The proposed Minuteman Bikeway extension may or may not be resurrected through a crucial vote at Special Town Meeting Nov. 14.
But regardless of the outcome, on Nov. 15 the old railroad bed between Railroad Avenue and the Concord line will continue as part of a complex regional walking and cycling trails system.
Bedford is one of 37 cities and towns with trails that comprise the Bay Circuit Trail and Greenway, a project of the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC).
The network incorporates Bedford’s narrow-gauge trail from Depot Park north past Fawn Lake, then veering northeast through the Gov. Winthrop conservation land to Middlesex Community College.
The Bay Circuit also follows the so-called Reformatory Branch all the way to the Minute Man National Historical Park area in Concord. The two segments are linked by Springs and The Great Roads and the Jenks Nature Trail to Railroad Avenue.
In its entirety, the Bay Circuit traverses municipal forests, land-trust properties, and town centers as well as the park, said Kristen Sykes, who as the AMC’s southern New England conservation projects and partnerships director has had responsibility for the circuit for more than a decade.
“We use existing trail networks and we partner with other trail groups,” Sykes explained. “It really is an amazing ability to pull together a lot of land onto one trail system – a trail of trails, because it overlaps with lots of local trails. Bedford is a great example, where the Minuteman, the Narrow Gauge and the Reformatory Branch intersect.”
The northernmost point on the crescent-shaped network, which more or less parallels Interstate 495, is Plum Island in Newburyport, and its southern counterpart is the bay at the Duxbury-Kingston line. The westernmost points are in Marlborough, Southborough, and Ashland.
Sykes said she has traversed the entire route – in segments of various lengths – twice over the past two years. “When people have done the whole thing, they discovered recreational and ecological amenities in their own towns that they didn’t know existed,” she commented, “It gives people a new appreciation.”
“When the AMC stepped into the role of overseeing the Bay Circuit Trail, we wanted more people to learn about it as a fantastic resource literally right out of people’s back doors,” Sykes remarked. “We have a whole trails department we work with to do a lot of projects. The majority of the work is done by the volunteers and we’re so lucky we have people who care about the trail.”
Sykes said the Bay Circuit was first envisioned in the late 1920s by Benton MacKaye, considered the originator of the Appalachian Trail and founder of the Wilderness Society.
“It really got like what we know today in 1990 at a meeting the National Park Service held in Boston,” she continued. “Alan French, who ran an outdoor store in Andover, was motivated by this idea. He worked with the Park Service to make the trail and greenway a reality.”
“The trail is always evolving as we add new pieces and reroute it,” Sykes explained. She hopes the dead-end at the college won’t last long; “We are working with volunteers in Billerica and Tewksbury to connect that loop.”
As the network evolves, she said, “We want to make sure we have some kind of agreement in place to make sure the trail is protected and maintained by volunteers.”
Mickey Tommins, Bay Circuit Trail coordinator for the AMC, added, “We are working to increase access to different trail sections for people who have mobility limitations.”
The Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, minutes from the Bedford line in Concord, is “an awesome resource. It’s a great access point,” Tommins said. He noted that “there are 14 commuter rail stations you can take, because some sections go down main streets.”
“A couple of years ago we did a ‘story map’ with which we highlight historic things along the trail,” Sykes related. “There are so many historical amenities along the Bay Circuit – parts of the Underground Railroad, land where native peoples were active centuries before.” She added that there’s an ongoing project to develop an app for the entire trail network.
Sykes said the AMC designed a special pin for anyone who runs, walks, and/or cycles through the entire 230 miles of the Bay Circuit. “If you do the whole thing, all you need to do is send photos and an essay of some highlights.”
She noted that “there were a lot of people doing the whole thing during the pandemic – there was a whole family, even a dog.”
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at [email protected], or 781-983-1763
Correction 09.04.2022 – The Bay Circuit Trail goes through Governor Winthrop, not Bueler Ponds as originally stated. The mention of the trail following Springs and The Great Roads and the Jenks Nature Trail to Railroad Avenue was omitted in the original publication. Thanks to Michael Barbehenn for the correction.