By TOM HORTH (8/98)
The Merrimack River Trail
The Merrimack River Trail was proposed to connect from the northern tip of Plum Island at the mouth of the river all the way to Canada, following the river to Franconia Notch where it would cross the Appalachian Trail, and then on north along the Connecticut River to Canada. The effort was hosted by the Merrimack River Watershed Council. They employed Kathy Hersh to work on it, which she did with great skill and enthusiasm. Many pieces are in place and the MRWC published a guidebook. However, they ran out of money to support Kathy, and the project has slowed down. The main section in place locally is in Newburyport from Moseley Woods (near the Chain Bridge) to and through Maudslay State Park.
With West Newbury's acquisition of the River Bend Conservation Area, we have the potential to add a significant section to the MRT (see below). The proposed downtown rail-trail loop in Newburyport would add another section (also see below), although the MRT is primarily a walking trail.
The Bay Circuit Trail
The Bay Circuit Greenway was first proposed in about 1929 by Charles Eliot II as an outer emerald necklace around Boston from the North Shore to the South Shore. In the late '80's the legislature voted a small amount of money to do some preliminary planning. (You can't say we move precipitously.) One result was the formation of the Bay Circuit Alliance, a grassroots organization in the 50 or so towns and cities in the proposed Greenway. The Alliance proposed a trail to link open spaces, running clear around the Greenway, with a goal of completion by the year 2000. About æ of the 200+ mile trail is now in place. Maybe we'll meet the goal.
Newburyport and Newbury are the North Shore end of the Bay Circuit Trail. You'll see a sign and map on the Plum Island Turnpike just opposite the future Joppa Flats Audubon building site. The trail is designated and partially marked through Newbury. In fact, its essentially completed to well beyond the Charles River southwest of Boston except for a short gap in the northern part of Rowley and a bigger gap near Lowell. The Merrimack Valley Planning Commission has a grant to search for possible ways to close the Rowley gap, and they have hired Kathy Hersh (of Merrimack River Trail fame) part time this summer to work on the problem. She's making great progress and we're hoping for good news soon. If you have ideas give her a call at the MVPC (978-374-0519).
There are detailed guidebooks to much of the existing Bay Circuit Trail. The Alliance is also working on an overall guidebook, which we hope will begin to appear in pieces this fall. Call Rich Ross (462-2655), chair of the Newbury Bay Circuit Committee, for info on the BCT in Newbury. Call Tom Horth (463-8843) if you are interested in info about BCT maps and guides, or visit BCA headquarters, which are located in Moor & Mountain across the tracks from the old railroad depot in Andover (978-470-1982).
The Border-to-Boston Bikeway
MassBike/North Shore is the organization working to build a bikeway from the New Hampshire border in Salisbury through Newburyport and Newbury and on to Danvers and Boston. Its in the feasibility study stage now. Newburyport's proposed downtown rail-trail loop would be a part of it. For more info contact Dan Streeter (462-4605) or MassBike/North Shore, P.O.Box 308, Hathorne, MA 01937-0308., or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Old Town Hill Reservation
The Trustees of Reservations' Old Town Hill Reservation in Newbury has recently been much enlarged by gifts of land from Susan Page Little. It now stretches from the salt marshes of Plum Island Sound to Boston Road. A new trail map of the enlarged Reservation should be available later this year. A new trail has been proposed running from Hay Street to Boston Road which would tie some of the new lands to the rest of the Reservation and also allow moving a section of the Bay Circuit Trail off paved road. A couple of small wet areas will require simple boardwalks. TTOR and the Newbury Bay Circuit Committee have applied for a small Recreational Trails grant for boardwalk materials. When and if we have the go-ahead, volunteers will be needed to assist in completion of the boardwalks and trail.
Newburyport City Forest and the Artichoke Corridor
A new loop trail has been built in the Newburyport City Forest. This was done partially by the Turning Point students and partially by our workparty on July 11. The entrance is on Hale St. between Turkey Hill Rd. and the new City Forest signpost. Look for a telephone pole with a large orange blaze (not put there by us). This is part of a vision for a much larger loop trail in the Artichoke Corridor which summer intern Claire Robinson has been working on in the Newburyport Planning Office under a grant from the Mass. Dept. of Environmental Management. The Turning Point students also have begun work on another piece of the puzzle, a section of trail north from Woodman Park, which is at the end of Crow Lane.
