Hammond Proposes Two Conservation Land Circuit Trails

By Kim Siebert MacPhail

Former Davis School principal Ralph Hammond—a member of the Bedford Arbor Resources, Trails, and Bicycle Advisory committees as well asa Bedford Land Steward and a River Steward—became particularly concerned about the health of Bedford’s children through his involvement with the Safe Routes to School initiative. That’s when he conceived of an idea that would encourage outdoor recreation anddiscovery opportunities for youths and adults.

“I was absolutely shocked at the first meeting for the Safe Routes to School when they made a presentation on childhood obesity,” Hammond said.“I remember back in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s when I went to Bedford High School and we all had to take the President Eisenhower Physical Fitness Test. . . .[Over the years] the weight range for obesity has been jacked up higher and higher—I think they’ve raised it three or four times. It’s gone almost out of control. I think we were just more active then than kids are now.”

Hammond’s connections with the various recreation and conservation groups in town as well as his abiding concern for human welfare recently came together in a concept for creating circuit trails on conservation land. He emphasized thathis idea is in the proposal and feedback-gathering stage, but that reactions from the Conservation Commission, Trails Committee, Bicycle Advisory, Bedford Land Stewards, and Bedford Arbor Resources have been generally favorable and that Rob Ackerman, Lane School principal, has also expressed enthusiasm.

“I look at all the wonderful conservation lands we have in town,” Hammond said recentlyat the Land Stewards’ fall meeting. “We have a terrific resource here and we’re all doing our best to [take care of] our little sections. But when we have trail walks—and this is coming from the Trails Committee—people rarely show up. And I think ‘How are people getting out to these [conservation land] places?’ Maybe [it would be a good idea] if we pull all these conservation lands into one nice path.”

Hammond has identified two loops—a 6.1 mile circuit and a 22.9 mile circuit—using the Bedford Public Library both as a beginning and ending point.

The shorter, 6.1 mile route winds through the Jenks Nature Trail, the Bay Circuit Trail, Springs Brook Park, the 9/11 Healing Garden, and the York and Lane Farm conservation lands, keeping fairly close to the center of town.

The longer, 22.9 mile route also starts at the library and goes through the Jenks and Bay Circuit Trails. Itthen veers off to the Elm Brook Trail and Hartwell Town Forest, the Minuteman Bikeway, andthe Shawsheen Well Field, up toward the Lexington line, back down to the Wilson Mill and the Bacon and Clark Mill (on Old Billerica Road), then to the Wilderness Land, Fawn Lake, Middlesex Community College, Buehler Ponds (near Lane School), the Minnie Reid  Trail and Huckins Farm, over to the Massport land through a series of different conservation trails and, eventually back to the library through the former Princeton property and the Webber/Vanderhoof trail.

For a comprehensive map and visual aid, visit: https://www.town.bedford.ma.us/index.php/trail-maps

Hammond envisions signs to guide people along the way in the form of triangular yellowmarkers with arrows indicating how far it is to the next destination of note or the distance to either end of the circuit.

Interesting geological formations can be seen, particularly on parts of the conservation land that would be included on the longer loop. Hammond mentioned a kettle pond he discovered near Middlesex Community College and an esker on the Valente land, as well as key historic sites.

“If everyone began buying into this,” Hammond said, “it would promote [a culture of] town walking and exercise.”

Hammond also envisions an online component with a virtual circuit trail experience, providing not only a map but also information about interesting aspectsofeach route, similar to the Concord River Boater’s guide he helped develop as a River Steward.

See https://www.sudbury-assabet-concord.org/concord_boaters_trail/

“You could do the tour from your house online, look at it, and get a full perspective of what the geology, geography, and history of Bedford are all about, just by following the route from your own computer.”

An important benefit of creating the circuit trails is the potential for increasing conservation land use, says Hammond.“I talked to Rob Ackerman [principal] at Lane School. He loves the idea. He said, ‘What about having a rite of passage where [the third graders] actually walk from Davis School, following the trails, up to Lane School?’ And maybe on that same day,” Hammond added, “the Lane School [fifth graders] wouldwalk down to the Middle School.”

Trail completion certificates for different ages, genders, and seasons of the year would also be a way of encouraging trail awareness and use. For example, an adult woman who completed the shorter circuit in the spring would receive a Louise K. Brown certificate. Names of recent award recipients could be posted at town events and published in a variety waysduring the year.

In addressing concerns following Hammond’s presentation to the Land Stewards that the circuits as conceived are too long, Trails Committee member and Land Steward Dan Hurwitz said, “It seems to me, if the loop is there, whether anybody ever walks the entire loop in a continuous thing is not the point. I don’t think very many people walk the Bay Circuit Trail beginning to end. Having the loop is a great thing because it gives people a target. It doesn’t matter if it’s too far to walk in a day. It’s a target. If someone wants to train for the marathon, it’s a good route; if someone wants to ride their mountain bike, it’s a good route. . . .I think it’s a great idea.”

Another Land Steward reflected that at his summer home in the Adirondacks a 50-mile circuit has been created and people who complete it receive a patch and a certificate. “It’s been extremely popular. It’s brought a lot of people in from outside the area who want to do the hike.”

Head Steward Yan Thomas commented that she has concerns regarding some areas of the trails. “I know two areas very well and there are some fragile parts. There’s a vernal pool on Altmann that [we’d want to divert the trail away from]. It’s muddy most of the seasons.”

“The Land Stewards know their land and that’s why I want you to be involved,” said Hammond. “I think we need to put in some bog bridges and boardwalks—we’ll have to really know those spots and it’s good to alert us to them.”

Land Steward Bob Dorer asked Hammond if he thought that getting the shorter loop going soon would help build enthusiasm for the longer loop.

“I would think so,” Hammond responded. “They’d just have to put up some markers to indicate where the route is,  then have a day to launch it with the Selectmen, cut the ribbon and off we go. . . .There are different people who are excited about this that want to do it. It has potential.”

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