The purpose of Connections is to provide greenways and trails constituents in Massachusetts with updated information about DCR’s grants and programs, but also to describe innovative tools, share success stories and serve as a forum for issues relating to greenways and trails development and management in our state. Ideally, Connections will help strengthen the network of individuals and organizations working to create a network of greenways and trails that will eventually connect the residents of Massachusetts to each other, to our communities and to our remarkable landscape.
Previous Connections Articles
Summer Trail Crew Opportunities in Massachusetts
SCA MassParks AmeriCorps:
Imagine it. . .
You roll over, slightly tangled in your sleeping bag, and see the condensation thick on the walls of your Mountain Hardwear tent. Is it time to get up already? You glance at your watch groaning to see that, yes, it’s 7 o’clock and time to start the day. You unzip your sleeping bag and search through the bottom of your tent to find your well-worn Carharts and a mildly dirty long-sleeved shirt. Who cares? No one will see the dirt for you’re sure that your trusty rain gear will be enveloping it again today. You slide into your mud encrusted hiking boots and cringe because they remain wet from the previous day’s work, but you lace them up anyway and stumble into the “kitchen” for breakfast. There you see one of your crewmates already cooking some oatmeal so you pull up a bench and fish for your bowl. Your body screams out in hunger and you ingest the oatmeal in huge mouthfuls. You pack up your gear- backpack, water bottles, and tools and start to hike. It will be another long hard day on the trail and you start to question why you’re here. Is it for the $75 a week, the experience to put on your resume, and the scholarship you’ll earn to put towards your insurmountable college loans? Maybe.
Nine months ago you packed up your car and drove to Hawley where you began your service with SCA’s Massachusetts Parks AmeriCorps. You’d graduated in the spring and were looking for somewhere to apply your skills when you found the SCA website. After so many years of studying you wanted to do something meaningful, to give back, and in the end you chose the MassParks AmeriCorps program here in western Massachusetts because you wanted to work with kids and teach environmental education in the schools, you wanted to learn the art of trail maintenance, and you wanted to live and work as part of a community. You knew you would gain skills and see a new part of the country, but that was merely where the adventure began.
And look at all you’ve accomplished thus far this season including building the bridge over Dunbar Brook, the box steps at Hemlock Gorge, GPSing the rail trail out in Waltham, and clearing ice storm damage from numerous trails across the state. You made these structures, you learned how to wield a chainsaw and swing a Pulaski with ease and confidence. You built them with your own two hands so that others could follow in your footsteps, passing with ease, enjoying their experience and growing just a little closer with the natural world.
Maybe, in fact, you’re here for all these reasons. And so you smile. You smile to yourself, to your crewmates ahead of and behind you, and you smile to whom and whatever may be secretly peering at you through the darkened cover of the canopy. You readjust your hard hat and see the thunderclouds pending overhead, pregnant with water. No longer do you guess why you’re here for you know you’re here because today, despite the rain, is going to be a good day.
- Excerpts from “Put Yourself in the Boots of a Corps Member” by Jackie Lucero
For more information, contact Jonah Keane, SCA Conservation Corps Program Director at 413-339-6631 or email jkeane@theSCA.org
AMC Trail Crew in Blue Hills Reservation:
The Appalachian Mountain Club Professional Work Crew has been working in the Massachusetts Department of Conservation’s South Region Urban Parks for several years, mostly funded through Recreational Trails Program grants. During 2008, the trail crew worked an entire summer season and half of the fall in multiple parks within the region. The crew completed work at the Blue Hills Reservation’s Sky Line trail, Ponkapoag Boardwalk and Miniciello Bridge, among others, including the construction of water bars and rock steps at Wilson Mountain’s green dot and red dot trails. Despite the small number of members in one trail crew, the group consistently completes all trail work swiftly, efficiently, and sustainability while still finding the time to enjoy the work and the benefits of a rewarding summer job.
The AMC trail crew typically consists of 5-6 members, both females and males, between the ages of 20-30, with about 80% of the crew hailing from a state other than New England. They are supervised by a crew leader and learn trail skills primarily while on-the-job, though they do attend a brief trail skills training prior to their summer hitch. As a part of the job, the AMC crew offers the opportunity for DCR staff at Blue Hills and surrounding parks to learn trail building skills by working alongside them at their worksites, always willing to share and teach important trail maintenance and safety techniques as a learning experience. Hand tools are primarily used at worksites to complete tasks - it is always an impressive site to see a 170 lb individual move and set a 400lbs rock with his bare hands! Many of the members of the trail crew complete trail work during their college breaks, military vacations or after college, while some take time off from their regular full time job to learn trail building and environmental skills as well as to give back to the environment.
For more information, contact Mariah Keagy, AMC Trail Crew Supervisor at 603-466-2721 or email email@example.com
Groundwork Lawrence: The Groundwork Lawrence Green Team is a year-round program that offers part-time, paid positions for 10 Lawrence high school students each year to help learn about and lead local environmental and healthy community initiatives, conduct research, raise awareness, challenge their peers to do community service, and participate in hands-on improvement projects throughout the City of Lawrence, including trail maintenance and restoration in the summer field season. The program is intended to promote the protection and restoration of Lawrence’s critical ecological systems, natural resources, and public health by engaging teens in advocacy and service-learning efforts focused on the community's parks, gardens, waterways, and vacant open spaces. The Green Team program has dual goals - to prepare Lawrence’s youth for a lifetime of environmental and healthy community leadership, and to invest in our community’s future and capacity to improve its physical environment.
For more information, contact Groundwork Lawrence at 978-974-0770
DCR Summer Trail Crew – Western Region:
The Department of Conservation and Recreation hires a professional trail crew for motorized trail restoration in the Western Region, for approximately 16 weeks through the summer field season. The trail crew is funded through grants awarded by the Recreational Trails Program and focuses on the restoration and maintenance of trails impacted by motorized use in state forests including Pittsfield, October Mountain, and Greylock Reservation which see the heaviest ATV traffic in the state and have the greatest needs in terms of trail maintenance issues. This year, the RTP has awarded $24,569.60 to the trail crew for next summer’s field season (2010). This project not only helps to satisfy the growing recreational demand for OHV use, but also helps to protect the environment as well as other public and private land by providing for legal and sustainable OHV riding opportunities.
Whoa! – Meeting Horses on the Trail
By Andrea Barber
Sand Meadow Farm, Mendon, NY
One of the great things about many trails in the Northeast is that they are open to multiple uses. This means that hikers, bikers – and horses – all share and enjoy the trails. However, when these groups mix we must always keep safety mind. On trails where there might be horses, it is important for all users to understand the basic behavior of horses and practice proper trail etiquette when horses and riders are encountered.
The horse is a prey animal. Quick escape from predators is hardwired into the horse's brain. A simple case of mistaken identity, such as a wolf for a tree stump or a rattlesnake for a branch, can mean injury or death. As a result, the horse insists on making his own evaluation of approaching objects and deciding whether or not they are friend or foe, and whether or not he should ignore, fight, or flee. Equestrians will work with a horse throughout the horse's life to increase the number of objects and situations that the horse can handle comfortably, but even the seasoned trail horse will revert to instinct if faced with a surprise.
It's the element of a surprised horse and lack of trail etiquette that put all user groups in danger. Therefore, it is always important to follow these guidelines when encountering a horse and rider on the trail:
Use Line of Sight
If you are approaching a horse and rider traveling in the opposite direction, Stop. A predator would crouch and line up the attack. By stopping, you have taken the first step in distinguishing yourself from a predator.
If you are approaching a horse and rider from the rear direction, announce yourself. Your voice is clearly that of a human and carries with it all the familiar experiences that the horse has had with humans. Your voice will not spook the horse, but if you are silent, the noise of your bike, dog, or running footsteps might simulate a predator's surprise attack from the rear.
Move to the Outer Edge of the Trail
Stand where the horse can see you and can pass you with the greatest amount of clearance. No predator in the world would do this. However, please do not go off the trail into the woods. “Hiding” there quietly is exactly what a predator would do.
This again distinguishes you as human, familiar and non-threatening. If this seems awkward, a simple, "Hi! Nice day!" will do.
