May 23 , 2023

There are a lot of rail-trails around where we live…


A walkway system can be a showcase of how existing features in a landscape – an abandoned railroad right-of-way… can be adapted… [to form a space] where people want to gather, explore and learn.

-Craig Evans


After the civil war, railroads sprang up just about everywhere there were sizeable centers of population.  This was particularly true along the eastern seaboard where most of America’s population lived and worked.  Increasing industrialization required that goods and products be moved large distances and as individual wealth increased, there was also the desire to travel to more distant parts.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, people had essentially four choices of how to travel.  If there was a large enough river flowing where you wanted to go, you could go by boat.  There were horses you could ride, which wasn’t all that comfortable, or you could take some kind of wheeled conveyance or other, pulled by horses, which was pretty slow.  Or you could walk, which, for any significant distance, is both slow and uncomfortable.  The final possibility was you could go by rail.  If you had the money to pay for a ticket, and most people could afford it, at least occasionally, you could go by train.  The train was relatively fast, convenient and comfortable.  It was no wonder, then, that railroads sprung up in a web that crisscrossed nearly everywhere anybody wanted to go.

Then, in the early twentieth century, along came the motorcar and paved roads, and railroads largely disappeared.  They left behind these sweeping, serpentine, more or less flat roadbeds that were perfect for an easy stroll.  In the latter twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, some people repurposed these right-of-ways for leisurely walking and the rail trail was born.  Today, there are a plethora of paths, some paved, some in gravel, around where I live.  In Massachusetts alone there are 69 of the things, covering 347 miles.  In Wisconsin, there are 101, spanning nearly 2,000 miles.  There is even a trail, The Great American Rail-Trail, planned to run, contiguously, 3,700 miles from Washington D.C. to La Push, Washington State, just south of the Canadian border.  And the number of rail trails is increasing every year.

Rail trails are easy to find, through Google or any of a number of apps, including AllTrails and TrailLink.  As you know from previous blogs, Christine, Phyllis, Waldo and I have walked many in the New England area and there are more that we haven’t explored.  Some are many miles long, requiring the shuffling of more than one car, if we want to avoid retracing our steps.  With conflicting schedules, that can be a challenge to arrange.  But, I’ve decided, Waldo and I can do 3-mile chunks, more or less, in round trip segments for our daily 6-mile jaunts.  That opens up a lot of possibilities and gets us away from the Assabet River Rail Trail, on occasion, just for variety.

Since 1887, the Central Massachusetts Railroad ran from North Cambridge, near Boston, to Northampton, on the western bank of the Connecticut River.  After the great depression, the railroad suffered financially and bits and pieces of it shut down and track was pulled up.  Today, there are plans to complete a multipurpose rail trail from Boston to Northampton along its old route.  The Assabet River Rail Trail is one branch of the one-time Central Massachusetts Railroad and it connects to the CMR roadbed across the street from the northern end of the southern portion of ARRT in Hudson.  At this time, a powerline is being buried along where the rails used to run, and as soon as that is done, the portion from Hudson to Wayland will be paved (about 7.5 miles).  It’s anticipated this will be completed in 2024 or 2025.  Phyllis and I bushwhacked our way along part of this route a while back when it was still overgrown with vegetation.

There are 17 other pieces of the trail to explore.  There’s a chunk in Sterling, one in Holden, one around Rutland and one in Ware – all fairly close by.  There’s the Norwottuck Rail Trail, that Christine, Waldo and I have already walked (when we trekked across the state from the NY border to Cape Cod), that runs south of Amherst and through Northampton.  And there are many more for us to venture down.

There are other kinds of trails we can investigate, and I’m sure we will.  We have yet to finish the Bay Circuit Trail, for example.  The thing about rail trails, though, is that most are all-weather, fairly flat, and wind gently through the countryside (all true because they run along old railroad beds that are highly compressed and designed for trains that can’t climb very steeply nor turn very sharply).  Some are even plowed free of snow during the winter, like the ARRT.

In any event, now that the weather is improved, I, and Christine and Phyllis, when they can, will be venturing out of our winter quarters more and more.

And wandering with Waldo over much of New England.


This one is ours.

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