Sunday, September 20, 2009

Vist the Mass Central Rail Trail: FREE FALL FUN

The Rail Trail is one of my family's favorite places to walk, run, ride bikes, walk the dog and enjoy nature. We park in the lot off of Route 140 (easy to get to off of Route 2 and 290). The kids ride bikes while we run or take the dog for some exercise. It's so beautiful because it's shady and follows a scenic river. No highway sounds! There are lots of people on the trail at most times so it's safe for mom to take the kids alone, and it's appropriate for strollers. Afterwards, have a picnic under the trees, visit Pride Park (nice, little playground) in West Boylston (It's on Route 140 on the left).

Afterwards, you can do some errands at Walmart.....get a baked good at Darby's Bakery....or take the kids to get some penny candy (Parker's Candy Store on Route 140 on the way to 290...just past Honey Farms on the left).

Please note there is a free family friendly event on the Rail Trail on Saturday, Sept. 26th. We have done this in the past. It's very well-done with complimentary activities and food. It's a low-key but engaging day in nature. Plus, it's an affordable and healthy way to spend the day.

Read below for more information on the Rail Trail.

Questions? Email or call 508.865.7070. Have fun!

Carrie Wattu, editor

A Special Place in Time

The Mass Central Rail Trail Is a Unique Community Resource

By Kenneth McDonnell
Wachusett Greenways Director

Many find it a way to connect with nature. Some use it for exercise – walking, jogging, bicycling, cross-country skiing and more. For many young families, it’s an ideal destination for safe, off-street walking and stroller use on essentially flat terrain, or for a child’s first tentative ride on a bike. It can be a place to introduce children to the joys of reading in an idyllic setting far from televisions and computer games. Others find it a contemplative place to simply get away from it all.

Along some stretches you’ll find folks fishing the streams and ponds nestled just steps away. Still others value it for the connection to our shared heritage and history. And many people find it a worthwhile outlet for their desire to serve the community through a variety of volunteer opportunities.

The “it” is the Mass Central Rail Trail (MCRT), a multipurpose, non-motorized public way being developed in Worcester County since 1995 by Wachusett Greenways. This grassroots team of volunteers works year-round to connect the communities of the Wachusett region – Barre, Holden, Oakham, Paxton, Princeton, Rutland, Sterling and West Boylston – with trails and greenways. Today the product of this “labor of love” is a unique community resource treasured by outdoor enthusiasts of all ages from all walks of life.

To date, Greenways and its partners have built 15 miles of rail trail, including six bridges and a tunnel, as they endeavor to complete the 30 midstate miles of the MCRT.

An Old Railway Reclaimed for All to Enjoy

Stretching from Northampton to downtown Boston, the MCRT – or simply the rail trail, as it’s known locally – traces the 104-mile route of the abandoned Massachusetts Central Railroad, which was shattered by a hurricane in 1938.
The MCRT is envisioned as the east-west spine of a Commonwealth trail network. Today parts of the MCRT are open, including the Greenways sections and the Norwottuck section, from Northampton to Amherst, under the management of the Mass. Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). Mile by mile, dedicated volunteers, property owners, government agencies and businesses are partnering in communities across the state to dig out the old Mass Central and open it up.

Many Hands Make Light Work

Each year, Wachusett Greenways manages to develop about one additional mile of rail trail. This summer, the trail was extended west between Muddy Pond, in Rutland, to Route 122 in Oakham. The work included construction of a new bridge to replace the original over Parker Brook, which was washed out in ’38. In time, the Wachusett Greenways section of the trail will extend into Barre.

Building a rail trail is an “all hands on deck” undertaking and often years in the making.First, since Wachusett Greenways owns almost none of the rail trail land itself, volunteers work with property owners and town and state officials to gain the right to reclaim the old railway and develop and maintain it as a rail trail.
Next, trail crews clear the thick growth of trees and underbrush that have choked the abandoned rail bed over the years. Bridges must be built to span waterways weaving beneath the trail. In Rutland, the old Mass Central tunneled beneath Charnock Hill Road, off of Route 122A. Today, a new tunnel, built through a partnership of the Town of Rutland, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the George I. Alden Charitable Trust and Wachusett Greenways, leads the traveler under the road near one of trail’s most dramatic points, the Charnock Cut, a quarter mile of railway excavated deep into sheer rock.

