PIECING TOGETHER AND BUILDING OUT
THE LONGEST RAIL TRAIL IN NEW ENGLAND
Mass Central Rail Trail
BY THE NUMBERS
Number of miles from Boston to
Number of miles open today
Number of miles owned by a protecting entiy
Number of miles owned by a non-protecting entity
An intrepid adventure traveler can still find traces of it in the wilderness. A 104 mile railroad line was shattered by a hurricane in 1938. The line once stretched from downtown Boston at North Station to Northampton's Union Station in the CT River Valley. Calvin Coolidge used to ride this train to the State House each day when he was the Governor right after WWI.
Now, around 100 years later, dedicated volunteers, local property owners, state government agencies and business partners in 25 communities are working to open it up as a linear park. Instead of trains there will be tourists and locals, bed & breakfast inns, cross-country skiers, bicyclists, hikers, joggers, babies in baby carriages and people in wheelchairs .
It won't be easy. While much of the old right of way is passable to a dedicated traveler today, in part the ownership is not clear. The railway has faded so far from memory that many maps don't even show the former route. A number of the bridges were torn down for scrap. In some areas, some of the land was sold and in other areas encroachments seem to have occurred - taking advantage of the unclear ownership in some communities. However, volunteers can work wonders.
Over 53 miles are now open with more and more opening each year. Inch-by-inch as we say. A cooperative effort between the state, local governments, and real estate owners can help to open the rest. About 90.5 miles ± are in some kind of public protected status.
Many landowners are quite positive about allowing a trail to pass near or over their property. Real estate agents are particularly enthusiastic, because they know that such features contribute to quality of life and vibrant communities. But rail trails are unfamiliar to many others. And an educational effort is required to help people see the benefits, evaluate the experience of other communities, and rationally weigh the costs. We hope that eventually every property owner and resident will support the project.
Long trails provide numerous recreational and transportation opportunities, both for short trips and for longer adventures. The vision of an east-west trail linking Massachusetts is within reach. We know that the state government has “seen the light” so to speak. We know that the renaissance underway in New York’s “Gateway” cities because of Governor Cuomo’s Empire State Trail project—nearly doubling the mileage there to 750 miles in just 4 years has been noticed in the Massachusetts State House and a concerted effort is underway to accelerate the conversion of dead railroads here in Mass. The Mass Central Rail Trail will join numerous existing parks and conservation lands, in effect making them bigger and more viable.
The MCRT will provide an east-west counterpart to the existing Appalachian Trail, and connections between the existing north-south oriented, New England Scenic Trail, Mid-state Tral and Bay Circuit Trails. Near Boston the MCRT will provide connections to the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail, Assabet River Rail Trail, the Minuteman Rail Trail and other projects close-in Boston will connect directly with the MCRT. Seventeen hiking or multiuse trails will connect directly with the MCRT.
Indeed, The Metropolitan Area Planning Council is leading a project called the Landline which is a web of linear parks that will produce a network of 1,400 miles and the Mass Central Rail Trail will be the major Massachusetts link in the East Coast Greenway which will run from Calais Maine to Key West Florida.
For an interactive Google map of the MCRT’s progress, click on this link. There you can scroll down and see each section of the corridor. See where it is open, where it isn't, where it is under-construction etc. Check the drop downs and you'll see buttons that show all the parking lots near the trail. Even a link to show bike-share kiosks near the trail, proximity to state and municipal parks, where all the old RR milemarkers area and their condition and other useful info.