DANVERS — Local officials got their first look Friday at what will soon be an expansion of the town’s rail trail.  

The three-mile addition begins near Cherry Street Fish Market, near the middle of the town’s existing 4.3-mile trail, and will run along power lines to the Middleton town line.

The current trail parallels what was once the Essex Railroad, spanning from woods by Brooksby Farm to Route 97. Since the town signed a 99-year lease in 2009 with the MBTA to create it, the path has become a popular route for walkers, joggers, and cyclists. 

The town appropriated $150,000 in May to study expanding the trail. Town Manager Steve Bartha said the town is close to signing with VHB, a design engineer group that frequently works with Danvers on projects, and hopefully begin conceptual design work for the expansion this fall. 

Over the summer, Lahey Health/Beverly Hospital donated $20,000 to the project. Bartha said the town has also received a $10,000 private donation.

“We were really pleased the Town Meeting initial appropriation has already generated $30,000,” he said. “We are hoping to keep that momentum.”

According to Bartha, $200,000 was also earmarked for the Danvers rail trail expansion project this summer in the state’s economic development bond bill. Bartha stressed to selectmen at their Sept. 6 meeting that such earmarks don’t always come to fruition, but he remained hopeful. 

The town of Middleton has also taken strides toward building its own rail trail. Director of Land and Community Services Aaron Henry said Danvers’ expanded trail will eventually connect with Middleton’s portion.

“This connection isn’t just a pipe dream — it’s probably going to be on the ground in the next couple of years,” he said.

The expansion would mirror the eight- to ten-foot wide stone dust path. According to Henry, the new trail would run beneath power lines and much of the path is already clear.  

But Henry said the project poses a few significant challenges that will require more work.

For one, the expansion will require a stream crossing over Beaver Brook. There’s also a steep incline at Maple Street Crossing which isn’t compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act standards. The town will need to make the hill accessible. Lastly, the expansion crosses Interstate 95 and Route 1, so the town will need to work with the state to develop a path through the busy highways. 

“There are sections that are going to be straightforward, that are level and flat and run along where the old railroad bed used to go,” Bartha said. “But then we have other areas at the crossing of Beaver Brook and the Crossing at I-95 and Route 1 that are going to require work.”

“The first stage of this project is to get a handle on the entirety of the work required, the next stage is actual design and construction documents for some of the trickier spots,” He added. “We are hoping we will be able to pursue state grants and private fundraising and potentially go back to Town Meeting to try to fund some of the work.” 

Kelsey Bode can be reached at 978-338-2660 or kbode@salemnews.com. Follow her on Twitter @Kelsey_Bode.