New England Greenway:
Greenway History


The origin of greenways goes back to the 19th Century park-planning era. The 20th Century has been dominated by open space planning. Only the last decade of the 20th Century has emerged to become the foundation of the greenway planning movement. It is anticipated that the greenway movement will dominate the 21st Century and it will link together all major parks and open spaces into comprehensive networks of greenways and green spaces. It is anticipated that greenways and green spaces will be mapped and used by the general public as road maps are used today. Rhode Island was the first state to create a statewide greenway map in 1996, and it is distributing 100,000 copies of their statewide greenway map to residents and tourists yearly. Nationally, the New England states have been among the most advanced states for greenway planning in the United States. The following section is a brief review of the development of greenways in America.

The 19th Century Urban and National Park Movement
The park movement started in earnest with the Olmsted and Vaux plan for Central Park in New York City in 1858 (Figure 1). Large urban parks such as Central Park were designed "to bring back a bit of nature" into the fast growing cities. These city parks provided both passive and active outdoor recreation for the urban population, which was far away from rural America.

Figure 1. "GREENSWARD", the Original Plan for Central Park, 1858. Map of the Park as it Appeared ca. 1870 (Fabos, Milde & Weinmayr 1968)

Similarly, national parks and reservations were set aside, starting in 1863 when "Olmsted assumed the Superintendency of the Mariposa Mining Estate in California (Figure 2)". Subsequently he was appointed commissioner of both Mariposa Big Tree Groves and the Yosemite Valley reservations (Figure 3) in September 1864 (Fabos, Milde Weinmayr, 1968, p. 43). Interestingly, Olmsted, the recognized founder of the landscape architecture profession, was very active in both the urban and the national park movements from their beginnings.

Figure 2. Mariposa Big Tree Grove, California ca. 1863 (Fabos, Milde & Weinmayr 1968).

Figure 3. Yosemite Valley, California (Ansel Adams).

The urban park movement has spread into every major city in the United States. The national park movement however dominated mostly the western states from the Rocky Mountains, west. Great portions of these mountainous western regions have significant constraints for agriculture or development. But the values of these western landscapes for recreation and nature protection are most impressive.

In addition to the many urban parks Olmsted, Sr. designed, he was able to convince Massachusetts decision makers to build the first park system. The Emerald Necklace connects Franklin Park through the Arnold Arboretum, Jamaica Pond and the Fens to the Charles River and the Boston Gardens (Figure 4). This ten mile long park system is described in greenway literature as the first greenway in America. The building of the Emerald Necklace along the Muddy River drainage area also served to clean up this highly polluted river, which had become an open sewer along the boundary of Boston and Brookline. Hence, the restoration of the water quality was part of the first greenway planning in America.

Figure 4. The Emerald Necklace.

Olmsted's pupil Charles Eliot proposed another, even more comprehensive metropolitan-wide park system at the end of the 19th Century. Eliot created a greenway and green space framework for the 250 square mile Boston metropolitan area (Figure 5). Eliot's visionary plan incorporated three major rivers and six large, mostly connected open spaces (green spaces) on the outskirts of the region. This plan also reclaimed Revere Beach from private to public use, protected the islands of the Bay and proposed "numerous small squares, play grounds and parks in the midst of the dense population (Eliot, 1902, p. 381)".


Figure 5. Charles Eliot's Plan for the Metropolitan Park System of Boston, Massachusetts, 1899 (Fabos 1985).

Open Space Planning During the 20th Century
The planning and designing of urban parks and the establishment of more national parks, forests and reserves have continued during the 20th century. A new relevant planning concept was initiated, however in this century known as "open space planning". Open space planning has been done primarily at local and state levels and has been supported by federal agencies during most of this century.

The history of open space planning is especially relevant for this study. Once more, one of the New England states, Massachusetts was the location for the first comprehensive statewide open space planning. Once again, a landscape architect, Charles Eliot II, had a significant role in creating the "open space plan for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1928 (Figure 6)". The Eliot plan was initiated by the governor, who appointed an open space commission including Charles Eliot II, the nephew of Eliot, the planner of the Boston Park System three decades earlier. Eliot, as a member of the governor's Commission, drew up this statewide open space plan in 1928, at the start of the big depression. This vision plan was first put on the shelf. Later it was used as the framework for establishing state parks and protected areas in Massachusetts throughout the second half of the 20th century.

