Thursday, August 25, 2016

New Singletrack Trail in Acton

Bridge over small creek 
Acton volunteers have been working this summer to create new singletrack trail suitable for hiking and off-road bicycling. Access is from Old High Street, which is a right turn off High Street when driving south, toward Route 62. Old High Street is a dead end. Toward the end, on the right, there is an area to park on the grass. Do not park on the road itself. The future intent is to bring in gravel to make this an all-seasons parking area, perhaps complete with an entry sign and map display.

The new trail is not suitable for inexperienced off-road cyclists. For hikers, walking stick advised, and boots/shoes that you do not mind getting muddy. As always, check clothing periodically for deer ticks.

Length of the new section is 0.5 miles. It is currently marked with white paint blazes. At the end of the new section - at the Acton/Maynard border (where it crosses the outflow from the Maynard wastewater treatment facility) - it connects to two existing trail networks:

1) Going straight enters Maynard, which has two exits, on Concord Street and on Colbert Ave. Both exits have signs reading ASSABET RIVER WALK. Distance to either exit is 0.7 miles. OK for off-road riding to the place where the trail divides, and to the end of the right fork (Concord Street exit). From here it is possible to return to the starting point on roads: East on Concord Street, which becomes Parker in Acton, right onto Adams, right onto High Street and finally right onto Old High Street. Total distance for loop is 2.4 miles. The left fork of the Maynard trail crosses a wooden bridge. Farther on, it gets progressively harder to ride because of roots and rocks. Parts very wet after heavy rains and during spring thaw.

2) Making a sharp right turn at the border enters a network of singletrack in Acton, much of it marked with white paint blazes, that has exits to Pine Hill Road in Maynard and Parker and Adam Streets, in Acton.

Branches and log sections laid across muddy stretches = corduroy trail.
This photo is of the best section - the others have smaller, shorter branches.
Conditions on new trail: The first 40 yards of the trail is crisscrossed by lots of roots, but that stops once into the trees. Modest ups and downs. There is poison ivy in spots, but to the sides. It is possible to walk the trail without brushing against any greenery or having to duck under branches. About 1/4 mile in there is a new bridge over a small creek. Toward the west end there is a gradual climb skirting the edge of a hill, then a gradual downhill to the Acton/Maynard border.

The new trail goes through sections of wetland - wet even during 2016 summer drought. Do not know yet what it is like after heavy rain or spring snow melt. For the present there is an attempt to make this walkable by laying sections of branches and logs across the trail (called corduroy trail). These sections can still be squishy and slick, especially in wet weather, so expect to get shoes wet. There is one section of corduroy trail before the creek and several after, quality getting progressively worse. The intent is to replace these with ground-resting boardwalk in 2017-18. Be aware that in places the mud is more than ankle deep.

There are also places where long pieces of black plastic are half-buried near or along the trail. This plastic was installed to reduce erosion while the Acton wastewater treatment plant was under construction. Left behind, and now half-buried. Future work may involve removing this plastic.

Powdermill Dam on the Assabet River, Acton, MA. Click on photo to enlarge.
Harking back to the parking on Old High Street, it is a short walk to the end of the road, which stops at what used to be a bridge over the Assabet River. The body of water to the right is called Ripple Pond. It is created by the dam, which was built in the 1800s to supply water power to a gunpowder mill. A short walk to the left of the building provides a glimpse of the river cascading over the top of the dam. The brick and concrete structure houses a turbine used to generate electricity whenever the water flow is adequate.

Well into the 1970s this body of water was extremely foul smelling and algae plagued. It still can develop surface growth of algae and duckweed in times of low river flow, but not nearly as bad smelling. The problem was that Maynard's wastewater treatment plant has its outflow to this part of the river. Federal and State regulations now call for a much reduced outflow of phosphorus and nitrogen, and prohibit the outflow of sludge, so the eutrophication of Ripple Pond has been partially reversed. The body of water now supports fish and other water and wetlands species. A wooden structure in the river, visible looking upstream, was built with the hope that ospreys would use it for a nest site. Ospreys do live in the area, but have not yet taken advantage of the platform.

Plans for the dam may radically change Ripple Pond and affect the trail in Acton and Maynard. Current top of the dam is 140.5 feet above mean sea level (MSL). Adjustable flashboards are either in place or in planning that would raise the top to 141.75 feet. This would mean that the impoundment upstream of the dam would permanently be 15 inches higher than current summer MSL. After rainfall or snowmelt the water could be allowed to rise to as high as 143.5 feet above MSL. The intent is to increase the amount of water held above the dam, so as to provide more water power for generation of electricity. At 143.5 feet the river would be backed up to upstream of the Waltham Street Bridge. Much of the new trail would be under water.  

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