Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Bay Circuit Trail: Ashland Aspects.

The "Proposed" Ashland Commuter Rail Station.

I made a recent trip to Ashland and decided to get a basic orientation of the rail station to the nearest Bay Circuit trail segment, a short trek down Ponderosa Road

One comic aspect of it is that many maps, including Google, indicate the station is 'proposed' when it's clearly been in existence since I passed it one September night in 2006 on a transcontinental Amtrak. 

And you thought digitization would lead to lightening speed updates and molecular levels of descriptive accuracy. Naaah.

And, what's funnier, it is clear that some workmanship shoddiness has already occurred.

The relatively new metal under-structures exhibit significant corrosion which may be attributable to poor sealing of the concrete pouring beds. The winter freeze/thaw cycles have led to seepage of the highly corrosive ice melt salts to a degree where it even attacks the all weather galvanized stuff. It's either a bad design or slipshod execution or some combination.

But that's a mere digression. Ashland is out at the furthest western edge of the Bay Circuit and has its own impressive endowment of amenities.

The Bay Circuit Trail passes fairly close to the station coming down from Sudbury and the Town Forest  to the north to follow a stretch of the Sudbury River east before heading south. 

Ashland DPW Salt Shed.

The nearest north bound trail access walking from the train station is just beyond a salt storage shed at Ashlands  DPW complex. 

The south bound counterpart is along an old river side driveway at the DPW complex lot entrance. It trends easterly toward Sherborn.

 Along the way are options for a history walk conceived by the historical society with additional amenities along the south side of town including Ashland State Park.

Ashland State Park.

"The Town of Ashland's ideal location midway between Boston and Worcester provides easy access to the interstate highway system and the Massachusetts Turnpike. Ashland was, in earlier times, a stopping point on a major Indian trail which later became known as the Bay Path, connecting Cambridge and Connecticut. It was here that a community of Natick Indians was established as the Village of Magunkaquog in about 1659. Once the original starting point of the world famous Boston Marathon, which still runs through Ashland, the town is also known as the site of Henry Warren's invention of the electric clock, later manufactured here under the Telechron name."
Succinct Summary from the Town.

A recent source of excitement among local land conservation enthusiasts was the town's acquisition of Warren Woods from Northeastern University. All in all it is a town well situated for a sustainable future.  

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Bay Circuit Trail: The Reformatory Branch, Bedford MA.

Bedford Depot.

The Bay Circuit ‘hub’  in the  urban core has a number of trail  ‘spokes’ in addition to those formed by the public transit system. Of these, the most prominent is easily the Minuteman Bikeway, a paved marvel along the old railway line through Arlington and Lexington to Bedford. I’ve pedaled its 11 miles on a few occasions, weekdays are often the least crowded. 

Once at the Bedford Depot, one has the option of running the old Narrow Gauge line to its eventual dissolution in Billerica or heading west along the Reformatory Branch to Great Meadows in Concord.

The Narrow Guage is probably better prepared for biking while the Reformatory Branch is more rustic. It is a significant part of the Bay Circuit Trail and allows a look at the headwaters of the Shawsheen and the Concord River on the same day hike or dog walk.

“The Boston & Maine Railroad’s Reformatory Branch was built in 1873 to Lowell Road in Concord and in 1879 it was continued 2.5 miles further west to Reformatory Station (across from the State Prison).

There were four passenger stations on the line: Shady Hill, West Bedford, Concord and Reformatory. The branch was abandoned in 1962, and the right-of-way was purchased by Bedford and Concord.”

Friends of Bedford Depot Park.

It is the nearest Bay Circuit access point from Cambridge and one can take the 62 bus line to the trail head. The return trip out of Concord can have some interesting commuter rail and bus combinations as well. I gave them a test run on July 3rd while many were heading into the holiday.

I got the 6:40am bus out of Alewife T station. It puts you there at around 7:10am. I lived in the area between October 2006 and February 2008 so I was looking forward to getting a sense of how it is doing.

The Elm Brook Conservation Area is the first parcel one encounters along the hike when approaching from the east. It is the birth zone for the Shawsheen watershed with a 19th century stone work culvert to carry Mungo Brook beneath the railbed.

The trail then goes through a fairly mundane stretch of white pine stage reclamation forest before meeting the old Shady Hill Station area. A number of trail side rail relics remain. 

