Monday, April 22, 2024

Assabet River Rail Trail 2024

Ribbon-cutting ceremony marking the completion 
of the Acton and Maynard portion of ARRT
 The north end of the Assabet River Rail Trail (ARRT) encompassing Acton and Maynard, is approaching its four-year anniversary, as a ribbon-cutting ceremony had been held on August 10, 2018. That represented the end of two years of construction, as the ground-breaking ceremony had been in Maynard, July 2016. The south end, spanning Marlborough and part of Hudson, had been completed more than ten years earlier. The gap in the middle, Stow and part of Hudson, may be years away (or never). In the interim it is possible to do two miles west from the Maynard/Stow border on a privately owned dirt road, to Sudbury Road in Stow, then two miles on roads – Sudbury Road and Route 62 – to reconnect with the south section of the trail, in Hudson. From there, it is 5.8 miles of paved trail to the Marlborough trailhead.

A recent walk on the Acton/Maynard portion, 3.4 miles in length, found the asphalt in almost entirely excellent condition – no surprise. There is one crack developing about 50 yards west of Florida Road and a series of small cracks about 50 yards east of Ice House Landing which may in time need preventive maintenance, i.e., crack filling. Paved trails typically last for 15-20 years before repaving needs to be considered. Given that the south end was completed in 2005, those towns may be coming up on some seriously expensive maintenance.

Questionnaires sent to trail managers by the Rails-to-Trails conservancy in 1996, 2005 and again in 2015 led to reports on how trails are being maintained and what organizations are paying for that work. Per those reports, the cost of maintaining an asphalt-paved trail averaged $1,971 per mile per year. This encompassed work done by town employees and a value put on volunteer labor. Collectively, the 2015 report tallied this as about 13.5 hours of labor per trail mile per year. The Assabet River Rail Trail organization, incorporated in 1995, had provided volunteer efforts involving trail clearing to create a walkable path before the paving began. Volunteer work continues on the paved trail.     

The nature of work – town-paid and volunteered – includes litter removal, repairing vandalism and removing trash dumping (old car tires, etc.), mowing plant growth bordering trails and combating invasive plant species. Trees fall on trails, or else are standing dead trees threatening to do so. Drainage ditches bordering trails need to be kept clear of plant debris or else their function is compromised. Some towns will operate leaf blowers in the fall, and snow plowing in winter. Maynard and Acton have decided to not clear snow. Towns may choose to plow trail parking lots, thus providing parking for people who want to ski, snowshoe or hike in winter. There are also information kiosks, benches, signage and in Maynard a couple of trash receptacles, all of which also require maintenance.

 The 2015 report also noted, surprisingly, that 60% of the returned questionnaires did not confirm a written maintenance plan. While personal injury lawsuits are very rare, the report went on to suggest that towns should have a process to regularly inspect trails, correct unsafe conditions, and keep records. Signage of rules and regulations and hours of operation need to be posted at trailheads and other access locations. Not everyone is aware that ARRT’s signs include “Maximum Speed: 15 mph” and “Give an audible warning before passing,” but the signs are there. Guidelines for what organized volunteer groups can and cannot do need to be established, for example using herbicides or power tools.

As for what was observed during a recent Acton/Maynard walk-through, there was remarkably little litter along the trail, with the exception of downtown Maynard, and only a few instances of graffiti. Acton’s kiosks were empty or near-empty of content. Both towns’ Department of Public Works mow the trail’s shoulders. In both towns, there are dozens of standing dead trees that in time may fall on the trail. ARRT volunteers have replaced wooden railings that were broken by fallen trees or large branches. Dozens of the hundreds of trees that were planted as part of the trail landscaping in 2017-18 have died, and were removed by volunteers. Looking forward, consideration should be given to combating invasive plant species such as Oriental bittersweet, Japanese knotweed, garlic mustard, and purple loosestrife, the last beginning to appear in the wetter sections of drainage ditches.

Sign set up at Marble Farm site when daffodils are in bloom
Trail of Flowers (, a volunteer organization, operating under ARRT’s auspices, has since its inception in the fall of 2018 been planting flowering bulbs, shrubs and trees along the Assabet River Rail Trail, mostly in Acton and Maynard, but expanding to Hudson and Marlborough. As of early 2024, TOF has raised and spent more than $10,000. Students from Acton-Boxborough Regional High School have participated in annual planting events as part of Senior Student Community Service Day. Maynard Community Gardeners contribute unsold plants from the group’s annual plant sale. Maynard Scout Troop 130 will be conducting a planting event this summer as a Scout’s Eagle Scout project.

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