Tucker Murphys ambitious plans for improving our precious linear parks the Bermuda railway trail.

Recently, positive comments from our hiking, biking and running friends about improvements to the western section of the Bermuda Railway Trail peaked our interest. To gain our own perspective, we set out by bicycle from an access point at Trimingham Hill and headed west.

Passing through Paget and Warwick, we noticed the addition of park benches in quiet locations with pleasant views or shade, tastefully designed twin trash bins to separate recycle waste and many of the rough ruts from erosion now filled, with ramps cemented at curbs to make the bike trip smoother.

On the steeper hills, the heavily eroded areas were filled, packed and levelled with recycled natural mulch, presumably from the Marsh Folly composting facility. We also noticed signs before the steep hillsides directing horses to one side of the trail so that riders could share the trail with others without causing severe erosion. Where hills were too steep to bike, we encountered wheeling ramps that would not have been out of place in bike-friendly cities such as Copenhagen. Slotting our bike wheels into these single metal rails fastened to the steps, we could easily walk with our bike beside us.
Our curiosity stimulated by the traffic-free, ten-mile bike trip to Somerset, we decided to seek out the source of this enhanced trail experience. After some searching, the name of a young man from Salt Kettle, Tucker Murphy, came up most frequently, so we called him to find out more.

Murphy told us that when he returned to Bermuda after five years in England completing a doctorate in zoology he wanted to contribute to the community that had sponsored him with a generous Rhodes Scholarship by applying some of the technical skills he learned. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Mapping, habitat modeling and noninvasive monitoring could be applied to survey the railway trail. His interests in conservation biology and landscape connectivity for animals living in fragmented landscapes seemed to be a perfect fit when applied to the railway trail. This quiet and continuous natural space is one of the few areas on the island where humans may seek respite from modern Bermuda. Moreover, safe, convenient and free recreational opportunities are important to an island where the rate of diabetes is the highest in the OECD countries and heart disease is the leading cause of death.

With funding from a small family foundation and drawing on prior parks-department proposals as well as a 2006 survey of trail users by Steven Davidson and U.S. nonprofit Rails-to-Trails, Murphy completed a comprehensive study of options for trail improvement. In May 2012, he and his father set out to raise private-sector funds and see if a public-private partnership could be forged. With Bermuda’s economic downturn and high public debt, some scepticism emerged on the viability of a public-private partnership. They decided to test the partnership with the Parks Department, which resulted in the trail improvements that we enjoyed.

Murphy says they experienced only enthusiasm and support from Lisa Johnston, head of parks. With the help of other Parks Department employees, including Craig Burt, Stephen Furbert, Francine Trott and Neville Richardson, they were able to complete improvements quickly and efficiently using private-sector funds.

When asked about plans for the future of trail improvement, Murphy outlines an ambitious vision: in a word, bridges. He believes that private-sector participants may step forward soon to provide funding, and volunteers, working with the Parks Department and Bermuda Government, could create a bridge across Bailey’s Bay. Murphy says that this connection seemed logical for many reasons. Following the North Shore coastline, it is one of the most scenic and underutilized parts of the trail with magnificent views of Pigeon Rocks and Bay Island. Evidence from Murphy’s study, as well as Rails-to-Trails projects elsewhere, indicates that trail use increases with connectivity. In 2003, the Bermuda Government bridged a section of the trail that connects Flatts to Shelly Bay, and bridging Bailey’s Bay would effectively connect Shelly Bay to Coney Island. This would create a continuous linear park in Hamilton Parish, which has little public open space, and it also would serve as a gateway to one of Bermuda’s largest and most dramatic park areas if the crossing between Coney Island and Ferry Reach can eventually be bridged.

We wished him well, fully supporting his efforts, and we hope others will, too.