Marjorie Turner Hollman (courtesy of The Bellingham Bulletin)
We hear a lot about how important it is that we exercise more, but many of us don’t have the money to pay for gym memberships. And gym memberships don’t do much good if you never use them. Perhaps you’d be tempted by new places to walk your dogs, trails that offer different experiences in different seasons, or places that are safe for children and have walking paths good for people of all ages. Sound tempting?
There are many trails either in Bellingham or within twenty minutes away that are great places to return to again and again. River Bend Farm in Uxbridge has free parking; restrooms are available in the Visitors Center daily, from 10 am to 4 pm. Fishing is permitted, there’s easy canoe and kayak access into the canal beside the Visitors Center, and the tow path along the canal is flat.
Although the path is unpaved, it’s free of rocks and roots and provides lots of sun for an easy and pleasant walk during any season. It’s a good place to walk your dog, but signs remind dog owners that leashes are required for their pets (and of course we all know we need to clean up after them). I’ve seen many children on the trail when I’ve visited on various occasions, but there are no fences or railings between the path and the canal, so parents must keep a watchful eye on their little ones. The steep embankment into relatively deep water all along the path is to be taken seriously. It is, after all, a former tow path, part of the Blackstone River Canal system originally intended for commercial transportation between Worcester and Providence. While I’ve seen many adults on mountain bikes, the tow path isn’t a great place to take small children on bicycles.
We set out on an overcast afternoon in October hoping to see some fall colors and we weren’t disappointed. From the parking lot at River Bend Farm we walked across the bridge to the tow path and turned left towards West Hartford Avenue. The two stone bridges provided wonderful backdrops for photographs of the stone Craftsmanship that went into the construction of the bridges, and the fall colors as well. It had rained hard the night before and the Blackstone River was flowing impressively under the bridges.
When we turned back, we headed past the farm and hiked on the tow path. To our left we spotted plastic tubing in the woods, attached to trees. Around February, the staff at River Bend Farm begins to collect sap to make maple syrup. They have free demonstrations of maple sugaring in March.
The sun came out as we walked, so we took a rest on one of the many benches along the way that are available for weary walkers. The path continues all the way to the old Stanley Woolen Mill Building on Rt. 16, but that day we chose not to walk the full 3.8 miles of the tow path.
Suddenly blue heron decided to walk along the path ahead of us. Its colors would have helped it blend in with the plants along the river, except that it was walking down the middle of the path, just as we were. We continued walking quietly, hoping to get a photograph, but the huge bird quickly realized we were behind it and took off, giving us a great display of its nearly six-foot wing span.
River Bend Farm is located at 287 Oak Street in Uxbridge. From Bellingham Center take Rt. 140 to Rt. 16, turning left at Milford Hospital (west, toward Uxbridge). Continue on Rt. 16 for 2.7 miles. Just past the Imperial Car dealerships, turn right onto W. Hartford Ave. And continue for 3 miles until you reach the Blackstone River. You’ll go over two very narrow stone bridges, with Rice City Pond on your right and Tri-River Health Center on your left. Immediately after the Health Center turn left onto Oak Street; River Bend Farm is just past the Health Center on your left.
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a writer who loves the outdoors, and is the author of Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, More Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, Easy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed, and Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are. Her memoir, the backstory of Easy Walks, is My Liturgy of Easy Walks: Reclaiming hope in a world turned upside down.