Wait for Instructions
Never assume that every encounter will unfold in the same way. Each horse is at a different point in his training. You might be the first or the one hundredth mountain biker seen by this particular horse. Only the rider (and horse) has a feel for the best way to proceed. The rider might ask you to walk slowly toward and pass them. Or, particularly if the horse is tense, the rider may choose to let the horse gradually approach and pass you. Or the rider may tell you that his horse is completely fine and you can continue to enjoy your activity. Regardless of the plan used, you can add a great deal of comfort to the situation for the horse by calmly talking. Plus, it’s a great way to make friends with others in your community! However, please don’t take offence if the rider isn’t talking back to you all that much. It may be that he needs to keep his full attention on his horse to maintain safety.
If you have a dog, please, for the safety of your dog, keep it on a leash at all times. Even the most sedate dog will usually get very excited when seeing a horse and fail to listen to the commands of his owner. Often the dog will quickly revert to what is instinctual to him as a predator – to run up behind the horse barking. To the horse, as you can imagine, the dog is a predator and the horse may take whatever action necessary to defend itself. That may mean bolting or it may mean kicking. A dog is no match for a well placed kick from a horse and the results can be deadly for the dog. So, please keep your dog on a leash and enjoy a pleasant and safe walk.
Maybe you’d like to pet the horse. Just ask! Horse owners, not surprisingly, are proud of their animals and the horses usually love admirers. However, again, it depends on the horse and its level of training. So ask first and then wait for instructions from the rider on the appropriate way to approach. Please don’t be offended if your request is denied. It just may not be appropriate that day. Also, always ask before you offer the horse anything to eat. Many horses have specialized diets and some riders do not like to give their horses anything to eat while they are “working”.
Please instruct your children how to behave when meeting horses on the trail, based on the instructions above. Good instruction from you will teach them how to be safe around horses the rest of their lives. Maybe they will even decide to be future riders themselves.
Thanks for taking the time to learn about horse and trail safety, these simple steps will go a long way to ensuring that we all have a safe and fun time on our multi-use trails.
Trail and Greenway Action at the Community Level
Concern for the environment and access to parks and open space is not frivolous or peripheral; rather, it is central to the welfare of people -- body, mind, and spirit.
--Laurance S. Rockefeller
Recognizing the local benefits of trails and perhaps a new need to sustain them, citizens in communities across the Commonwealth have gotten together to create Community Trail and Greenway Committees. From the Berkshires to central Massachusetts to the Boston metro area, over 60 volunteer committees are working at the local level to create woodland trail networks, forward rail trail efforts, or protect linear corridors of land for the conservation of natural and scenic resources.
Although there are many wonderful and successful grassroots groups that deserve recognition, here are just a few to highlight to diversity and share some of their successes and lessons learned.
Ashfield Trails, Getting it Done
Ashfield, a town of about 1,700 year-round residents, lies in the heart of the Western Massachusetts highlands. “Ashfield Trails” is an ad hoc group of active residents, former select board members, and local business leaders who just want to build trails and connect their community.
Greatest Success? The committee’s inaugural project was a two mile trail that linked the Trustees of Reservation’s (TTOR) Chapel Brook Reservation to the DAR State Forest. Working with DCR and TTOR, and with the support of a many volunteers and a Recreational Trails Grant, this project created momentum to accomplish more. The committee is now working to connect the elementary school to the Bear Swamp Reservation (2.5 miles) and the DAR State Forest to the center of town (4 miles).
Advise to Others? From their experience:
- Always get full landowner permission first!
- Trail building takes manpower, enlist as many people as possible.
- Keep it simple.
Wachusetts Greenways, a Good Idea Sustains Itself
Wachusett Greenways is an all-volunteer non-profit group established in 1994. Their mission is to connect the Wachusett community with trails and greenways. Greenways builds and maintains trails; and helps connect people to the outdoors, people to each other, and people to themselves.
Early Success? Early on, Wachusett Greenways developed a guide to open spaces and trails in the six Wachusett towns. The research for this project led them to state agencies, non-profits and land owners that helped initiate partnerships. They also developed the first section of the Mass Central Rail Trail through a Recreational Trails Grant in partnership with the Town of West Boylston.
Advise to Others? Every new project takes more time than you imagine. But be patients, listen to each other, have fun, and enjoy the fresh air.
“We have built bridges--literally six of them on the trail, and a tunnel--and with many partners. The connections require time and attention. We are amazed and thankful for the wonderful support we receive---volunteers, donors, grantors, businesses---and the wonderful words of support heard on the trail or received in notes.”
(Colleen Abrams, President, Wachusett Greenways)
French River Greenway; Connecting Rivers, Trails and People
This Greenway effort in Webster and Dudley started with the realization that the French River, once the economic engine of the area, had become a dumping ground which no one was addressing. Cleaning up the river became the catalyst for a larger idea of community revitalization. The land and water trail connecting and providing access to the river, became the thread that bound these ideas together.
Organization’s Structure? The French River Connection is a 501(c)(3), non-profit organization, that sponsors the French River Greenway Steering Committee.
Greatest Success? In 2008, they completed the Perryville Trace, the first 3,000 feet of on the ground trail with a trailhead, parking and canoe launch. This project demonstrated that they could accomplish something.
Advice to Others? Produce professional looking maps, graphics and handouts. They will help you make your case to others.
“Practice what your mother taught you, be generous, unfailingly polite and always pleasant. Combine patience with persistence. Know when a conversation is over.”
(Ken Parker, President, French River Connection)
Events and Celebrations:
June has so many exciting trail events and happenings going on, from last weekend’s National Trails Day to new trail openings and DCR’s Health Heart Trails kick off, we’d like to try to share just a few coming up.
Mahican Mohawk Trail’s South River Bridge Opening:
After nearly a decade of effort, a pedestrian bridge along the Mahican Mohawk Trail over the South River in Conway Massachusetts has finally been installed. This bridge sits at the site of what was once the tallest railroad bridge in southern New England.
Join the Deerfield River Watershed Association, Transcanada Hydro, DCR, and other friends and partners of this effort at thegrand opening ceremony, June 14, at 1:30 p.m. at the end of Conway Station Road, Conway.
Grand Trunk Trail Honored with a “Save the Trails” Grant:
The Grand Trunk Trail Blazers and the Town of Sturbridge have won a $5,000 Save the Trails™ grant from Nature Valley® and American Hiking Society, after 20,000 consumers cast online votes to decide the winners. “This is the first time we’ve asked Americans to vote in support of their favorite hiking trails and we were amazed by their enthusiastic response,” said Gregory A. Miller, American Hiking Society president. “It’s been our pleasure to partner with Nature Valley to ensure these important trails will be available for millions to enjoy for many years to come.” More than 150 nonprofits from across the country competed for the grants. Nine other organizations are receiving $5,000 in funding. Grand Trunk Trail Blazers and the Town of Sturbridge will use the money toward trail restoration during summer 2009.
Housatonic Riverwalk’s National Recreational Trail Celebration:
Great Barrington’s Riverwalk has recently been designated a “National Recreation Trail” and they will be celebrating this honor on Saturday, June 13, at 10:30 with friends, and state and federal legislators. The event will include remarks, a Riverwalk tour and a guided walk of Great Barrington’s Central Loop Trail. For more information on this remarkable trail, visit: www.gbriverwalk.org/.
New England National Scenic Trail ~ Celebration Meetings:
President Obama recently signed the Omnibus Public Lands Act which included the designation of the New England National Scenic Trail. This Trail, (you may know it as the Metacomet-Monadnock or Mattabesett Trail), stretches over 200 miles from the Massachusetts/New Hampshire border to Middletown, Connecticut.
All are cordially invited to join the Appalachian Mountain Club, the Connecticut Forest & Park Association, the National Park Service, and all trail partners in a meeting to discuss the benefits of the designation for your town, and help lay the foundation for long-term support of the Trail. Celebrations will be held in Massachusetts and Connecticut on the following dates and times:
Wed. June 17th from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.
Hadley Senior Center, 46 Middle Street, Hadley
Connecticut Celebration: Mon. June 22nd from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.