Figure 6. Open Space Plan for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 1928 (Fabos 1985).

Phil Lewis, a landscape architect, initiated another relevant statewide vision plan in Wisconsin during the environmental movement of the 1960's. The Lewis plan is significant for at least three reasons. First, the Lewis plan created a statewide network of green spaces and greenways that he called environmental corridors. Second, the great majority of his connections were along rivers, streams and wetland systems. Third, Lewis identified many cultural resources in addition to the natural resources used by planners concerned with recreation planning. Lewis mapped 220 natural and cultural resources with recreation values. Half of the 220 resources were natural, the other half were cultural resources. He found that the great majority of these resources (over 90%) co-occurred along river and stream corridors, hence he named these corridors (Figure 7) the Wisconsin Heritage Trails (Lewis, 1964, pp. 101-108).

The Beginning of Greenway Planning at the End of the 20th Century
The word, "greenway" appeared in the literature with increased frequency from the late 1970's on. Writers such as William White and agencies such as Housing and Urban Development started to use the word "greenways". The clearest statement about greenways, however, came from the President's Commission on American Outdoors for the United States in 1987. The commission's central recommendation advocated as a vision for the future: "A living network of greenways. . . to provide people with access to open spaces close to where they live, and to link together the rural and urban spaces in the American landscape . . . threading through cities and countryside's like a giant circulation system (President's Commission, p. 102)".

Three years after the President's Commission report, Charles Little, a well known environmental writer published a most influential book on greenways entitled Greenways for America (Little, 1990). Since Charles Little's seminal book, at least seven other books were published in the USA alone on trails and greenways (Smith and Hellmund, 1993; Flink and Searns, 1993; Ryen, 1993; Ryen and Winterich, 1993; Hay, 1994; Della Penna, 1995; and Fabos and Ahern, 1996).

Figure 7. Wisconsin's Heritage Trails Proposal, 1964 (Lewis 1964).

Greenway information on planning and implementation has also been disseminated through dozens of regional and state level conferences. The first national - international conference was held in January 1998, and organized by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. The second international conference on trails and greenways was in June 1999, also organized by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC). This non-governmental organization formed during the 1980's to facilitate the conversion of abandoned railroads to bicycle trails throughout the United States. The RTC has been credited with assisting and speeding up this conversion process. The first national trail and greenway conference celebrated the completion of 10,000 miles of rail trails. According to RTC, the United States has another 150,000 miles of abandoned railroad, the majority of which have the potential to become rail trails.

In addition to rail trails there are hundreds and perhaps, thousands of greenway segments planned and built yearly throughout the United States. The great majority of these greenways and trail segments are planned for hiking and other relevant recreation uses. According to Edward McMahon (the director of the American Greenway Program of the Conservation Fund), over half of the American states are involved in state wide greenway planning and implementation to a greater or lesser degree. At the national level, there are at least two significant developments. First, there is an ongoing national program to identify and protect bio-diversity. This national program has conducted a GAP analysis to identify critical areas that warrant protection in each region of the United States.

The New England GAP analysis has been coordinated by two public universities. The University of Massachusetts has performed the GAP analysis for the three southern states, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. The University of Maine is primarily doing the analysis for the three northern New England states, according to Dr. Jack Finn at the University of Massachusetts. Professor Finn believes that southern New England's existing bio-diversity is sufficient, and approximately 15% of the critical resources could be protected if managed properly. Since the current definition of greenways and green spaces includes nature protection, this Federal program could help future greenway efforts.
The second Federal effort that enhances greenway planning and implementation is the American Heritage River Initiative (AHRI). Last fall, fourteen rivers across America were named as nationally significant Heritage Rivers. Three of the fourteen Heritage Rivers, the Connecticut, Blackstone and Woonasquatucket Rivers are in New England. Heritage Rivers are also being identified at the state level. New Hampshire, for example, has named the Merrimack River Corridor as a New Hampshire Heritage Trail. Please note that more detailed histories of greenways in New England are described under each state.