It was a perfect day to get out and our tandem bike was ready. We heard about a railtrail in Topsfield but had a hard time determining what condition the trail was in, or even if the trail was continuous, or broken up by highways and other barriers. And so we set out to discover for ourselves. Wonderful surprises awaited!
We’ve never visited the Topsfield Fair, but found our way to one of the trail heads almost exactly across the street from the main fairground entrance on Rt. 1 in Topsfield. The blinking trail crossing lights are a huge help in getting safely across this busy road. A number of additional grade crossings are along the span of this 7 miles or so of trail, and many of them had similar blinking lights to help alert motorists of our presence. We found drivers in this area to be almost uniformly considerate of people using the trail.
We headed south towards Danvers first. Crossing the Ipswich River, we spied kayakers enjoying the river. A perfect day to be out on the river.
South of this river crossing is a trail on the left that heads out to the Ipswich Canal, a mile+ flat sunny walk alongside the canal.
A bridge took us to the far side of the canal. Walking was better on the near side, closer to the railtrail. The far side had swampy areas that would have required waterproof foot gear to get through.
But great white herons seemed to enjoy the far side, away from us. We were able to ride our bike alongside the canal, even though it is mostly grass, not crushed stone surface.
We found loads of mulberries along this stretch of trailtrail. Huge blackberries too! (No photos of blackberries–they were eaten before I had a chance to get pictures…)
The trail travels through lots of wetlands, so we enjoyed views of cattails, tall grasses, and ventured out onto the board walk into the swamp. We spotted no pitcher plants, nor sundews, but we did see a little sphagnum moss.
One little turtle perched on a log off in the water. There were several additional footpaths we came across on our travels toward Danvers that appeared to only be accessible from the railtrail.
For the ambitious hiker there is more than enough to keep one occupied for an entire weekend or more!
We noticed few rock cuts in this almost perfectly level trail. What we did notice was that the width of the trail varied quite a bit–where we started out the trail was only about six feet wide–crushed stone dust. When we got down nearer to Danvers the trail widened to a more standard railtrail width of about ten feet.
Picnic tables in Topsfield Center, right next to a public parking area, provided a shady spot to enjoy our lunch.
After we ate lunch we headed north past Topsfield center,
then on to Boxford, and the trail became even narrower. No crushed stone but the surface is hard packed, and clearly trail folks have worked to keep the brush cut back so we had no problem traveling all the way till the trail came to Rt 95. From there we could have taken the road to go around the highway, but chose to head back.
On our way back from Boxford we spotted someone on the trail brushing out vegetation and piling it on a tarp. Unsung heros, in my book. Thanks!
We met Joe Geller, chairman of the Topsfield Rail Trail Committee near the Rt. 1 trail crossing. What a treat to be able to thank someone who has been working hard over the years to make this trail a reality. Thanks so much, Joe, and all the folks who have worked to make this wonderful railtrail a reality. For more information, maps, and much more check out: http://www.topsfieldtrail.org/
So if you’re headed to the Topsfield Fair, be sure to bring your bikes along, and make time to enjoy this great resource for the whole family.
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a personal historian who loves the outdoors, and is the author of Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, More Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, and editor of Easy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed. Just out is her latest book, Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are. She has been a freelance writer for numerous local, regional, and national publications for the past 20+ years, has helped numerous families to save their stories, and has recorded multiple veterans oral histories, now housed at the Library of Congress. She is a co-author of the recent community history, Bellingham Now and Then.