Northeast Utilities, 107 Selden Street, Berlin, CT 06037
These will be informal meetings and discussions designed to update interested parties about the Trail and its designation. We are inviting individuals to be involved in the Trail Stewardship Council, which will support the Trail and designation through advisory, communication and coordination roles. Information is also available on a new website for the Trail: NewEnglandNST.org
High Ground Greenways:
Massachusetts Ridges, Ranges and Summits
By Jack Lash, Former DCR Ecologist
Spring is here in our corner of the northern hemisphere, and as often as I can manage it, I am headed to high ground. While the word “mountains” may be a bit of exaggeration for Massachusetts, we do have our share of scenic, sacred and special ridges, ranges and summits, from Mt Greylock to the Holyoke Range to the Great Blue Hill. For me, as a former DCR Ecologist, many of these are former work sites, and it is a special opportunity for me to get reacquainted with the aromas of crisp air and spruce/fir, fabulous panoramas, and juncos who left my yard months ago.
These “high places” in Massachusetts are notable and worthy of our attention for several reasons. First, the DCR and other public and private organizations have protected them over generations through creative and timely acquisitions for us to visit, explore and cherish. Second, much of the flora and fauna on the summits and ranges in our Commonwealth have adapted to the conditions at higher elevations, making them unique. And finally, there are new trends we need to be aware of that play out up there among the ravens and the cinquefoil.
Recreation and Exploration
Summits, ridges and ranges are not only scenic landscape features upon which we gaze from our valley towns and highways below, but they are also exciting features to explore from the top.
West to east, there are seven long-distance, hiking paths in Massachusetts that traverse our high ground, the Taconic, Appalachian (AT), Mahican-Mohawk, Pocumtuc, Metacomet-Monadnock (M&M), Midstate, and Warner Trails. The National Parks Service, DCR, and several other organizations have long recognized the existing and potential popularity of these grand greenways. Acquisitions of these valuable vistas and linear links they create began more than a century ago. Those efforts have been admirable and continuous. Today, approximately 50% of these long-distance trail corridors is protected, and just last month the President designated the Metacomet Monadock Trail as a National Scenic Trail recognizing its value and beauty.
Each of these greenways has its own special attractions, and people one encounters on these trails are more than willing to provide an answer to the simple question, “How’s it going?” On Alander Mountain along the Taconic Trail in far western Massachusetts, a hiker there with a heavy pack responded to my greeting with, “Great…my 3rd trek here this year.” The AT, with all its publicity, popularity and 89 miles in Massachusetts, allows one to meet “through-hikers” as often as day trekkers. I asked one young couple what time they had started when I met them on the path near Beartown State Forest a few years ago. “February 27, in Georgia!” was their proud response. On the porch at Skinner State Park, Mount Holyoke, just last spring, a Dad and daughter beamed a smile worth more than a cell-phone photo, as a Broad-winged Hawk circled by at eye level.
While it is the exercise, the views and the trail access that enables us to appreciate many summits and ranges, it is the flora and fauna of Massachusetts high ground that makes them truly special. On Mount Greylock, two rare plants and the fir-breeding Blackpoll Warblers are not found anywhere else in the state. The Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program rightfully calls them “Legacy Species.” Mount Tom in home to 83% of all amphibians and reptiles living in Massachusetts (excluding sea turtles). Near the Midstate Trail on Mount Wachusett State Reservation, studies have revealed that amphibians are 15-20% more robust in size and weight, than anywhere else in the Commonwealth. A healthy stand of spruce, increasing through natural regeneration on Mount Watatic, may soon host the state’s first breeding Boreal Chickadees, and alpine-loving Gray Jays have visited the summit during fall hawk migration three years running.
In the eastern half of the state, the Blue Hills Reservation, near the north end of the Warner Trail, hosts rare reptiles, and I heard, they found a rare Lawrence’s (hybrid) warbler just last month on the Wrentham portion of the Warner. If one favors species abundance as well as diversity, that trail also features a growing population of all three Lycopodium species in woodlands high above the Neponset River.
Plants and animals adapt, probably better than humans do. At higher elevations, along these high ground linear corridors, the ecological diversity is there for the viewing, photographing, and scientific research. Why do White-throated sparrows migrate vertically to mate? How do spindly woodrush species tolerate frost, high winds and booming thunderstorms? Our high ground is where we seek and enjoy the answers.
Unfortunately, there are some trends that threaten both our permanently protected and unprotected summits, ridges and ranges in Massachusetts. Invasive species are increasing at higher elevations, even in undeveloped areas. And with climate change, many native and exotic species are migrating up and down and along these landscape features. While there is beginning to be a collaborative, ongoing effort to deal with invasive plant species on high ground, the process is long-term, and the outcome, unknown. Monitoring species migrations and invasions needs to be on-going, frequent and widely shared so that these trends can be tracked.
Wind turbines are coming, some to high ground, and the Secretary of the Environment has highlighted DCR lands for energy development. Blades are getting longer, towers taller, and installation and service roads bigger. While the single-stem pedestals upon which the blades eventually perch are a vast improvement over trussed towers, (the latter were suspected to cause collisions and mortality during bird migration), more study is needed and impacts are inevitable. Monitoring, before, during and after turbine installation, will hopefully enable individuals and agencies managing summits and ridges to help protect resources – both natural and historic – near these power plants.
As pressures on our high ground increase, be it from climate change or energy development, the continued protection and careful management of these sacred places becomes all the more important. This will require support and collaboration from neighboring communities, recreation users, activists, scientists, and agencies alike. Don’t hesitate to help.
The Recreational Trails Program: Special Issue
Recreational Trails: A Beginning
In 1929, a regional planner and outdoorsman from New England named Benton MacKaye, shared his vision of a backwoods highland footpath from Maine to Georgia in an article written for the Journal of the American Institute of Architects (October 1921). The trail was to invite hikers, help preserve a portion of the mountain wilderness, and offset the Nation's growing industrialization. MacKaye clearly intended a trail that combined recreation and conservation values. One key component of this "trailway" included the construction, maintenance, and protection of the trail largely by the work of dedicated volunteers.
MacKaye's vision became a reality through the support of countless volunteer organizations which oversaw the design, development, and continued maintenance and stewardship of the trail. It also saw additional support with its selection as one of the first two US National Scenic Trails, designated by Congress through the National Trails System Act of 1968, with initial funding of $5.5 million allocated towards land acquisition for the permanent protection of the trail corridor.
The Appalachian Trail is one of the most recognized and popular recreational trail success stories in America. It exemplifies the values of Benton MacKaye's contemporaries who saw the importance of providing recreational trails as a means of escape, and for preservation and stewardship of the land. Today, the protection and continued maintenance of long-distance trails is a priority among states and users alike. However, innovations, changing landscapes, pollution concerns, health, and educational purposes have diversified recreational trail needs and changed the way we view the recreational landscape.
Trails now provide the same benefits as they did back in 1921, though a myriad of new, modern values can be added to the original list. They support a much more diverse set of user groups within very diverse settings. These are trails that exist within small communities and large; connecting schools to residential or commercial areas; connecting cities or habitat corridors across a state for people to hike, bike, skate, and commute; providing accessible walkways for the disabled; or providing backcountry ATV or snowmobile trails for enthusiasts to enjoy. These new types of trails represent our country's progression toward modern recreational needs and preferences in the form of trails and greenways, which continue to evolve even today.
Unfortunately, no trail in this country has benefited from the level of financial and organizational support that the AT has, though the importance of these links and networks are widely recognized as equally vital for the health and quality of life for future generations. Modern trail systems are supported by local, grass-roots community efforts, non-profit organizations, municipalities, and states. More often than not, the volunteer groups and government entities who are shaping the landscape and network of trails for our future have had little to no financial support to do so.
In 1991, Congress recognized the need for a funding mechanism to promote the creation and maintenance of community, municipal, state, and federal trails across the country, which culminated in the development and funding of the Recreational Trails Program.
The Recreational Trails Program : Nuts and Bolts
The Recreational Trails Program (RTP), was created through the National Recreational Trail Fund Act as part of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA). It was reauthorized in 1998 and again in 2005 through the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU).
The RTP provides funding assistance for acquisition, development, rehabilitation and maintenance of both motorized and non-motorized recreation trails. These federal transportation funds benefit recreational uses including hiking, bicycling, in-line skating, equestrian use, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, off-road motorcycling, all-terrain vehicle riding, four-wheel driving, or use of other off-road motorized vehicles. By law, 30% of each states’ RTP funding must be earmarked for motorized trail projects, 30% for non-motorized trail projects and the remaining 40% for multi-use (diversified) motorized and non-motorized trails or a combination of either.
