Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Assabet River Rail Trail 2016 Construction

Ceremonial shovels ready for groundbreaking event
See updates with photos, October...

At a ceremony in Maynard on Thursday, July 21, representatives from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and the towns of Acton and Maynard met to oversee and celebrate ground-breaking for the $6.7 million construction of 3.4 miles of the Assabet River Rail Trial (ARRT) in the two towns. Completion of this part of the trail is planned for spring of 2018.

MassDOT (Department of Transportation) Highway Administrator Tom Tinlin joined local legislators, Acton and Maynard town managers, project engineers and ARRT volunteers in front of an audience of about 80 to formally break ground on this project. State Senator Jamie Eldridge and State Representatives Kate Hogan and Cory Atkins spoke about the years of planning to get state funding.

State Senator Jamie Eldridge
Click on photos to enlarge
Town Managers Kevin Sweet (Maynard) and Roland Bartl (Acton) described how this project will make both towns friendlier to pedestrians and cyclists; both also noted that their towns are participating in the state's Complete Streets program. Roland pointed out that completing this northern end of the Assabet River Rail Trail leaves a gap between the two ends, and that all involved parties are committed to exploring means to close the gap, either along the original train route or alternatives.

Maynard Board of Selectmen Chairman Chris DiSilva welcomed the increased number of visitors the Trail will bring to Maynard businesses. Chris also recognized the long years of involvement by ARRT volunteers Thomas Kelleher and Duncan Power. Janet Adachi, Vice Chair of the Acton Board of Selectmen acknowledged all towns' employees and former employees who had worked to bring this project to fruition, also the people of design and engineering companies, such as Rebecca Williamson of Greenman-Pedersen, Inc., who have spent years on the details.

ARRT President Thomas Kelleher 
The contractor for this multi-year project is D'Allessandro Corp., a Massachusetts-based company with lots of experience in road, sidewalk, park and water management projects. This expertise will stand them in good stead for constructing the trail through the middle of Maynard as it crosses many roads: Route 117, Sudbury Street, Main Street, Florida Road, Summer Street, Acton Street, Concord Street and Acton Street again just before entering Acton.

A construction timeline has been set. Much of the work - especially through downtown Maynard - will be completed in 2016. Two bridges and a boardwalk spanning a wetlands area in Acton will be completed in 2017, as will final paving. Late 2017 to early 2018 will see installation of fences, benches, signage and landscaping, including the planting of hundreds of trees.

CAT 521B with tree felling attachment on boom (red). Operator positions
arm to grab tree - the five foot diameter blade cuts through in a couple of
seconds - and then the tree is laid down before the CAT moves on. As of
July 25th the CAT has finished Maynard and continues in Acton.
Work in earnest has already begun. Trail sections are being blocked off with fencing and signs. Already, large trees that had grown next to and in some places over the abandoned rails were cut to create an eighteen foot wide swath from Summer to Concord Streets in Maynard. The tree cutting process was quite a sight, as a Caterpillar CAT521B with a tree felling head weighs in at a tad under 70,000 pounds and can cut trees up to 22 inches in diameter in a few seconds. Each cut tree was carefully laid on it side, and the CAT moved on. The next day, different equipment dragged all the trees to the north end, to be stuffed into a super-sized wood chipper. Stumps to be dealt with later. 

In addition to the trail being closed, much of the parking along the affected parts of High Street, Main Street, Railroad Street, and the parking lots behind the Post Office, Gruber Bros, CVS, Subway, The Outdoor Store and China Ruby is being temporarily blocked off. [October update: The Attic, a second hand store in the Dunn Oil building, behind The Outdoor Store, went out of business.]

At the Farmers' Market location, the trees and hedge between the parking lot and Main Street are gone, as are trees in the park by the footbridge.   

Among permanent changes planned for Maynard: Ice House Landing, off Winter Street, will have a paved parking lot, some parking will be lost behind the Post Office and from the town lot behind CVS and the Outdoor Store. Part of Maplebrook Park (corner Summer and Maple) will be sacrificed to the trail. In 2017 the six foot wide wooden footbridge over the Assabet River will be replaced by a wood-planked, steel truss bridge 62 feet long and 16 feet (!) wide. This is so people will be able to pause on the bridge to admire the river without hindering traffic. An idea - with a bit of help from the Maynard Community Gardeners this could become Maynard's own Bridge of Flowers.

Speakers prepare to toss ceremonial first shovelfuls of dirt
In Acton, south-to-north, the trail starts on an existing causeway that traverses wetlands. It will then pass along the front of the Paper Store office building (between it and Route 27) rather than behind the building, as that option would have required a lengthy boardwalk over wetlands. Farther north, a small parking lot will be added at the end of Sylvia Street. A new 70 x 16 foot bridge will span Fort Pond Brook. The trail, with its own parking area, will exit onto Maple Street adjacent to the south side of the train station. The station will have new bicycle parking facilities in addition to what already exists on the north side.

Existing, unplanked bridge over Fort Pond Brook

Many people want to know how safe rail trails are for bicycling with young children. The Acton section will be flat and cross no roads. It will, however, cross two driveways bracketing the Paper Store office building. In Maynard, the trail will cross eight roads, some very busy, before terminating at White Pond Road, on the Maynard:Stow border. There is one short but steep hill which may be a bit much for young children unless they get off their bikes and walk. Southbound, after crossing Summer Street, there is a downhill to the parking lot behind The Outdoor Store. There is a gradual uphill parallel to Railroad Street. The rest is flat or near-flat.

