We experienced an unseasonable warm wave (not exactly heat wave, but still) in January, and people went out in droves to spend time outdoors. We realized we could even manage a ride on our tandem, so pulled it out, and got it ready. Where to go? We’d heard of a new section of the Bruce Freeman trail in Concord, so off we went to explore.
Parking signs always seem to be the last amenity arranged when new sections of rail trail are created, but with a little on-line search and some helpful directions, we found the parking at the northern end of the Concord section of the Bruce Freeman trail directly across from the MA Correctional Institution, Concord (the west side of the prison, just south of the Concord rotary).
For now, the trail stops short of crossing Rt. 2 until a pedestrian bridge is built, but we hear reports that construction is slated to begin on the bridge next summer. This bridge will eventually link up this portion of trail with a much larger section of trail in Acton and beyond.
We got on our adaptive tandem and headed south toward East Concord center, wearing jackets since the wind was brisk, but the sun felt wonderful. The short (about 2-1/2 mile stretch) of rail trail crosses several rivers, the Assabet, as well as a smaller stream.
It also takes travelers directly across the railroad tracks, and right through the commuter rail station in East Concord. Be advised, to walk your bikes through this stretch. It is quite narrow and has some rather sharp curves to navigate.
We met plenty of folks on the trail near East Concord center, and some fellow bike riders as well. For the most part the trail was clear and dry, but we found several sections with patches of ice that required great care to cross.
One street crossing had snow pushed into the rail trail crossing, forcing us to get out and walk the bike around the icy patch to get safely through the area. I had to remind myself that it really was January, and getting a bike ride in this time of year was a gift, not something we can usually count on.
Interpretive signs along the trail offer some fascinating insights to the history of the area, reminding travelers that this really was a railway line. Some portions still have train tracks still in place on either side of the trail. In East Concord center, rails have been embedded in the walkways next to the river, offering a view of what the area was like when it was an active rail line. Next to the prison walls, an interpretive sign explains that the prison was built in the late 1800’s, and at one point new inmates were required to arrive for their sentences at the prison by rail.
The paved trail reaches as far as Powder Mill Ledges road, where a fence indicated the trail ends for now. We spotted walkers going beyond the tunnel, but we chose not to take our bike farther. It appears that work has been done to clear the track farther south at this point, but we’ll have to wait to see when this section of trail gets developed.
A serpentine track up to road level at this point takes you out to Powder Mill Ledges Road, but no parking exists right at this spot. We ventured up the winding path, just because, then headed back the way we came back onto the trail.
We expect this section of the Bruce Freeman rail trail to be heavily used because of its proximity to East Concord center. Road crossings have pedestrian lights, which are helpful and needed. We look forward to seeing further construction that will allow a much longer ride when this portion joins up with more of the trail to the north. Happy trails!
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.