The RTP funds come from the Federal Highway Trust Fund, and represent a portion of the motor fuel excise tax collected from fuel used for off-highway recreation by snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles, off-highway motorcycles, and off-highway light trucks. The RTP funds are distributed to the states by the Federal Highway Administration. In Massachusetts, RTP is administered through the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). Funding for the program is apportioned by the Federal government while actual funding levels are programmed into the State Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP) by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Transportation. The Massachusetts Recreational Trails Advisory Board (MARTAB) is made up of representatives from most recreational trail user groups in Massachusetts. It provides guidance to DCR, and reviews grants with to select recommended projects for funding.
RTP in Massachusetts
Massachusetts has participated in the Recreational Trails Program since 1993, receiving over $6 million in federal funding and awarding approximately 263 grant projects to date. As DCR’s largest annual grant program, communities and government entities alike have participated in the program with great enthusiasm. In a given year, the program will provide $600,000 to possibly $1 million in total federal funding while grantees will typically exceed the 20% required match, often providing a local match that is equal to or exceeds the federal funding awarded for the project.
Similar to Benton MacKaye’s original vision of a volunteer-driven work force to develop and maintain the AT, the majority of RTP projects are complete by volunteers who dedicate their own time to the planning, design, collection of donations, organization of work days, and actual on-the-ground trail work. Often, the federal grant will pay for the purchase of materials for trail creation or maintenance, the hiring of design professionals for the more complex trail structures such as bridges and culverts, and funding youth trail crews. The local match often consists of a combination of sources, including donations, in-kind services, and occasionally other grants, usually in the case of large-scale projects.
Several RTP grantees have worked to make a community or state trail vision become a reality by developing a phased approach and applying for grant funding in multiple years. This allows for small groups with even smaller spending capabilities to think big, while making significant accomplishments along the way. This has been the case with a dedicated force of trails volunteers in Great Barrington, who have been awarded multiple grants to establish a network of recreational trails in their community, which has included handicap-accessibility considerations and local river clean-up and restoration efforts:
“Our RTP grant has allowed for the building of community trails conceived over 30 years ago,” writes Christine Ward from the Lake Mansfield Alliance. Prior to this funding, the community just wasn’t able to get started. The grant acted as a catalyst, empowering a surge of community interest, involvement and investment. We have consistently over-reached the 20% match with donations from local government, local granting organizations, and other project dedicated donations. In addition, our project has been powered by over 450 hours of donated trail work hours. Though still developing, our trails have already seen much community use and it is certain they will have an enormous impact on community health. We are enormously appreciative of the Recreational Trails Program.”
The RTP has also been a factor in facilitating projects to create recreational trail infrastructure within low-income and minority communities, funding projects to provide for environmental education, recreation, and passive enjoyment by children, families, seniors and handicapped individuals where no other sources of funding could be found. For instance, funding from the RTP was instrumental in allowing the residents of Boston'sFour Corners and Bowdoin/Geneva Dorchester neighborhoods to reclaim an overgrown, dumped on, and unappreciated natural resource in their neighborhood. “The Geneva Cliffs Urban Wild is now an inviting open space with a walking trail that loops around the 2.5 acre site that is attracting young and old to explore this natural area, to appreciate its features and to enjoy special community events in the more open section of the site. The Friends of Geneva Cliffs greatly appreciate the support from (RTP) in helping the community to realize its vision of transforming this area into a true community asset,” said Sherry Flashman, Project Coordinator.
RTP in Massachusetts has also provided funding to maintain the state’s popular long distance hiking trail system, awarding grants throughout the state which have benefited these trails, section by section, through land acquisition for corridor protection, re-routing, and maintenance funding. In the particular case of the Metacomet-Monadnock trail, the dedication of a multi-community, proactive volunteer work force and the funding it has successfully solicited and put to use has likely had a part in raising the trail’s profile to a national level.
"The Recreational Trails Grant made it possible to save an important trail head for the Metacomet~Monadnock Trail here in Northfield,” said Joanne McGee a volunteer and resident of Northfield. “Now, thanks tothe Federal Government,the M&M trail becomes the New England Scenic Trail and will join the other national scenic trails as an important recreational asset for all.”
Reauthorization: Will RTP Continue?
The Recreational Trails Program has had a dramatic and positive impact on the quality of life in America through thousands of projects nationwide and through new cooperation among diverse trail enthusiasts, government officials, and local and national organizations in the conservation, recreation, and transportation fields. More recently, the trails community has better understood the role of RTP-aided trails in the nation’s campaign to attack inactivity and obesity, in facilitating environmental education, and in provoking a sense of stewardship for the ecology, culture, and history of a particular area.
This year, the Surface Transportation Act is due to expire and the Recreational Trails Program will not be included in new legislation unless a member of Congress writes it in. Representative James Oberstar, Chair of the 75-member House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure planning is working on a draft for the new transportation bill by May this year, and has stated that the new bill “can’t be business as usual”. Predictably, the national trails community and its supporting organizations would like to see an increase in RTP funding this year, recognizing that this program and trail development in general are essential for the country to move forward in its efforts to promote a healthier, cleaner, and more economically sustainable quality of life. As the deadline for reauthorization approaches, to the national Coalition for Recreational Trails is calling on trail supporters to recognize the significance of the RTP program in making a better life for all Americans.
As the population of the world continues to increase and corridors of unaffected landscapes become more rare, trails and land protection advocates see this as a crucial time period for establishing trail corridors and protected open space, before it is too late. A program such as RTP creates the possibility of reaching these goals, by giving groups a little nudge to get out there and make a difference.
Forests, Parks and Trails: A Legacy of the New Deal
State gets big return. “How better can [we] be kept employed than by improving our forest and park lands and making Massachusetts a more attractive vacation destination than it is at present?...for forest parkland improvements the state is getting back 98.8 cents per dollar paid out. Massachusetts has the finest natural resources in the way of scenery and we will make no mistake if we improve it where possible. Already $192 million is spent in the state every year by vacationists…Shoes and textiles are never going to return to their position as major Massachusetts industries and here is another industry right at our hand to take their place. We should be foolish if we don’t take advantage of it.
Commissioner York, Massachusetts Department of Conservation (former DCR)
Greenfield Recorder, December 6, 1933
Many of the great trails and park landscapes around the country were born of the Great Depression and the vision of the New Deal. By the presidential election of 1932, unemployment was near 25%, and nearly every bank in the country was closed. By March of 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt had signed into law one of the most popular programs of the New Deal, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).
The CCC was an economic stimulus program, a jobs program, an environmental restoration program and an infrastructure improvement program all in one, for a cost of about $1,000 per worker per year (about $17,000 in 2008 dollars). Between 1933 and 1942, the CCC employed more than 3 million young men in camps across the nation forming a “peacetime army” that “brought together two wasted resources, the young men and the land, in an effort to save both” (National Association of CCC Alumni).
The CCC camps were administered by the Army and sponsored by federal agencies such as the Forest Service, National Park Service and Department of Agriculture. But many of the camps and projects were in state parks around the country. Corps members, sometimes known as “Roosevelt’s Tree Army,” planted nearly 3 billion trees, built 68,000 buildings, improved 100,000 miles of trail and constructed over 28,000 miles of new trails.
Using local materials and local expertise, CCC companies hand built trails into the landscape with hand-laid stone crib walls, steps carved out of rock, and bridges that today would be prohibitively expensive. In Grand Canyon National Park, CCC companies built the Clear Creek and Ribbon Falls trails, and one of the most difficult trails in the park, the Colorado River Trail (photo left). Other great trails shaped by the CCC include the Pacific Crest, the High Sierra, and the Appalachian trails. Clearly, national and state parks around the country would be different without the vision and investment of the CCC.
In Massachusetts, nearly 100,000 men worked in some 68 camps around the state. Early on, the Corps recognized that they could accomplish public safety, environmental restoration and recreation development all at the same time. “The dual purpose of ponds and roads for administration/fire control and recreation is not a conflict of interests. Landscape architects were hired to develop conservation and recreation plans with a main focus on scenic and aesthetic value of roads, areas around ponds for camping or other public use, and trails to scenic spots, through exceptional groves, and along brooks” (1933, Department of Conservation Annual Report).
