points, evoking the old materials of the railroad, as well as historic interpretive signs detailing the location of a former railroad roundhouse, a busy Victorian train station, and a famous train wreck off of a bridge.
Artistic garden installation at one end of the trail
The City worked with consultants to design major trail improvements of a 300-foot timber boardwalk and a new pedestrian bridge to be aesthetically pleasing as well as fully functional.
A wood-working company, general contractor, and lumberyard that all abut the trail are donating a large timber archway, 13-feet high and 15-feet wide, which is currently in production and will anchor the southern entry to the trail from the commuter rail station.
There is additional room along the Clipper City Rail Trail corridor for more public art, and the City continues to work towards securing various new pieces. For instance, an interactive “sound sculpture” is budgeted and under design by a local artist, and the City is considering commissioning another Massachusetts artist to create a large fish sculpture partially made of Black Locust wood salvaged directly from the trail corridor. Numerous trail users have commented approvingly about how beautiful and interesting the Rail Trail is due to its public art, and many have said that the trail is the “best thing that has happened to Newburyport” in many, many years.
For more information:
Geordie Vining, Senior Project Manager
Planning Office, City of Newburyport
60 Pleasant Street, Newburyport, MA 01950
(978) 465-4400 - www.cityofnewburyport.com/parkscommission/index.htm