In the early ’60s a small group of locals in southwestern Wisconsin decided to do something creative with their stretch of abandoned railroad. They opened a 32-mile thoroughfare between Elroy and Sparta and designated it a recreational path for bikers and walkers. More than 50 years later rail trails have become magnets for outdoor enthusiasts and
a focal point of urban renewal across the country.
Here are five of the best paved bike trails in New England. For the one nearest to you, visit the Rail-to-Trail Conservancy website at www.railstotrails.org.
CAPE COD RAIL TRAIL, South Dennis to Wellfleet The 25-mile trail takes you through the interior of the Cape. The salty air is a pleasant reminder that the Cape Cod National Seashore and its 40-mile stretch of pounding Atlantic surf is never far away. At the visitors center in Salt Pond, you can veer off the trail for two miles to lounge on the dunes of Coast Guard Beach. Continue on to Brewster for a series of swimming holes known as kettle ponds. Nearby, a favorite picnic spot, the Pleasant Lake General Store in Harwich, was once a popular stop on the Old Colony Railroad Line. www.mass.gov/dcr/parks/southeast/ccrt.htm
NASHUA RIVER RAIL TRAIL, Ayer to Nashua, N.H. Crossing the New Hampshire border, this 11-mile beauty strip cuts through the towns of Ayer, Groton, Pepperell, and Dunstable. The trail was part of the Boston and Maine Railroad, before stopping service in 1982. A sylvan slice of New England, snaking through the rolling countryside, the trail is at its best during fall when trees blaze with color. www.mass.gov/dcr/parks/northeast/nash.htm
NORWOTTUCK RAIL TRAIL, Northampton “Norwottuck,” a Native American word for “in the midst of the river,” is an appropriate name for this 11-mile path that borders the mighty Connecticut River in central Massachusetts. This former Boston and Maine Railroad line connected passengers and freight from North-ampton to Boston. The last train rolled through in 1980 and the rail trail opened in 1993. One of the highlights is pedaling across the Connecticut River on a 1,400-foot-long suspension bridge that connects Northampton to Hadley. The route then meanders through open farmland before heading through a tunnel under Route 9. A favorite stop is Pete’s Drive-In, a burger and ice cream joint less than a half-mile down Route 9. The trail ends at Station Road in South Amherst. www.mass.gov/dcr/parks/central/nwrt.htm
UPDATE: The trail from East Street to South Maple Street in Hadley closed for the remainder of the fall. Users are asked to stay off of this closed section of path. MassBike has posted potential detour information, click here.
EAST BAY BICYCLE PATH, Providence to Bristol, R.I. All it takes is a mere six miles on a paved path to leave a highly industrialized section of Providence and reach the sheltered coastline of Narragansett Bay. No wonder locals would rather bike to the beach than deal with car traffic. The 14.5-mile-long path, originally part of the Providence-Worcester line, heads southeast from Providence along the scenic shores of the bay to the town of Bristol. Less than two miles into the ride, fishing trawlers and sailboats start to appear on the right and small inlets and wetlands can be seen on the left. In the warmer months, you’re likely to see locals clamming for littlenecks in the shallow waters along the route. That’s quite a contrast from the view of the Providence skyline receding behind you. Soon you’ll reach Colt State Park and Bristol Town Beach, the finest spot for sunbathing along the route. The trail ends in Bristol at Independence Park, near a handful of seafood restaurants. www.riparks.com/Locations/LocationEastBay.html
ISLAND LINE TRAIL, Burlington, Vt. This 14-mile gem of a route hugs the shores of Lake Champlain with the Adirondack Mountains rising on the New York State side. The Central Vermont Railroad built the line, with the first train arriving in Burlington in December 1849. Oakledge Park, the starting point on the southeastern side, is one of many spots along the trail where you’ll find small beaches and picnic areas. At Roundhouse Point, you’ll start to see the first of numerous sailboats tacking across the large lake. North Beach, at the trail’s midpoint mark, is a good place to picnic along the rocky shores. One of the best features of the Burlington Bike Path (a section of the trail) is that you’re always only a block or two away from a good deli. www.islandlinetrail.org
Stephen Jermanok can be reached at www.ActiveTravels