Even after parts of a rail trail are finished, there’s always some interesting improvements in the works. On Saturday, I went out to the part of the ARRT that was completed in 2005 and checked out a new eagle scout project. Adam Suvalskas from Marlborough Troop 2 is an eagle scout candidate and is upgrading the safety fences with the city’s approval.
When the Marlborough and Hudson sections were built, the state had to cut some costs. It was the fences that were most effected. Where nearly every rail trail fence ever built had 6″x6″ posts, the ARRT got 4″x4″. The usual 2″x8″ side rails, became 1.5″x6″. And worst of all, a flimsy 1/2″x4″ plank was nailed to the top of each post. Within weeks, the top planks were sagging and then snapping off. Some of them have even been replaced, only to be broken again.
Out on the trail, Adam’s team is removing all the top planks, shifting the 3 side rails up to their proper position and then replacing the original nails with proper bolts. The site was busy, with about 10 scouts and 2 adults almost finished with the last of the fences.
Last week, the local Hudson cable access channel “HUD TV” ran a feature about the ARRT. It was part of the Assabet Valley Spotlite program. It was filmed back on a cold windy Saturday in May, by a crew from the cable channel. Five of us were out doing some maintenance on the ARRT caboose, which makes a great backdrop for TV.
The link to the video is here and requires the Windows Media Player. My only advice to aspiring TV interviewees, is not to face downwind if you’re having a bad hair day!
When the ARRT was first imagined back in the 1990’s, it was assumed that it would primarily be for the benefit of bicyclists. That’s what was observed when the state’s first rail trail opened on Cape Cod in 1979. But by the time the ARRT opened in 2005, recreation demographics had changed. On the ARRT, we see every possible use. At the Main Street/RT-62 parking lot, I stopped and talked to David, Malyee and Sienna. They are from Stow, which is one town over from Hudson. They are frequent users of the trail, but this was David’s first time on roller blades in years. Like every Stow trail user I meet, he wanted to know the status of the unfinished part of the trail in Stow.
But that’s another story.
Past the High Bridge, the trail starts bending eastward, running down the length of Vila do Porto park. The name reflects the large Portuguese influence back when Hudson was a big mill town. The community is still big to this day.
I’m now passing the ARRT caboose. It’s an authentic 1921 Boston & Maine RR caboose that was donated to Hudson by the owners of the Edaville Railroad in South Carver, MA. But sometimes free stuff comes with a price. You don’t want to know what it cost to truck a 25-ton object 68 miles!
The caboose is town property but was restored and still maintained by the ARRT volunteers. Most people notice the lantern that lights up at sunset, a red, green and blue sentinel on the side the trail and also visible from Route-62. The lantern is powered by a solar-electric panel on the roof of the cab. The light had been dark for almost a year, when the power converter failed and the lantern was vandalized. But this past May, the light was repaired and in June the converter upgraded. It’s been back working ever since.
Walking another 100 yards down the trail brings me to a place that’s well-known to Hudson regulars. It’s a duplex on Broad Street that backs up on the trail, with a large “Beware of Dog” sign facing the trail and a collection of trash and abandoned cars. But something has changed in the last 3 months. It looks like a new tenant may have moved in. The dog in its shack is still there growling, but the back lot has been cleaned up and a large vegetable garden is thriving up against the back fence that separates the lot from the town owned trail. Big improvement!
But that’s the end of the good news. The owner has apparently decided that a 20 x 30 foot garden isn’t enough, and has built a 2nd vegetable garden entirely on the trail ROW, on town property. It’s about 8 x 25 feet and is mostly pumpkins.
Adding insult to injury, the plot is ringed with steel rebar rods for fence posts and drapped with yellow ‘no-trespassing’ police tape. The sharp steel rods are just 18 inches from the edge of the trail pavement and a huge safety hazard for both walkers and bicyclists.
The 2 grandchildren that wobbled by on their tricycles, with their grandparents trailing behind, makes the point.
Three days later, the town sent 2 employees out to the trail to check on the situation. They met the landlord, who confirmed it was a new tenant who put up the stakes and the police tape. It turns out that the state had already been informed and had mailed an order to vacate the encroachment by November 1st. This part of the ARRT is a 99-year lease by the MBTA to Hudson, which is why the state got involved.
Next up is the ARRT High Bridge. It’s one of the most popular sites on the trail, an iron trestle bridge 40 feet above the Assabet River. There are views up and down the river. It’s also the site of the annual Hudson Rotary Toy Duck race.
Walking across the bridge, I can hear some voices below me. That usually means kids playing on the river bank. But this was something different, a local photographer doing a modeling photo shoot. There were 4 people, the photographer, model and 2 assistants. The grass and the bridge makes an interesting backdrop. which is why they were there. File this under the ARRT generates unexpected economic activity, but we’ll take credit for anything! This was actually the 2nd photo shoot I’ve seen on the trail. Now all we need is a scene in a movie!
Walking north down the ARRT from the Rt-85 crossing, the first thing I saw was a very large number of birds in the trees above and besides the trail. They seem to be a 50/50 mix of black crows and smaller brown finches. I wouldn’t have noticed them, until the increasing noise got my attention. My first guess was maybe 50, but as I got closer to the High Bridge, the number kept getting higher and higher.
I’m not afraid of birds, but this was getting ridiculous. They were perched on the trail guard rails, high in the trees above and beside the trail, and swopping down the path.
In this picture alone, there are 17 birds:
I’m still confidently moving forward, until the ripe acorns start cascading down, stirred up by all the birds up in the branches. An acorn falling 100 feet onto your head will hurt!
Almost lost in all the chirping is a new sound. It’s a faint buzzing, followed by the sound of two kids laughing. This part of the trail cuts across a steep hillside, with a row of homes on Mason Street below us. Their backyards slope up to the ARRT right-of-way (ROW) and their front yards are down on the street. One house has set up a zip-line in the backyard. The kids are hiking up to their back fence and zipping down to the rear patio. Looks like fun.
This month was the 5th anniversary of the first 5 miles of the trail being completed, on a perfect September day in 2005. Today is Saturday 9/18/2010 and I’m back on the trail, participating in the bi-annual state trail census. That’s a state program where the various rail trail support groups in Massachusetts volunteer to count traffic on their trails, 2 times per year. Our group “Assabet River Rail Trail, Inc.” usually sets up where the trail crosses Route-85/Washington Street in Hudson. It gives us a great chance to chat with the trail regulars and meet new people. Thanks to Duncan, Jenn, Ed and Bill, who were our volunteer counters today.
Taking a breather from the census, I decided to walk down the trail to the High Bridge and Hudson Mill for my first visit in 3 months. But that’s the next post …..
This blog is intended to document interesting stories and observations about the Assabet River Rail Trail, especially its impact on our trail neighbors, both business and residential.
Tom Kelleher is the president of the Assabet River Rail Trail 501(3)(c) non-profit and a 33-year resident of Acton MA.