Many of our state forests have CCC-built trail systems that are still ver much intact today including Beartown, October Mountain, Pittsfield, Savoy Mountain, Brimfield, Mount Tom, Myles Standish, Breakheart, Blue Hills, Willard Brook, and Douglas… to name a few. Many of the roads, shelters, buildings and trails on Mount Greylock were constructed by the CCC, including Bascom Lodge and the Thunderbolt Ski Trail built by the 107 Company (photo left) as an expert ski trail. In the Blue Hills, Eliot Tower on the Skyline Trail is a legacy of the Corps. At Mount Wachusett, many of the early ski trails, including the Pine Hill Trail, were constructed by the CCC. Overall, summary reports indicate that the CCC in Massachusetts built more that 290 miles of foot trails, 53 miles of bridge path, and 30,000 linear feet of improved surface ‘walks.’
The CCC Today
Although the national CCC effort ended in 1942, much of its legacy, both on the ground and in spirit lives on. Some states have picked up on the concept and kept it alive, the largest being the California Conservation Corps, which today employs some 3,300 young people each year at minimum wage and engages them in conservation works and emergency response projects. The Student Conservation Association (SCA), formed in 1957 and also inspired by the CCC, offers conservation internships and summer trail crew opportunities to more than 3,000 people each year. In Massachusetts, SCA and the Department of Conservation and Recreation have had a long standing MassParks partnership. Since 1997, SCA-MassParks members have logged more than 300,000 hours of service, completing 300 projects on public and nonprofit lands, constructing and maintaining 300 miles of trails and delivering more than 7,000 environmental education lessons to school-age children.
Today, we are in another economic crisis, perhaps the most significant since the 1930s, and our leaders are currently debating how to “stimulate” our economy. Of course, we are not in a depression, unemployment is only nearing 8%, banks are not actually closing, the Army is somewhat occupied, and it is a different world in terms of both attitudes toward physical labor and environmental and health regulation. So, do we have anything to learn today from the CCC?
Our parks, forests and trails in Massachusetts are in clearly in need of investment. The environmental tourism industry is an even more important sector of the economy than it was in the 1930s. Even if only 10% of the currently 11 million unemployed in the country were interested in a conservation corps, the stimulus impact of such a corps would be both significant and cost effective. The opportunity to outfit, house and feed conservation corps would benefit small local businesses and stimulate local economies. And the improvements to green infrastructure would have benefits as lasting as the original CCC’s. Perhaps as our leaders and agencies work to implement the tax cuts and road projects of the new stimulus, we should also consider re-visiting some of the vision of the 1930s.
Recreational Trails and Water Quality: Are They Compatible?
State parks, local conservation areas, wildlife preserves, and public watershed lands provide numerous compatible environmental and societal benefits. Some of the most important are clean water, healthy streams and functioning wetlands.
Conservation lands in Massachusetts provide clean drinking water for millions of residents. The Quabbin is one of the largest unfiltered drinking water supplies in the world. In addition, healthy forested streams and wetlands serve vital functions in minimizing flooding and protecting wildlife habitat.
Most protected areas (including many watershed lands like parts of the Quabbin) also provide for public use, exploration and recreation; and recreational trails are the avenues that bring people into nature. But to what degree are recreational trails compatible with natural resource benefits such as protecting streams and water quality? Do certain trail uses have a greater impact than others? Are there planning and design considerations that can minimize impacts?
Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences, through their office in Brunswick, Maine, has been working on an on-going project to try to help answer these questions. To quantify the ecological impact of recreation trails, they sampled 112 trail segments in Maine and New Hampshire, including trails with motorized uses (55), those that had both hiking and biking (26) and those with pedestrian uses only (31). Where trails crossed stream channels, the researchers recorded the crossing structure (culvert, bridge, or ford) and assessed sediment inputs and habitat connectivity.
Sedimentation can impact streams and aquatic habitats in a number of ways. Sediments can fill up the spaces between rocks in a stream and impair in-stream habitat. Sedimentation can lead to scouring and thus more erosion downstream. Severe sedimentation can also clog animals breathing and feeding devices, and lead to increased water temperatures and reduced oxygen levels.
In this study, they found that 38% of stream crossings had no sediment inputs, 29% of crossings had trace sediment inputs, 24% had moderate measurable inputs and 9% had catastrophic sediment inputs (see photo left). The good news from these results is that 67% of trail stream crossings showed little or no impact on water quality through sedimentation. The bad news is that one-third did impact water quality.
Perhaps even more surprisingly, the 9% of stream crossings classified as producing catastrophic sediment inputs included trails across all use types. In fact, while motorized trails seemed a bit more likely to produce catastrophic inputs, hiking only trails were more likely to produce either moderate or catastrophic inputs.
The majority of trails with catastrophic sediment additions were on small streams of only 1-2 meters in width. The presence, quality and condition of the stream crossing structure also appeared to play a role in the impacts to water quality. Trail crossings at larger streams tended to have better infrastructure (bridges and culverts) and the study found that many trails crossing small streams did not have appropriate crossing structures which may have led to increased sedimentation. This may be particularly true for pedestrian only trails.
What might this information mean for trail developers, maintainers and managers? Most importantly, it means that all types of recreational trails can and do impact water quality, and as managers and maintainers, we cannot ignore this fact.
Trail developers and designers should make sure that they pay attention to any stream crossing, particularly those on smaller streams that might otherwise be overlooked. They should ask themselves: Does this trail really need to cross this stream? Where is the best place to cross? What type of crossing would be best?
Best management practices for stream crossings include
- Crossing at right angles
- Cross at locations with an approach that is both gradual and on stable soils
- Construct a crossing that is appropriate to the trail use and is designed to keep users on the trail
- Inspect crossings periodically
Recreation and conservation can and should go hand in hand, but as we work to develop recreational facilities such as trails, we all need to ensure that they are designed, constructed, managed and maintained in ways that successfully protect critical environmental resources such as water quality and stream health.
(Special thanks to Ethel Wilkerson of the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences (www.manomet.org) for her work and contributions to this article.)
Letterboxing and Questing: A Treasure Trove of Trail Fun
You’re hiking through a forest you’ve never been to, searching for the devil’s pitchfork. Just when you are about to give up and head home, could that be it, through the trees? Your back to the fork, you turn toward the sun, and count off paces - three, two, one. Your final clue, ‘Here’s the spot where, you look around for the troll’s lair. Therein lies what you seek for your prize.’
Who doesn’t love a good treasure hunt, especially one in the great outdoors? Letterboxing is just that, a form of family-oriented fun that can combine outdoor exploration, puzzle solving, language arts and stamp artistry. It may even help you and your kids get out on a hike without them even realizing it.
What is Letterboxing?
At its simplest, letterboxing is an activity where you find clues, most downloadable from the internet. If you can follow them, they will lead you to a hidden box in the woods where you will find a rubber stamp and a log book. You then leave your own personal “signature stamp” in the box’s book, collect the box’s stamp for your log book. You re-hide the box, and continue on your way. Letterboxing is also about experiencing the outdoors. It can bring you to new locations and show you new sights. The activity adds a bit of reward, perhaps some challenge, and of course, fun.
A Bit of History
Letterboxing originated in the Dartmoor region of England in the 1850s, where a moor guide began by placing his calling card in a coffee can and encouraging other to find it and share theirs. Later, calling cards were replaced by rubber stamps and a log book, where letterboxers could share their own personal stamps and notes, and prove that they had found the box. Although it took over 40 years for a second box to be placed on the moors, today, Dartmoor National Park has over 3,000 letterboxes in place.
In North America, one of the first groups to pick up on this intriguing activity was Valley Quest in the 1990s. This place-based education program uses student designed ‘quests’ to celebrate community, natural history, cultural sites, stories and special places in the upper Connecticut River valley (www.vitalcommunities.org/ValleyQuest/ValleyQuest.htm). Valley Quest, working with groups of students, has created, placed and published over 200 quests, often with natural history or cultural themes, and usually with clues in verse. These quests are a bit more advanced than simple letterboxing in that they engage young people with adults in the process of researching, creating, writing and sharing quests about places that are special to them.
