We headed out on a weekday, hoping to avoid the crowds we have observed on railtrails on sunny weekend days. The beautiful day brought people out regardless, but we wore face masks, and did our best to avoid interacting with fellow visitors to the Mass Central Railtrail, starting in Oakham, MA next to the Ware River.
North of Rutland State Park, following Rt. 122, Worcester Road, we spotted numerous access points to the Mass Central Rail trail, but chose to stop next to a foot bridge over the Ware River, just west of Coldbrook Road, a little west of the hydropower plant on the Ware River. Few cars were here, and we had no problem maintaining distance between fellow travelers.
Since the last time we visited this area in 2017, the rail trail has been greatly improved. On our last visit the sharp downhill towards the Ware river was rutted, rocky, slippery, and very difficult to manage on our tandem bike. But since then the trail has now been improved with switchbacks, and the trail surface all the way up the hill is hard-packed, and has a light crushed stone topping.
While this surface will work for those looking for wheelchair access, the transition points, grade crossings between the rail trail, that is, roads the trail crosses, are choppy. Some have pretty substantial gaps, so getting across these with our tandem bike was tricky, for those in wheel chairs, nearly impossible without assistance. One portion of the trail travels on a road for about 100 yards until the trail picks back up and continues on. Signs directing travelers where the to pick up the trail would be a great help for first time visitors. When traveling west, turn right onto this quiet road and look for the continuation of the trail on your left.
Beaver activity was evident throughout our eight miles out on the trail (for a total of over sixteen miles of leisurely riding, including a lunch stop, for time on the trail of about three hours.) Lots and lots of water is in this area: swampy ponds, streams flowing beside the trail, and multiple beaver dams. We visited mid day, and thus did not see any beaver, but their work was all around us, as well as the impact of their dams on the landscape. Everywhere we looked, small streams flowed around the beaver dams, working to circumvent the dams and allow water to continue flowing downstream.
We found a lunch spot next to a flooded area that looked perfect for a heron rookery or a spot for ospreys to nest. The dead trees in the flooded area reminded us of other areas we have enjoyed visiting where Great Blue Herons happily nest, but we saw no evidence of this in the area we stopped at.
While most trail users were extremely courteous and worked to help us avoid getting too close to them, some users insisted on traveling side by side, allowing next to no space for oncoming travelers. Others on the trail traveling in pairs insisted on splitting up, forcing us into the middle, between them. Sigh… Overcast days, and setting out earlier would have helped reduce the number of people we saw on the trail. As we travel, we continue to learn.
Spending time outdoors is a good thing for each of us, and rail trails offer solid footing, so they naturally will be the locations many choose if they are unfamiliar with other options. Here’s hoping folks will continue to get outdoors, and will do their best to be considerate of others on the trail. Be safe out there, and 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.