Monday, August 1, 2016

I Rail Against Trails (Not Really, But I Don't Want Every Abandoned Set of Train Tracks Converted for Cyclists and Roller Bladers)

From Dave Brigham:

Man, that picture just says it all for me: overgrown history; adventure awaiting; peace and quiet; possibly a little danger.

I'd driven past this spot in Wayland, Mass., several times over the years, but didn't have time to explore until recently. As I've said many times here, the world looks a lot different when you're walking through it than when you're driving past it.

What finally drew me to this location was, as is often the case, a look at Google Maps. Of late, I'd become aware of long-abandoned railroad tracks running through Waltham, Weston, Wayland and other area towns. This is part of what's known as the Wayside section of the Mass Central Rail Trail, a proposed 104-mile connection from Boston to Northampton. Looking at maps online, I zeroed in on the section in Wayland that crosses Route 20.

Starting down the tracks, the teenager inside me expected someone from the adjacent garden center to yell "No trespassing!"

There were no barriers or signs, but for the first hundred yards or so, I looked back a few times to make sure the police weren't behind me. Illogical, I know, but I'm a goody-goody who doesn't want to get busted for being someplace I'm not supposed to be.

Secure in the knowledge that nobody was going to stop me from exploring, and realizing that while the tracks weren't heavily traveled, there was evidence of human activity, I pushed forward across an old bridge over the Sudbury River.

I saw several shotgun shells along and just off the tracks. The rails run alongside part of the Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, so I initially assumed that poachers were at work. A check of the refuge web site, however, indicates that hunting permits are available during July, so I'm gonna give hunters the benefit of the doubt.

I had no idea what I'd find along the tracks, or how far I'd be able to go. I was just happy to be walking in solitude, imagining the time when freight and passenger trains ran through here regularly. On the north side of my route, between the tracks and busy Route 20, was a patch of woods and small, scattered pieces of broken down equipment, random chunks of manufactured stone and other detritus.

I moseyed on for quite some time, past more shotgun shells, power lines, signs for the wildlife refuge, and the rear of a landscaping supply company. I expected to see signs of teenage partying or homeless encampments, which I'm used to seeing along railroad tracks, river paths and other out-of-the-way locations. But I saw nothing of the sort.

After a while I saw buildings off to the right, one of which is an indoor sports facility. Ahead of me on the left I could see a medium-sized electrical grid complex. At this point, the tracks ended, and I didn't think it made sense to get too close to the enclosed high-voltage area.

I turned around and started heading back, with my eyes peeled for things I'd missed on the way out. I ventured into the wooded area between the tracks and Route 20. I didn't find much of interest, but I have a feeling that a longer exploration might yield something.

Then I spied something colorful through the trees, near a dilapidated building that I hadn't paid much attention to earlier.

I followed an old path off the tracks into the woods. I saw a heavily graffitied truck, but was unsure whether someone might be in there, so I made a bit of noise and after a short time I went closer.

It was an old concession truck for the Wayland Baseball Association, parked at the back of a long-neglected lot and next to a crummy old building. Not sure what this site was previously used for, but I assume it's town-owned.

As I said at the top of this post, this section of tracks starts at Route 20. At some point, of course, they crossed that busy road heading east. In 2010, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation entered into a 99-year lease with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) related to the 24 miles of tracks that run through Waltham, Weston, Wayland, Sudbury, Hudson and Berlin, according to this Wayland Patch article. The DCR has removed some railroad ties, and the Town of Wayland has established a plan for a rail trail near the town center.

I'm in favor of rail trails, at least ones that have already been constructed. There's a paved trail along the Charles River that I've used for bike rides, walks and runs over the years. It's not a rail trail, but it was carved out of little used land the way that rail trails are.

I can't argue against giving people additional places to exercise, and easier routes from Point A to Point B. But I also like the fact that there are places like these tracks in Wayland where suburban explorers can reach back into history a bit, and walk in solace if they choose.

As always, stay tuned....

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