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 Union Station in Northampton, Mass. Calvin Coolidge used to ride this train to the State House each day when he was the Governor right after WWI.
Now, over 80 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, and babies in baby carriages.
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.
About 51 miles are now open with more and more opening each year. Inch-by-inch as we say. A cooperative effort between the state, local governmenst, and real estate owners can help to open the rest. About 85 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. There are many rail trail projects underway in Mass that will directly connect with the Mass Central Rail Trail.
The MCRT will provide an east-west counterpart to the existing Appalachian Trail, and connections between the existing north-south New England Scenic, Midstate 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.
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’ll also see all the parking lots near the trail, bike share kiosks near the trail, proximity to state and municipal parks and other useful info.