A proposed trail along the Newburyport side of the Artichoke Reservoir between Rt. 113 and Plummer Spring Lane/Middle St. has received conditional approval from the Newburyport Water Commission, but the City Council has reservations in response to issues raised by abutters. The Council has referred it to their Planning and Development Subcommittee. It doesn't look good, but should it be approved, we have committed ourselves to building and maintaining the trail through this incredibly beautiful area. In any case, the discussions may be a catalyst for establishment of a multi-town Friends of the Artichoke committee similar to those that already exist for Maudslay, Old Town Hill, the Parker River Wildlife Sanctuary, and for the Parker River itself. Much of the Artichoke watershed is in West Newbury and some of the upper reaches are in Byfield, so Its a true three-community resource.
The Martin Burns, Bill Forward & Cranes Pond Wildlife Management Areas
These large open spaces owned by the Mass. Division of Fisheries and Wildlife in Newbury, West Newbury, Groveland and Rowley offer tremendous potential for walking and riding when not being used for hunting (never on Sunday, nor actually most of the year). All of these little-known areas are very beautiful and seem surprisingly remote. There are many existing trails, some overgrown and needing attention. Aaron Millet has been exploring the possibilities for trails with the managers of these lands, who are cooperative, but trail maps are nonexistent and certainly needed in areas as large as these. We may schedule some walks in the fall when these areas are at their best. They are some of the Newburys' best kept secrets! One intriguing possibility: the MBTA has apparently replaced the old bridge over the tracks on Kent's Island in the Bill Forward WMA. It allows access to the old road to Ireland Point where the Little River joins the Parker. But does the road still exist? Or could it be restored for walking? Watch out for poison ivy if you go exploring, and please report your findings.
River Bend Conservation Area
West Newbury's new River Bend Conservation Area adds wonderful local trail opportunities. It connects the Mill Pond Conservation Area with Its network of trails to the Merrimack, and opens new opportunities for adding a West Newbury section to the Merrimack River Trail. Alex Hamilton and Boy Scout Troop 26 have been working on trails in this new area. Alex has agreed to lead a hike here in the fall.
Proposed Newburyport Rail-Trail Loop
Preliminary studies have been going on for some time on a proposed rail-trail loop using Newburyport's abandoned rail lines to connect the new rail station with the downtown. There are some issues which need creative solutions, but the result would be a magnificent amenity, allowing rail commuters to easily bike to the station, and offering recreational opportunities to everyone. It could be a fabulous linear park To get an idea of what it could be, walk the stretch just north of Washington St. toward Merrimack St. This is maintained by a volunteer. Greg Rideout will probably lead an exploratory walk around the loop in the fall.
Newburyport On-Road Bicycle Enhancements Needed?
Most of the minor roads in Newbury and West Newbury are pretty good for biking because traffic is sparse. The busier roads like 1A and the Plum Island Turnpike in Newbury and sections of Rt. 113 in West Newbury have painted breakdown lanes that are seldom used for parking, and make reasonable bike lanes. Biking is a little less safe in Newburyport with many cars parked on the streets. Many cities and towns have improved the situation, especially for the casual biker and for kids, by designating relatively safe bike routes on minor streets and by slight improvements to shoulders. These are low-cost improvements. Should we advocate for such on-road bicycle accommodation? Wouldn't it be nice to have a designated route from Plum Island to Maudslay State Park which would intersect the new rail-trail? And how about finding some creative way to make the Rt. 1 bridge over the Merrimack bike friendly and safe? Its certainly plenty wide enough to accommodate a bikeway, but just now Its rather bike-unfriendly. Perhaps we could help find solutions.
The Salisbury Rail-Trail and Amesbury Powow Riverwalk and Bikeway
According to a draft report from the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission of transportation plans for the area, design of Salisbury's rail-trail bikeway is scheduled for this year and construction for next year. Amesbury's Powow Riverwalk and Bikeway is also scheduled for construction next year. We will try to get more information and keep you posted. When completed, these trails will certainly increase the demand for better bike access over the Rt. 1 Merrimack River bridge.
The Merrimack Valley Planning Commission has a Geographic Information System (GIS) which is a high-powered computer mapping system. They also have a Global Positioning System (GPS) that can be used for locating trails precisely. They are applying for a grant from the National Recreational Trails funds, administered by the Mass. Dept. of Environmental Management, to use their GPS and GIS systems to map all of the public trails in this area. If they succeed it will be quite a boon to those of us who like to walk or ride on these trails. We can probably assist them by helping them find all of the public trails. We should know if they get the grant by October. Keep tuned.