The morning was overcast, and we started relatively early. Both are great strategies for finding fewer people on trails that have felt overcrowded in these days when we are still rather limited in our activities due to the ongoing pandemic. Sure enough, only one other car was in the parking lot when my friend and her children arrived to meet me for a physically distanced walk along the SNETT in Bellingham.
We met at the Lake Street entrance, and our goal was to grab a peak at the ongoing progress on the tunnel that will soon ease travel between the Franklin and Bellingham sections of the trail. A current inconvenience to neighbors, who must go miles out of our way to get from one side of the trail to the other, avoiding Prospect Street in Franklin for now. But for those of us who have been lobbying for this tunnel to be installed, it has been a long wait, and is exciting to see the progress.
We had no sooner stepped onto the trail when we heard sirens–oh my, two police cars turned onto the other section of the trail at Lake Street and headed in the direction of Center Street. We soon spotted the officers stopped to talk to someone on the trail, and then they were out, headed off the trail together. We hope all turned out all right, and are grateful for the quick response of Bellingham’s police.
Walking with my friend reminded me of walks I took in years past with yet another beloved, and knowledgeable friend well versed in botany. A few steps along and I was sharing the fun, with this friend’s children of exploring a trail, looking for interesting fungus of different types, ferns along the way, and the ubiquitous bittersweet, an invasive.
I was able to point out the “bossy crossing” built back when the train came through, intersecting the Crooks’ family farm. A small tunnel was built underneath the railroad to allow the cows to access the meadows on the far side of the railroad line, away from the Crooks’ family farmhouse on Lake Street.
Our quiet walk got a little noisier as we encountered a mower from DCR powering up the trail towards us. We moved to the far side of the trail in single file, and hoped no rocks would be flung our way. The mower stirred up some yellow jackets along the trail (they build ground nests, and obviously were disturbed by the mower). Other trail visitors walked right into the upset yellow jackets, so my friend went back and dropped a stick near the nest, warning the next trail walker headed that way to take care. He thanked her.
The poison ivy along the edges was surely well-distributed along the trail in the mower’s wake, so we made a mental note to brush off our boots, and leave them outside when we got home. We may need to wash them off, since oil from poison ivy can remain on shoes and clothes for months…
The tunnel at Prospect Street is still an active work zone that is fenced off, and we kept well back, but were still able to see that lots of progress has been made in just the few weeks since I last visited. Pallets of cement sections waited on the trail to be stacked together as retaining walls when I had last checked, but this visit showed the retaining walls are in place, and much of the soil has been back filled against the tunnel and retaining walls. The crew were working on the Franklin side of the tunnel, and were hard at work when we stopped to check on the progress of the project.
It felt good to meet a friend on the trail, and watch her children exploring items of interest along the way. We wore masks understanding that even though we are outdoors, there are times we were unable to avoid others on the trail, especially those who do not make an effort to move over to avoid us! Many wore masks, and we felt grateful. Others did not, so we had to work harder to keep ourselves (and possibly, them) safe.
As it turned out, by the time we returned to the trail head we found at least ten other cars parked next to us. The sun had come out, it was later in the morning, and the crowds we had been working to avoid had returned to the trail. While we rejoice that more folks are becoming active and understanding the benefits of spending time outdoors, it is still a challenge to figure out how to stay safe in the outdoors. Take care, please walk single file when encountering others, 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.