Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Assabet River Rail Trail - Users

A few facts and observations now that the Maynard & Acton section is in its fifth year.

ARRT dedication ceremony, August 10, 2018
The Maynard and Acton portion of the Assabet River Rail Trail was formally dedicated at a ceremony held in Acton on August 10, 2018. The trail gets heavy use. In fact, the combination of dog walkers, stroller pushers, walkers, runners, bicycle commuters and recreational bicyclists so fill the pavement that serious cyclists – the weekend Spandex-clad crew that wants to speed along 15-20 miles per hour – are perforce finding that they are at such risk of crashing into other users that they must abandon the trail. Just as well, as signage at the Ice House Landing parking lot includes posting of a 15 mph speed limit. Unfortunately, at times there are users on battery-powered bicycles that travel at speeds exceeding 25 mph.   

Sign also includes keeping dogs on lease shorter
than six feet and picking up poop
Construction: At a ceremony in Maynard on Thursday, July 21, 2016, 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. As noted, paving and landscaping - the planting of nearly 600 trees - was completed in August 2018.

Amenities: Mileage markers are in place. Maynard’s start at the Stow/Maynard border (White Pond Road), at 0.0 miles. Touch the stones for a surprise – granite, but clear-coated with some type of rubbery-feeling substance. For the numerically compulsive (as in runners and walkers) there are markers every quarter mile, so that the last in Maynard reads 2.25. And then, 100 yards farther is the Maynard/Acton border with a 0.0 stone to indicate the start of the Acton section. The northernmost Acton stone indicates 1.0 miles; the trailhead a bit farther on

Maynard mile marker
Of the planting of nearly 600 trees - mostly native to North America - roughly 10% died and have been cut down at ground level. The main cause was lack of watering during the first years, although some failed to prosper because of being planted where the ground was too wet or in deep shade. What remains is doing well. For example, tulip trees in the open space south of Concord Street are approaching 30 feet in height. 

Daffodils at Marble Farm Park
In addition to what was planted as part of the construction budget, a volunteer organization - Trail of Flowers ( - was started in 2018 for the purpose of adding flowering plants, shrubs and trees to the borders of the rail trail. With more than $10,000 raised and spent, TOF has planted thousands of bulbs and other perennial plants, and nearly 100 shrubs and trees. Many of the latter are indicated by small signs. Some - including nine Kousa dogwoods along High Street - will take years of growth before annual blooming begins.  

Trash receptacle
In addition to plantings, Acton has three informational kiosks (informationally underutilized) and four benches at one location. Two more benches - dedicated to long-time ARRT leaders Thomas Kelleher and Duncan Power, to be installed soonish. Maynard has two kiosks, 14 benches at six locations and two trash receptacles maintained by volunteers. Neither town has bathroom facilities or water fountains on the trail. The Bruce Freeman Trail, Lowell to Sudbury, uses donation funding to pay the communities to place and maintain Porta-Potties at convenient trail locations. 

Users: Informal observations count walkers as the most frequent trail users, followed in no particular order by runners, dog walkers and recreational bicyclists - often adults with children. The warmer months (with longer daylight) see bicycle commuters heading toward or away from the South Acton train station, where there are a combination of enclosed bicycle lockers and open-air bike racks for people to park bikes and take a train. Staff and children from the Blossom Station Childcare Center walk the Trail and also play on the lawns at the Marble Farm Historic Site, in Maynard. Neither Maynard nor Acton clear snow from the trail, so winters see some cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. 

Maintenance: At five years, the Acton and Maynard section is in good condition. The Departments of Public Health mow the borders, at times as much as four feet from the paved section. Both do leaf blowing in the fall. Neither clear snow. The Hudson and Marlborough section is approaching 20 years of age, Portions are overdue for crack sealing. In places, there is minor pushing up from underlying tree roots. High winds and ice at times bring down large branches and trees on the trail. Smaller debris is cleared by volunteers using non-powered tools. DPW use chainsaws to clear the larger stuff. 

Members of the Assabet River Rail Trail organization do some maintenance and trash removal, and also maintain the blue caboose in Hudson. Members of Trail of Flowers, a sub-organization under ARRT, plant and maintain flowering plants, shrubs and trees along the rail trail, and also mow the grass and rake leaves at the Marble Farm Historic Site (Maynard).  

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