I often get the feeling I’m crossing into another place and time when I stride through the woods right behind my house in Bellingham. We live within sight of Silver Lake, which at one time was the local “hot spot” for entertainment of all kinds–a carousel carried wooden horse in endless circles in the beach area, and a dance hall offered Big Band tunes in the 1940’s. I hear there were even performing horses that dove into the lake from great heights!
Life is much quieter at the lake these days, and even quieter still on the day after winter’s first snow. We headed back to the woods behind the lake to look for animal prints, and the new snow told the story of many, many animals that make these woods home. Turkey prints were clear to see in some spots. Deer tracks created a long, mostly straight line from one wooded section to another. Coyote tracks followed the same paths we took out to the sand pits, an area once covered with blueberry bushes. Area children paid the landowner fifty cents a day to access the blueberry fields. Those blueberries are now gone, and after thirty years the land is slowly recovering from having been mined for its sand for construction purposes.
But it is the trolley track that always stops me. One hundred years ago, we had public transportation that came directly to Silver Lake. By trolley, one could travel to Woonsocket, to Franklin, or Milford, all destinations I must drive to these days. Cars were neither common nor necessary. How very different from the suburbia we live in today.
The tracks are long gone, but the raised bed the trolleys traveled on remains, a reminder of the immense efforts poured into connecting communities. These days we are putting effort into creating community railtrails, with the focus on providing for non-motorized transit, for recreation, and one hopes, for transportation as well. Mile by mile, these trails are being constructed, often on the bones of old rail beds, and managed by town, state and non-profit groups, again seeking to connect communities and encourage us to be more active.
And so we walk, following animal tracks, walking through history, and watching streams make their way through the snow.
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.