Caouette-Simeone Farm

On October 17th the Caouette-Simeone Conservation Restriction committee presented to the Acton Board of Selectmen the final draft of the conservation restriction for the Caouette property.

This was the first town committee I’ve ever been appointed to and probably the last! We had our first public meeting in April and 14 meetings later, finished the 16 page conservation restriction and map. It was 8 pages describing what the farm could be used for, now and in perpetuity. And 8 pages to describe what was going to be forbidden.

The ARRT came out of this process in pretty good shape. First, we will be permitted to relocate the last 100 yards of the trail, over to the Calouette property in South Acton. This will potentialy save over a 1/2 million dollars from the original design. This informal map shows how the rerouting might look in 2016.

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The Big-3: Cambridge

The last of my Big-3 rail trail communities is Cambridge Massachusetts. The Alewife Circle neighborhood is the junction of 3 old railroads. The first was the Bedford to Cambridge commuter rail line, that was abandoned in 1981. Construction of the Minuteman Rail Trail started in 1991, but the last section that extended it into Cambridge was not finished until 1998. It essentially ends after it comes out of the rail tunnel under Route-2 and stops in front of the Alewife Red Line Parking Garage.

The branch off to the east of this intersection is the Somerville Community Path. This is a rail trail that has different names in different places. The west end is part of the Alewife Linear Park and connects to the Minuteman Rail Trail. The middle section is usually called the Somerville Community Path. The east end is the Grove-Cedar Bike Path and was built in 1992. There is an extension from Cedar to Central Street that is proposed, but held up by the Green Line extension delay.

The branch that goes off to the west, is called the Fitchburg cut-off. Which is an odd name for a rail trail that doesn’t come within 40 miles of Fitchburg! Only the first mile in Cambridge is done, but extending it west into Belmont is proposed.

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It’s been a busy day. Started out by over-sleeping and arriving late for the annual Marlborough ARRT trail cleanup. This part of the rail trail was finished in 2005 and gets a  cleanup every spring. About 7 volunteers were already out on the trail when I arrived. The biggest item in the last couple of years has been plastic water bottles on the side of the trail.  Joggers start out with a full bottle and toss them in the weeds when empty. It must be something about the thin clear plastic that makes so hard to spot on the ground. The other big problem are the vines and brambles that grow into the chain link fences. It can take hours to cut them out of the links, especially if they are the variety with 1-inch thorns.

Driving home after we finished, I spotted another fashion shoot on the trail, the 2nd in as many months. Conrad Steward of Allure Photography was shooting model Ellese at the ARRT caboose.

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Lines and Boundaries

It’s amazing when a group of people with a shared interest get to talking, what interesting turns a real and virtual conversation can take.

It all started last month, when Bob Brooks of Maynard, sent us a great winter photo. It was of Track Road in Stow, the future location of the ARRT, buried deep in the record-breaking snowpack of this winter. The Assabet River is in the background, with Russell Bridge in the distant left. He closed out his e-mail with a question about where exactly was the Stow-Maynard town line in this photo. The short answer is that it straddles the center of the bridge, with Stow in the foreground and Maynard behind it.

ARRT secretary Duncan Power decided he wanted a more exact description of the town line and found a book in the Massachusetts online archives.  It’s a 54 page leather-bound atlas that covers 8 towns in Middlesex County.  There were 26 of them printed by the state in 1904. When Maynard was created in 1871 by carving up parts of Stow and Sudbury, an irregular 5-sided pentagon boundary was created. Each of the 5 corners was marked with a granite post. Most of these markers are in obscure locations, deep in the woods. The towns are required to periodically confirm the existence of the markers, by painting the year it is checked, on the side of the marker.

At that point, myself and David Mark were off on a quest to find and photograph the 5 Maynard markers. David is the ARRT’s Maynard director and a columnist for the Maynard Beacon-Villager newspaper. Over the next week, I found 3/5 of the markers and David bagged all 5. The photo on the right is the Sudbury-Maynard marker. You can see that Sudbury last certified their side of the stone in 2010. But Maynard hasn’t checked this stone since 1981, as marked in black paint on the backside of the marker.

Probably the boundary with the best story is the SW corner, which is deep inside the new Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge. When the army took over the land in 1942 for a huge ammunition depot, they needed to build 10 railroad spurs, so that the ammunition could be shipped out of the bunkers by rail. One of the new RR tracks was going to pass right over the 1871 granite post.