In 1998, The Smithsonian magazine published an article on the Dartmoor letterboxes, and, through the power of the internet, North American letterboxing truly took off. Today, there are letterboxes around the world from South Africa to Afghanistan, and more than 3,000 in Massachusetts alone.
Want to Get Started?
People interested in this activity can find and download clues from sites like www.letterboxing.org and www.atlasquest.com where you can search for boxes by location, learn how to hand carve a stamp, join forums and find lots of other information about how to get involved in letterboxing. Letterboxing.org even has pages just for kids.
A Word to the Wise
While letterboxing can be fun, it should also be respectful of property and other people’s experiences in the woods, and it must protect natural and cultural resources. While there are no official “rules” for letterboxing, there are conventions and guidelines that should be followed. A more in depth discussion of these is at http://www.atlasquest.com/aboutlb/rules/, but some general guidelines include:
- Leave the area just as, or better than you found it. If you look under a rock, replace the rock. Don't dig in the ground or pull out plants. Avoid trampling any vegetation.
- Don’t hide a letterbox in a stone wall or tear apart that wall that has withstood hundreds of years of time.
- Be discreet while searching. If other people are around. You may need to postpone retrieving a box if you can’t do it without being seen.
- Don’t hide or search for boxes in environmentally or culturally sensitive areas.
- If a property (like a park system) has guidelines, follow them!
The Midstate Trail:
Massachusetts’ Lesser-Known Long-Distance Hiking Trail
In the 1920s, a trail was cut approximately 15 miles from Mount Wachusett to Mount Watatic in northern Worcester County in central Massachusetts. While this trail eventually fell into disuse, in 1972, the Worcester County Commissioners proposed a long-distance trail traversing Worcester County from Rhode Island to New Hampshire. With the hard work of individual volunteers, support from the Green Mountain Club and the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC), and the generosity of landowners, the Massachusetts Midstate Trail was born.
The Midstate Trail, blazed in yellow triangles , runs 92 miles from the Rhode Island border to the Wapack Trail in New Hampshire. Only 45 miles from Boston, the Midstate is accessible to many, but still remains remarkably rural in character, winding through fields and forests, over hills and through villages.
Underlying the Trail
The geologic landscape of Midstate corridor was largely shaped by the glaciers of the last ice age. By about 15,000 years ago, the climate was warming, and the ice began to melt back from its most southern advance exposing the route of the Midstate Trail. The enormous weight and force of the moving glaciers ground their way slowly across the countryside scouring the hills and exposing the granite bedrock. They reshaped valleys, and left glacial till soils behind. They caught up large boulders, and then deposited them as “erratics” across the landscape. As the glaciers melted, enormous quantities of sand and gravel were washed down the valleys. In many places, these deposits disrupted pre-glacial drainage, and as a result, many small lakes are present throughout the area. Today, hikers along the Midstate can find many clues of the icy past, such as monadnocks (isolated hills), erratic boulders, drumlins, and kettle ponds.
The Natural Fabric
Visitors to the trail can also experience an array for local flora and fauna. The trail winds through a variety of woodlands from pine forests to mixed hardwoods, past fields, atop ridges and along wetland edges. In the spring, hikers may find a variety of woodland flowers, and in the fall, New England color abounds. In addition to common species of woodland animals, such as grey squirrel, deer, non-poisonous snakes, and turkeys; hikers may also see signs of beaver, black bear, bob cat and moose. Hawks and owls are often sighted on woodland edges along the trail, and grassland nesting birds can be seen in some of the fields. In the fall, raptor migrations may be viewed from the summits of Mount Wachusett and Watatic.
The Human Landscape; Issues Facing the Midstate
As the urban fringe moves further westward, continuing development along the trail's corridor brings the trail closer to new homes or pushes it onto paved roadways. Every year, Massachusetts loses over 16,000 acres of open space to residential and commercial development. This development fragments existing habitat and threatens the long-term conservation of Massachusetts’ native species and natural communities. Currently, the Midstate Trail is on approximately 45 miles of public land, 30 miles of private land and 17 miles of roadway. Many landowners are realizing the value the trail brings to their properties and the area, and they are working to keep it protected off road by placing conservation restrictions and easements on their property. Recreational corridors, like the Midstate, can actually become a catalyst, a magnet, for both public and private greenway protection efforts.
Recent Examples of Protection Efforts along the Midstate
The Town of Charlton is in the process of updating its Master Plan and Open Space and Recreation Plan (OSRP). The 8.3 mile section of the Midstate Trail that passes through town has been identified as an important trail connection in Charlton. Due to its scenic, recreational and historic value, the Open Space and Recreation Committee has recognized the need to more formally protect the trail. Preservation of the Charlton section of the Midstate Trail through easements or other appropriate conservation tools will be included as a goal in their plans.
The Westminster Open Space Committee and the North County Land Trust are seeking to protect some eight miles of the Midstate Trail that runs through private property in town. The committee and the land trust are working with landowners to place conservation restrictions on the trail, protecting it from development. The cost of these restrictions is expected to be covered by state and federal grants.
In Princeton, through a collaborative effort of the town, the Executive Office of Energy and Environment, the Department of Conservation and Recreation, Massachusetts Audubon, the Princeton Land Trust and the Four Corners Preservation Society, the 132 acre Four Corners Farm was recently protected. This protection will allow for most of Princeton’s section of the Midstate to be re-routed off road and through a range of natural areas.
Hiking the Midstate
The Midstate Trail Committee maintains the trail as a hiking trail and works with land owners to secure permission for this use. Hiking this trail can be a day experience, done in segments, or completed as a multi-day through hike. It can also be combined with hiking the Wapack Trail. Each summer, the Midstate Trail Committee organizes a series of end-to-end segment hikes.
As one through hiker wrote in a review of the trail, “It can be easy to overlook the local gems that just don’t seem as ‘glamorous’ as far off places. I am glad I took the time to explore this local gem, and feel all the richer for it.”
Greenways, Trails and a Healthier America
Among the most important benefits that trail and greenways provide in today’s society are those related to public health and an active, healthy lifestyle.
Exercise and Health:
America is becoming a more sedentary society, and this is affecting our health. The Surgeons General’s Report on Physical Activity and Health concludes that Americans should accumulate at least thirty minutes of physical activity every day to reduce their risk for chronic disease and early death. Yet the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) annual survey data suggests that only about 15% of the U.S. population achieve this much leisure-time physical activity.
The U.S. Population is also heavier than ever. In December of 2001, the Surgeon General called the increased rate of obesity in the United States an epidemic. The report states that two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, and this number is increasing. In addition, 13% of children are overweight. This results in many alarming effects. Most importantly, the CDC estimates that over 300,000 deaths per year can be linked to obesity, the second largest cause of death after tobacco that results from modifiable behavior. Walking and hiking are an excellent way to lose excess pounds and improve health. Most experts agree that people won’t find a better way to lose weight than walking. When hiking a comfortable pace, a person weighing 150 pounds will burn 240 calories in one hour.
Routine physical exercise can also help prevent of heart disease and hypertension. Known to be the leading cause of death in the United States, more than 2,600 Americans die from cardiovascular disease each day. While inactivity is only one contributing factor of heart disease, those who do not exercise are twice as likely to have coronary heart disease. Although medication is the most common cure for high blood pressure, a less costly option is to maintain a healthy lifestyle which includes regular exercise. Finally, exercise can help prevent diabetes, reverse the negative effects of osteoporosis, improve arthritis by strengthening muscles throughout the body, reduce tension, and even combat depression.
Promoting Active Living:
How do we address the multitude of health issues which result simply from the lack of physical activity that is plaguing our nation and local communities? The problem is not necessarily restricted to a lack of exercise, but to the continued decline in routine physical activity as a part of our daily lives. Perhaps one issue is in how people perceive exercise. Beneficial exercise does not need to involve a long, painful workout or a trip to a costly gym. A good workout can be a brisk 30-minute hike with the dog, a slower one-hour walk through a local park, or a bike ride or skate to work along a rail trail. According the American Heart Association, it is best to walk vigorously for 30 to 60 minutes three or four times per week, but even low to moderate intensity walking can have both a short and long-term health benefits.