Greenways volunteers remove trees and chip the brush. Greenways then arranges with local contractors to remove stumps, grade the cleared rail bed, provide for proper drainage, put down a layer of gravel, and finally “pave” and roll it using crushed granite. The result is a finish smooth, level and hard enough for even wheelchair access – essentially a high quality unpaved 10-feet-wide trail passing through some the region’s most appealing terrain.

Since the rail trail traces an actual railway of the late 1800s, the maximum grade is about 1% in most places, or one foot of elevation for every 100 feet of distance. So walking, jogging, cycling and even baby strolling is can be as relaxing as a leisurely amble in the woods – or as strenuous as you like.

While the rail trail is Wachusett Greenways’ largest project, the group also helps develop other trails and open spaces, including the White Oak Trail in Holden, which connects to the trails of the town’s Trout Brook Reservation on Manning Street.
Work crews gather year-round to maintain completed sections of the trails for access and safety. Earlier this year, Greenways crews, in concert with town maintenance crews and workers from the DCR, worked long hours clearing the endless damage from last December’s devastating ice storm.

Year-round Outdoor Events

Wachusett Greenways sponsors outdoor activities throughout the year, enriching the lives of children and grown-ups of all ages. For example, its Family Fun Day offers something for everyone – trail exploration, games, food, bicycle safety activities, live music and much more. Held this year in September, the festivities took place in connection with Greenways’ annual Springdale Mill Celebration and the dedication of a restored section of the trail in West Boylston washed out last May due to beaver damming nearby.

The Springdale Mill historic site is located along the rail trail in Holden, adjacent to the Quinapoxet River. Interpretive signage installed by Greenways volunteers leads visitors through the site with an informative narrative describing the history and workings of the once-thriving woolen mill and tenement village. The Mill operated from 1864 until it was razed in 1906 in connection with the then newly constructed Wachusett Reservoir, which is fed by the Quinapoxet. Today the Mill site stands as a stark reminder of the industrial past of the Wachusett watershed.
Greenways also sponsors a full schedule of other events, which take place locally and across the region, including trail bike rides, hikes, nature walks, canoeing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and more. (See accompanying events schedule.)

The Rousing Success of ‘StoryWalk’

In 2007, Greenways brought StoryWalk™ to the rail trail. In this free, interactive attraction, pages of a children’s book are posted along the trail, and the farther children and parents walk, the more engaged in the story they are likely to become.
Currently the StoryWalk features Danny and the Dinosaur, by Sid Hoff, on the trail in West Boylston. Earlier, StoryWalk showed Leaves, by David Ezra Stein, and The Mitten, by Jan Brett.

And the project has been an inspiring success, as the words of StoryWalk readers of all ages reveal. Hundreds of visitors have taken the time to write comments in guest books posted on the trail following the last page of each story.
“It was osum! [sic.], proclaimed one six-year-old. And not just kids enjoy StoryWalk. Under Ages of Children, one grown-up wrote “young at heart,” another “inner child.” Others commented, “Best walk ever with a 5-year old!” “Thanks for the bonus reason to come out on the trail” and, from a youthful 55-year-old, “I loved it! It reminded me of my childhood heart, the heart I seek each time I’m on this trail.”

StoryWalk’s crowning moment was perhaps the time the West Boylston High School girls’ running team came by, and without breaking stride, one of the girls yelled out the text of each page to the her compatriots.

Volunteers Can Do Wonders

Wachusett Greenways thrives thanks to the vitality of volunteers. From trail work and beautification, to planning and leading events, to grant writing, producing newsletters and website content, and other initiatives, Greenways offers a host of rewarding volunteer opportunities. And it’s a great way to make new friends and do worthwhile things for the community, the Wachusett watershed – and yourself. New volunteers are always welcome!

Although access to its trails and events is free, Wachusett Greenways welcomes members and contributions to help construct and maintain the trail. As a nonprofit 501c(3) organization, contributions are tax-deductible. Membership in Wachusett Greenways is an ideal way to stay connected with the organization, keep current on news about trail progress, and learn about similar organizations across New England.
And please come out and join us in all Wachusett Greenways has to offer!
For more information, please visit

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