So the army pulled out the marker and replaced it with a small square one, set flush to the ground. It was so close to the rail it is claimed that the RR wheels would clip the corner of the new marker.

The old marker was simply thrown down the embankment and can still be seen lying in the leaves if you know where to look. With the RR tracks long gone and the boundary right in the middle of a new  refuge trail, maybe now is the time to put the old one back in its proper place.

So here is a Google map that sums up the whole adventure, 5 boundaries, 4 pictures, 5 people and lots of stories.

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The Big-3: Bedford

My 2nd Big-3 rail trail community is Bedford Massachusetts. The Minuteman Rail Trail was first proposed in 1974, 7 years before the railroad was officialy abandoned. Construction first started in 1991 and most of it was finished by 1993.  In 1998, the last section from East Arlington to the Cambridge Alewife station was opened.  The west end of the trail is in Bedford at Depot Park. There are 2 public parking lots, the freight house which is the visitor center, a restored Boston & Maine Railroad passenger car and a bike shop across the street.

The second path that starts at the Depot is the Bedford Narrow-Gauge Rail-Trail. It was opened in 2001 on the abandoned old Billerica & Bedford Railroad. This was the first narrow gauge railroad in the country, opening in 1877. By 1879 it was bankrupt and closed. Six years later, the Boston & Lowell Railroad had converted it to standard gauge and reopened the route. After it was abandoned for good in 1962, it was converted into a 3 mile long rail-trail in 2001.

The third path at the Depot is the Reformatory Branch Rail Trail. It is a rough dirt path that runs about 2 miles to the west, ending at a small parking lot on Route-62. It passes through 3 different conservation areas; Elm Brook, Mary Putnam Webber Wildlife Preserve and the Delovo Conservation area. The March 25th 2010 Bedford Town Meeting voted to authorize design of turning it into a paved rail trail.

In 2008 the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) named the Minuteman Bikeway as the fifth inductee to the Rail-Trail Hall of Fame. The Boston-area trail is featured in Rails-to-Trails magazine and on RTC’s Web site, complete with photos and a detailed ride-along description of its scenic views and remarkable history.

The paved 11-mile rail-trail running through suburban Boston is one of New England’s most popular pathways, attracting an estimated 2 millions users a year. Heavily used by pleasure-seekers and commuters alike, the route connects directly with the Alewife “T” Station in Cambridge.

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The Big-3: Northampton

Some communities embrace rail trails more than others. I’ve always felt that 3 in particular were above and beyond the rest. My criteria is simple, a Massachusetts city or town that has 3 or more distinct rail trails and community paths, all coming together at a single interesting location.

My first Big-3 town is Northampton. They built their first trail in 1984, the Northampton-Ryan trail. The second trail is the 1993 Norwottuck, that starts in Northampton, crosses the Connecticut River into Hadley, passes just south of downtown Amherst and finishes 3 miles east of town. The 3rd is technically a trail in Easthampton, the Manhan that was opened in 2003. But a major extension was built in 2009, connecting the Manhan to Northampton.

Each of these 3 trails has recently had significant enhancements. The Northampton-Ryan was extended 1.5 miles to the village of Leeds in 2009 and the town purchased some of the ROW in Williamsburg in 2010, to eventually extend the trail into that town. That’s right, one town is buying land in another town, to extend a trail. Now that’s enthusiasm!

The Norwottuck was extended across Rt-5 in 2007 and ends just east of an active RR line. Plans are underway to cross the tracks to the Northampton-Ryan on the other side.

The Manham trail is expanding in 2 directions. Except for one bridge, the connection to Northampton was built in 2009-2010. The western Manhan extension to Southampton was started in 2010 and should be finished in 2011. It’s biggest feature is a long bridge across Rt-10, which was opened on 11/3/2010.

A key player in all this activity is a friend, Craig Della Penna. I recently visited him at his new business, Pedal-to-Properties in downtown Northampton. A long time real estate agent, he opened his own real estate office last spring. It is built on a novel concept, that a good way for prospective house hunters to look at new listings is to bicycle to it! The concept was started in Boulder Colorado and Craig’s business is the 3rd in the country. With Northampton’s network of bike paths, it’s possible to comfortably bicycle to 90% of the town’s residences.

Posted in Northampton Mass, Rail Trails | 1 Comment

Eagle Project

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.

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