Unfortunately, many communities lack the settings where it is safe, enjoyable and convenient for people to walk or bike to their destinations. Creation of such settings through community planning and urban design is one step in the right direction, and many communities and planners are working to improve community designs to enable a more active lifestyle. But there also needs to be more awareness and appreciation of the amenities that already exist in most neighborhoods but that may not well known.
Public agencies (such as the Massachusetts DCR) as well as many heath providers and leading non-profit organizations have recognized that we must more aggressively take steps to raise awareness and encourage people to get outside and start exercising. Trails in both urban and rural communities are an excellent opportunity to not only exercise for virtually no cost, but connect destinations and explore nature. Many people may not be aware that there are extensive trail systems a short drive away and, in some cases, simply a short walk from home. Awareness is the first step, but perceptions must be altered as well. Getting out on the trail does not have to be a long-term commitment. Trails can provide a range of options for exercise from a quick, 30-minute walk along a sturdy path to a more challenging trek up a hill, which will sufficiently fulfill our exercise needs for the day. Across the Commonwealth, there are already trails in existence that can accommodate exercise options for all populations, from children, to seniors, to handicapped populations. Creating additional local trails, linking them to where people live and work, and better marketing of such trails, both locally and state-wide, will ensure that trails can contribute to a healthier America.
Designing and 'Experience' into a Trail
Trails link people and places, but perhaps more importantly, they provide an ‘experience’ to the user. A well-designed trail will create this experience by linking together a sequence of visual, physical and emotional ‘events’ that reflects the landscapes that the trail traverses, and fulfills the user’s expectations. For example, a successful ‘nature trail’ might wind its way gently uphill through a changing landscape from field to forest before ‘stumbling’ across a hidden pond, and then loop along a tumbling stream before emerging from a hemlock woodland back at its starting place. An unsuccessful cross-country ski trail might be one that followed a relatively straight course downhill from the trailhead through only one type of woodland, to an un-impressive destination, and offers only a return slog back uphill to get home.
As with any sequence, a trail experience will have a beginning (initiation, anticipation); a middle (discovery, destination, accomplishment); and an end (culmination, reflection, realization). In building this sequence, all aspects of a site – the topography, views, water features, ecological communities, cultural sites, developed areas – should be used and will contribute to the trail’s character. To be successful, the trail experience must also meet the expectations of the visitor in terms of desired mode of travel, level of difficulty, and length of trail.
Trails “Shapes” and Layouts
We begin designing our trail’s sequence of events by considering its shape. A trail’s shape is defined primarily by its purpose, ownership, and topography, but the shape will also influence and be influenced by the experience. Understanding the emotional response that various shapes induce is critical to designing trails that successfully mesh with the larger landscape.
(Trail Shapes: Graphic from “Trail Design for Small Properties” www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/naturalresources/DD8425.html#1)
Linear trails are relatively straight shapes that cross the landscape from point to point. They provide the user with a sense of ‘going somewhere’ and are often used in a way that involves traveling ‘there and back again.’
Bikeways often follow old rail lines, and are therefore very straight with little grade change. This provides a particular type of linear trail experience, and often meshes with more urbanized settings. This allows us to link together and interpret cultural and historical sites along the bikeway, and also provides an experience that is particularly suited to families, children, and a new set of wheels.
Long-distance trails, such as the Mid-State or Appalachian Trail, also tend to be fairly linear as they connect features and destinations over a long distance. They will often follow ridgelines or river corridors, and will thus provide a more rugged and challenging trail experience. They offer opportunities for long-distance views, and for exploring and experiencing a changing landscape at both a local and regional scale. These trails can also provide a special multi-day, ‘through hiking’ experience.
Spur trails are linear segments that take the user to a particular destination of interest and back, perhaps a summit or waterfall. They can also be added components to other trail shapes and can provide for some variation in the trail experience.
Loop trails allow the users to end up where they started without repeating any part of the trail. They allow us to create a trail experience without necessarily having a specific destination and, unlike linear trails, allow us to interpret different landscapes and features in both the beginning and ending phases of the sequence.
A series of loops that build upon each other, or a large loop with different connectors or ‘cut-offs’ along the way will create a stacked loop trail system. Staked loops can be an efficient design that allows for a variety of trail distances, difficulties and experiences in a relatively compact area. Stacked loops are often used when designing a trail system for a particular mode of travel (such as cross-county skiing, ATV’s or mountain biking) because they allow you to integrate easier loops (closer to the trailhead) with more challenging loops (further a field), and create variety of different loop opportunities to increase potential mileage and provide the user with a sense of choice.
(Graphic from NEMBA www.nemba.org/digitalnemba/images/StackedLoopTrails2.jpg)
Taking Advantage of Landscape Features
In addition to the broader concepts of trail ‘shape,’ good trail design also takes advantage of landscape features along the way to create that sequence of events and enhance the desired user experience. There are five primary design elements.
Terminus and Destinations
Every trail should have a clear beginning and end point. Loop trails may just have a single point, but may also have “destinations” along the way. Terminus points should give the user a clear sense of initiation and culmination. Destinations should be features, such as summits, views or waterfalls, that entice the users, and leave them with a sense of accomplishment.
Gateways occur when natural or human structures constrain the trail and thus create a sense of “entrance.” A bridge, a passage between two large trees, or a rail bed cut into a ledge, all create a visual gateway. Ideally, gateways will also occur or be created at or near trailheads to give the experience a sense of entrance.
Landscape anchors are any vertical feature (a tree, boulder, wall, hill, valley, sign, etc.) that visually help to tie the landscape scene together and give it a sense of anticipation, interest and balance. Anchors can also serve as stand alone points of interest that draw attention and provide continuity from one visual sequence to the next. Designing the trail to take advantage of natural landscape anchors, such as interesting trees or boulders, and wrapping the trail from one anchor to the next, provides the trail with a sense of flow and purpose.
Edges are borders between landscape features or between ecological zones. The trail itself creates edges within the site. Examples of edges include borders between:
Edges often offer rich opportunities for trails. Following or subtly crossing edges enables the user to experience different aspects of a site in unison. Crossing an edge abruptly can provide a sense of mystery or surprise. Edges are also often ecologically rich and provide habitats for diverse plants and wildlife.
Finally, views are one of the most important features we can build into our sequence of events. Taking advantage of compelling views and downplaying those that detract from the trail is all part of controlling the sequence of events that enhances the trail’s recreational value. Managing viewsheds is also an ongoing maintenance issue and may, at times, conflict or coincide with forest management, wildlife habitat management or wetlands regulations. In these instances, it is important to define which viewsheds are important to the trail experience and how those will be preserved and maintained over time as part of your site management program.
Pulling together the above concepts on the ground is where the fun in laying out trails begins. Trail shapes are usually defined by ownership and the trail’s purpose. Obstacles, such as wetlands and property boundaries, often constrain your options. But exploring the possibilities of gateways, edges, destinations, and anchors to create a memorably sequence of events within a particular shape, can be a wonderful trail experience all on its own.
Bringing Rivers Back in View
- adapted from the National Park Service’s “Conservation and Outdoor Recreation Update”
Rivers and riverfront lands - especially in cities – have become unknown and unfamiliar places. Creating public access to rivers and the lands along them is widely recognized as one of the most effective catalysts in contemporary greening campaigns to create parks, trails and greenways, and to restore brownfields.
Like many older mill cities, Lowell, Massachusetts began suffering decades ago when industry moved away. The Concord and Merrimack Rivers had been used by industry for generations and had been built up with giant brick mills and flanked by railroad tracks, but by the late 20th century many residents forgot they even existed.
Over the past 20 years, Lowell has worked successfully to revitalize itself. In the process, it has created a model for other former industrial cities across the nation. Jane Calvin, executive director of the Lowell Parks & Conservation Trust sees a new greenway along the Concord River, which connects neighborhoods to Lowell National Historical Park, as a vital component of this vision. "In a city with a shortage of open space," says Calvin, "the new greenway will offer recreational opportunities to walkers, bicyclists, or anyone looking for a respite from city life.” This particular greenway project has fostered two key conservation successes - using innovative programming to spur community interest and engaging the public through art.