The Mary Putnam Webber Conservation Area soon follows.

"This 20-acre parcel was given to the Town in 1990 for the purpose of protecting uplands and sensitive wetlands from proposed development as a state landfill. Although the landfill was not constructed, the Town recognized the importance of this area to the conservation of natural resources and neighborhood character. The land supports both mature oak forest and white pine groves, surrounding a certified vernal pool containing wood frog habitat. Located adjacent to the east-west railroad bed/bikepath, the land is accessible from either Concord or Hartwell Road.  Management goals include control of brush dumping and off-road vehicles."     TM Bedford Conservation Commission.

My return to the place was interesting. It seems to have been put on a back burner, probably due to the Recession and a shortage of trail volunteers. It is also moving to a stage of succession where alder shrub thickets form in the old meadows so the scarce meadow ecotone spaces are shrinking. It is still part of a fairly robust mix of habitats along the northern margin of Hanscom Field.

The Route 62 parking lot is just a bit further along and marks the point where the trail turns south toward Concord and Great Meadows.

There has been considerable interest since 2007, at least, in making the trail an extension of the Minuteman Bikeway and $210,000.00 was applied by the town of Bedford for a study to estimate the cost of applying pavement to the specs determined by the Commonwealth.

This, in turn, has occasioned opposing outlooks from those who would keep the relative quiet of the walk as it is with some dread evinced over expansion of the robust multi mode torrent of users found on the existing run of the Minuteman.

I find myself in some middle ground. Much as I like lo-fi trail systems and walking, this particular rail bed is about as well located and as suitable as it gets for any further expansion of bicycle arterials. For now, it seems as though the lingering economic sluggishness has worked to keep the whole scheme on ice. 

That side of Bedford also has a fairly quiet secondary road net that works well for bicycles and lacks the terrifying traffic messes one finds along Great Road south of the Center where half of the southbound route 3 traffic seems to insist on a 'shortcut' through Bedford for a slightly better exit position on 128.

Maybe the near term outcome will be to let it be as it is. This will probably appeal to 'Bear' and his human.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Bay Circuit Trail: Spoke Trails.

In addition to a fairly outstanding public transportation system to most of the Bay Circuit, there are a number of spoke trail systems either in existence, in various phases of creation or under discussion.

Most seek ways to recycle dormant rail lines into bikeways. Right of way law tends to favor existing holders and many are reluctant to relinquish use potential. A nullified right of way reverts to the original abutting land parcels that gave it substance.  

Despite this, there is considerable interest in turning rails to trails.

In general, I’m discovering that the bicycle constituency is the most focused on the potential to create a trail system that is robust at scale and a counterpart to the road grid.

It makes sense too as bicycles can either serve recreation or join the mode mix in the daily commute. Their increasing popularity in the urban core already makes extensive use of a system that has barely begun to accommodate them.

To this end, any efforts to expedite expansion of the bikeway system are sound infrastructure allocations despite whatever right wing derision may ensue.

It thus follows that Mass Bike has the one of the best and most coherent aggregations of trail way resources out there.

Following the outer arc of the Bay Circuit wheel from north to south, you will find a number of these spoke trails and considerable enthusiasm is applied to them.

Border To Boston begins up in the Amesbury and Salisbury shoulder of the Merrimack River mouth and aims to follow an old rail line through to Boston.

The Mystic Link Trail runs from Boston Harbor to Wilmington in various forms where it nudges the headwaters of the Ipswich and a bit of the Shawsheen.  


Minuteman Bikeway may well the most popular bikeway and is the most direct point of access to the Bay Circuit at a mere 11 miles. It then ties to Bay Circuit segments heading north and west.

The Mass Central Rail Trail passes through Wayland and Sudbury with significant activity underway in Waltham. It begins In Northampton and has been augmented significantly along the Wachusett section in addition to its initial Norwottuck section.

The Charles River Link Trail might be best characterized as part a system rising from the remnants of the old MDC infrastructure with several major focal zones from Watertown to Holliston as befits its meandering wanders. It has a further counterpart in the Upper Charles Trail reaching all the way to Milford.

The Warner Trail heads due south west to Rhode Island while efforts are underway to join it in the east with the Neponset trail system to its mouth in Dorchester.

This growing array of ways to the Bay Circuit provide plenty of options for exploration from the urban core.