golden spike 061919

The plan to build a connecting bicycle and pedestrian path from the Cape Cod Canal to the Shining Sea Bikeway calls up echoes of the construction of the transcontinental railroad, completed at Promontory Point, Utah, on May 10, 1869.

Never underestimate the power of an idea.

An idea is a seed. Like a seed, an idea’s full potential is packed into tiny quarters: the brain of its creator.

But given the right conditions and enough effort, that idea can grow into a stunning achievement: one that can affect the lives of hundreds, thousands or even millions of people.

The United States started as an idea. So did landing a man on the Moon—in a decade, no less.

On a less sweeping, but more immediate scale, an idea has taken hold in Bourne: to connect the bicycle path along the Cape Cod Canal to the Shining Sea Bikeway in North Falmouth.

In an earlier time—say, about four to six decades ago—the gap between the conception and realization of an idea could take a lot less time, especially where public funding was involved.

Federal largesse flowed. Revenue sharing was omnipresent. If you wanted a public building project done, Washington and Boston were your friends.

Part of that world still exists: witness the federal assistance that the town is receiving to help build its new waste treatment plant in Buzzards Bay.

But part of it has vanished, swallowed by government deficits and a more astringent attitude toward spending on public projects.

Push-button funding has disappeared. These days, getting a public project done takes more time—if the project even gets done at all.

In that light, the idea to connect the canal and Shining Sea bicycle paths calls to mind an example further back in our history: the building of the transcontinental railroad.

Like the transcontinental railroad, the bicycle path along the Buzzards Bay shore would be built in segments.

And as in the time of the transcontinental railroad, no one is sure when—or if—it will get done.

Obviously, the challenges of connecting the two Cape bicycle paths are microscopic compared to the challenges faced by the builders of the railroad: the sheer hell of getting the Central Pacific through the Sierra Nevadas, the long trek faced by the Union Pacific across the prairie.

But the proposed bicycle path, which would cover six miles, is not going to build itself. Even at this scale, there are challenges enough.

Still, an idea can be a powerful thing. And the idea of connecting the two paths—creating a protected, continuous ride from the docks of Woods Hole to the eastern end of the Cape Cod Canal, with a possible tie-in to a bicycle pathway reaching to Wellfleet and eventually Provincetown—has galvanized its advocates.

They include the members of the town advisory committee working on the project, as well as a nonprofit group, the Friends of the Bourne Rail Trail, the members of which are doing what they can to make the bicycle path a reality.

Not only have the Friends already raised $25,000 on their own toward the project, but they have secured an additional $15,000 grant from the Rails-to-Trails conservancy, a national nonprofit based in Washington, DC.

The advisory committee, meanwhile, secured $50,000 toward the path in Community Preservation Act funding from last October’s Special Town Meeting.

Pairing that money with $10,000 of the funds raised by the Friends has allowed the advisory committee to start seeking some serious money—in this case, applying for a $300,000 grant through the Massachusetts Recreational Trails Program.

Now an apparent friend of the bicycle path in a high town place—in this case, Barry Johnson, chairman of the community preservation committee—has suggested that the advisory group apply at this fall’s Special Town Meeting for more CPA funding.

A member of the advisory committee, Kenneth Cheitlin, recalled at a recent meeting how members of the town finance committee expressed doubts at last October’s meeting about whether the project was “a real thing” to justify the $50,000 in community preservation funds.

“I think we have enough proof that it is a real thing,” Mr. Cheitlin said.

Step by step, the advisory committee and the Friends are turning an idea into reality.

The connecting bicycle path won’t happen overnight. But that’s okay: good things can take a while.

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