As for amenities, there will be no public restroom facilities or water fountains anywhere along the trail. Four kiosks with maps and other information will be erected at key points. There will be 'distance travelled' markers every half-mile. Benches and bike racks will be installed. Signage will describe historic sites adjacent to the trail. Because the trail's path goes through the center of Maynard there will be easy access to restaurants and outdoor seating cafes (with bathrooms), convenience stores, and Ray & Sons Cyclery. A detour to the far side of Maynard's mill pond will bring riders to the outdoor beer garden of Battle Road Brewery & Brewpub.

Speakers and some of the attendees
The south end terminates at an entrance to the Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge, which offers 15 miles of trails, half open to bicycling ( ARNWR has parking lots near the north and south entrances. At the south end of the rail trail walkers and cyclists are permitted to continue two miles west on the unpaved, privately owned "Track Road," which ends at Sudbury Road, Stow. This is quite near to Stow Town Beach on Lake Boon, but unfortunately Stow does not sell day passes.

About the north end: an oft-asked question is whether the Acton end of ARRT, at the train station, will ever link to the Bruce Freeman Trail, currently being extended south through the east edge of Acton, toward West Concord, with a north terminus in Lowell. There is no inactive rail right-of-way between the two, and thus no good option for an off streets connection. One possibility would be to create a three mile long marked bicycle lane on School Street and Laws Brook Road.    

Business end of the woodchipper. Click on photos to enlarge.
This project, when complete, will add 3.4 miles at the north end to the 5.8 miles completed years ago at the south end, in Hudson and Marlborough. Connecting the two along the route of the original railroad would cover 3.2 miles and cross the Assabet River twice. Any rail trail connection, this way or other, is years away. Experienced road cyclists can connect the ends by heading north on White Pond Road, then west and south on Route 62 (distance 5.4 miles), but this route is too heavily trafficked for inexperienced riders or children. Walkers and off-road cyclists can navigate a route that hews closer to the original by traveling on Track Road (unpaved) to Sudbury Road, and from there on roads to the Hudson end, on Route 62.      

Thomas Tinlin, MassDOT
Jamie Eldridge, State Senator
Kate Hogan, State Representative
Cory Atkins, State Representative
Kevin Sweet, Maynard Town Manager
Chris DiSilva, Chairman, Maynard Board of Selectmen
Roland Bartl, Acton Town Planner
Janet Adachi, Vice Chair, Acton Board of Selectmen
Thomas Kelleher, President, ARRT

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Water Chestnut: Invasive Aquatic Plant

Water chestnut plant at surface, rooted to bottom. 
Often, the root supports multiple rosettes, each  
bearing several nuts. The plant is an annual, so it 
does not regrow from the same root the 
next year. Rosettes are 6-12 inches across.
Water chestnut, an invasive water plant, has a nature akin to lily pads on steroids, growing rapidly in nutrient-rich fresh water ponds, lakes and slow-flowing rivers. Unchecked, it will almost completely cover water surfaces, making boating, swimming and fishing impossible. The dense floating mat of overlapping leaves also blocks sunlight penetration, causing oxygen deprivation lethal to fish and other animal life. In addition to this ecological horror story, the large, sharply pointed seeds, which mature in early August, fall to the bottom, and can cause painful wounds if stepped on.

This species, Trapa natans, is not to be confused with the edible water chestnut common to Chinese cuisine. The plant was initially brought to the Harvard University Botanic Garden, possibly from southeastern Europe or western Asia. In the 1870s staff gardener Louis Guerineau took it upon himself to throw seeds into Fresh Pond and other Cambridge waterways. This came to the attention of botanist George E. Davenport, who decided to bring seeds and live plants to his friend Minor Pratt, in Concord. He and Pratt seeded a pond near the Sudbury River, and he suspected Pratt conducted additional distributions. Thus, Cambridge was point zero and Concord the plus one. Current distribution ranges from Canada to Maryland, and westward into New York and Pennsylvania.
Click on any photo to enlarge

As early as 1879 there was a concern voiced by botanist Charles S. Sargent, Director of Boston's Arnold Arboretum, that this non-native species threatened to become a nuisance, based on dense growths reported in Cambridge. Davenport fessed up in the Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club, Vol. 6: "I have several times had plants of Trapa natans that were collected in the vicinity of Boston, during the present year, brought to me for identification, and I have entertained no doubt as to the manner of its introduction into waters outside Cambridge Botanic Garden. But that so fine a plant as this, with its handsome leafy rosettes and edible nuts, which would, if common, be as attractive to boys as hickory nuts now are, can ever become a 'nuisance' I can scarcely believe."

This past Saturday a doughty band of twelve volunteers, organized by OARS (Organization for the Assabet Sudbury & Concord Rivers), launched canoes onto the Assabet River in Maynard, upstream from the dam next to Powdermill Road. What this involved was paddling upstream about one-quarter mile. Two occupants per canoe would steer into an area with plants to pull them by hand, each yank resulting in a dripping, muddy mess dropped into laundry baskets in the middle of the canoe. The laden canoes would be paddled back to the launch site, the baskets lugged ashore to a compost pile, the canoes bailed out, the process repeated. Messy, messy, messy! 

Pile of water chestnut plants, to be hauled away to landfill. 
Years of these visits, conducted every July before the nuts mature and fall to the bottom, have done a great job of eradicating the plants from long stretches of the Assabet River and reducing density in the still impacted parts. Surveillance visits are repeated each year, because while most seeds sprout next spring, some are still viable as much as 8-10 years later.     

 To get an idea of how bad it can get, Vermont spends over half a million dollars a year hiring companies with mechanical harvesters to manage the worst parts of Lake Champlain, plus paying dozens of people to do hand-pulling in less-infested waters on the big lake and elsewhere. The 2013 report described 1,200 tons collected by the harvesters and more than 21 tons by hand.

This posting repeats in part a column that was in the Beacon-Villager newspaper (serving Maynard and Stow, Massachusetts) in July 2015.