Building Support through Innovative Programming
What is the best way to win public support? "Bring people out to the river and let them experience it,” says Calvin. "People are interested in different things, so we find a way to capture everyone's interest." Her group has created varied activities to engage the public, including:
an eco-inventory to identify flora and fauna in the area
a historic signage project
oral histories about land use along the river
fish restoration projects
But one of the most notable and media-friendly activities is whitewater rafting. It turns out that the Concord River provides Class III and IV rafting opportunities-gentle enough for beginners, but still thrilling for whitewater veterans. Each spring, Lowell Parks & Conservation Trust hires guides and runs two trips per day; proceeds support efforts to develop the greenway. Recently, Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Ian Bowles, came along for a ride. These activities help challenge and reshape the public's image of the river, says Calvin: "You always have to fight the battle of perception, that there's no conservation value. What we're doing is opening up scenic vistas, restoring the river and protecting it from future development."
Conservation Success through Art
Art, by its very nature, also can transform perceptions. Artist Wopo Holup specializes in river-based art projects, including the Battery Seawall and Promenade in New York City, where she designed 37 panels detailing the ecological and human history of the Hudson River from glaciers to the present. She's now working with Lowell Parks & Conservation Trust to create art along the Concord River Greenway. The goal, she says, is "to sharpen and focus the experience of seeing and connecting with the river and to enhance the experience with a thought, a feeling, or an inspiration."
Her plans include gateway sculptures to mark the trail entrances, as well as labeled sculptures of birds (such as great blue herons) that live near the river, so people can identify them better. Another inspiration is Henry David Thoreau, who immortalized the rivers 150 years ago with his work, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. Holup hopes to use text from Thoreau's work and embed it into cast iron picket fences. "He was complaining about the same things we are," says Holup. "Garbage in the river, too much commerce and not enough nature." A century and a half later, his work speaks to the importance of today's revitalization efforts.
Building Trails, Protecting Resources:
Environmental Permitting and Regulations in Massachusetts
Trails are one of our most important tools for linking resource conservation with human recreation. As such, trails should be developed and maintained in ways that avoid negative impacts to ecological and cultural resources. The easiest way to do this is to make environmental review and permitting a regular part of trail development activities.
Any disturbance to the natural environment has impacts, and trails are no exception. When we construct or maintain trails, we should make every effort to do no harm. Trails enable people to enjoy the out-of-doors, and trail work is an opportunity to set a good example of resource conservation and protection.
Ideally, trails should be routed to avoid sensitive resources such as streams and wetlands, rare species habitats, and sensitive cultural sites. However, trail development within or alongside of sensitive areas is often necessary and justifiable. Streams need to be crossed, steep slopes traversed, and unique features interpreted. Allowing controlled access to sensitive ecological or cultural areas may also be an integral part of educating the public about the value of protecting these resources. When sensitive areas cannot be avoided we, as trail builders, have legal and ethical obligations to minimize our impacts by going through the proper regulatory procedures. Below are some of the state regulations and permits that you need to consider when you develop a trail.
Streams, Rivers and Wetlands: In Massachusetts, activities occurring within 100-feet of a coastal or inland wetland or within 200-feet of a perennial stream or river are governed by the Wetlands Protection Act. Among the many activities regulated by this act are changing run-off characteristics, diverting surface water, and the destruction of plant life – activities commonly associated with trail building and maintenance. If your trail building activities will occur within 100-feet of a wetland or 200-feet of stream or river you must file a “Request for Determination of Applicability” (RDA) form (http://www.mass.gov/dep/water/approvals/wpaform1.pdf) with you local conservation commission. Your local Conservation Commission can explain the state regulations and local bylaws; they can also provide guidance on completing your RDA.
How do you know if your trail project will occur near a wetland? A good starting point is the wetlands on-line viewer, which is available at http://maps.massgis.state.ma.us/WETLANDS12K/viewer.htm. If your project occurs near a wetland identified on this map, you will need to submit an RDA. Be advised that not all wetlands are indicated on this map, so an RDA may be required even if no wetlands are indicated on the on-line viewer.
Threatened and Endangered Species: Over 440 species of plants and animals are protected under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act (MESA). MESA protects state-listed rare species and their habitats by prohibiting the “Take” of any species that is listed as Endangered, Threatened, or of Special Concern. A “Take” is any activity that directly kills or injures a MESA-listed species, as well as activities that disrupt rare species behavior and their habitat.
Trail building activities are subject to review by the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program if they occur in areas that have been delineated as “Priority Habitat.” You can determine if your project will occur within Priority Habitat with the help of the Priority Habitat on-line viewer.
If your trail project is located within priority habitat, you must file a MESA project review checklist. This checklist may be found at mesa_proj_review_check_elect.pdf.
Massachusetts Regulatory Review Checklist
Will any work occur within 200 feet of a stream or river or within 100 feet of a wetland?
If yes, contact your local conservation commission for help preparing an RDA.
Does the project area intersect with any Priority Habitat Area?
If yes, file a MESA Project Review Checklist with the NHESP.
Will the project disturb any soil and will it occur on state property or be funded with state and/or federal funds?
If yes, file a Project Notification Form with the MHC.
Archeological and Cultural Resources: Any soil disturbance activities, such as trail building, that are on state property or funded through state or federal funds (including Recreational Trails Grants) require review from the Massachusetts Historic Commission (MHC) and you must file a Project Notification Form. This form may be found at http://www.sec.state.ma.us/MHC/mhcform/formidx.htm. If the project is not in an area with archeological and/or cultural resources, the MHC will not require anything further. If the project is in such an area, the MHC may request an archaeological survey, and you will need to hire a private archaeologist complete this.
Note that these review processes treat trail construction and alteration similarly. Alterations include significantly changing the trail’s grade, width, or surface, adding bridges, adding a spur to serve a new destination, and changing the trail’s use, such as from horses to hikers. The following checklist will help you determine if your trails project requires regulatory review.
New England Greenways:
A strategy in the struggle against a changing climate
Climate change is upon us. In Massachusetts, winters are getting warmer, spring is coming earlier, precipitation patterns are shifting, and sea level is rising. These changes are happening now, and they will continue. The only question is how far and how fast.
The 2007 report from the Northeast Climate Impacts Assessment documents that since the 1970s average temperatures in the northeast have already risen 1.3 degrees leading to noticeable changes, and over the next few decades, temperature is estimated to rise 8 to 12 degrees more.
One of nature’s most important response strategies to these inevitable and varied changes is and will be migration – the migration of seasons, plant species, wildlife, and yes, even the migration of humans and the activities we engage in.
The article “When Worlds Collide” in Conservation Magazine notes that already, “hundreds of species – from butterflies to birds, plants, bats, and rats – are moving poleward by up to 300 kilometers. These surprising numbers are but a prelude of things to come, triggered by a minuscule temperature rise of just 0.6 degrees Celsius over the last century.” The situation will only worsen in the next 100 years. “Some species will shift thousands of kilometers closer to the poles, … and that kind of movement in today's fragmented habitats spells trouble.”
Given this impending situation, a part of our human response to climate change, in addition to reducing greenhouse gases, must be to provide nature with some un-fragmented space to migrate. And our most efficient and effective strategy for this will be to actively protect, promote and manage greenways – linear corridors of protected and / or undeveloped land.
As a strategic approach to climate change, not all greenway priorities will be equal.
- Regional Greenways: Species will be migrating hundreds of miles. Greenways to facilitate this migration will need to be developed on multi-state and regional scales.
- North – South Greenways: Much of nature’s migration in response to these environmental changes will naturally be northward. In New England, we are fortunate that our geology conforms to this orientation (partly as a result of the last bout of climate change). Our rivers and mountain ranges tend to run north – south, and thus, present ideal natural corridors for protection that will also have benefits, like water quality improvements and ridgeline protection, that go beyond resiliency for climate change.
- Valleys and Ridges: In addition to northward, natural migration may also occur up and down slope as species seek new niches in response to local and micro-climate changes. Again, this will lead us to focus our greenway efforts on our rivers corridors and ridges.
- Coastal Areas: As one of the most dramatic impacts of climate change is likely to be sea level rise, greenways that protect a coastal buffer will be particularly important for protecting coastal species and ecosystems.
- Existing Protected and Undeveloped Areas: Finally, the most efficient and effective greenways protection strategies should start with the existing landscape, and build upon areas of currently protected and undeveloped open space.
A Strong Starting Point
We are lucky in Massachusetts in that we can begin this strategy from a place of strength.
- We benefit from the north-south oriented geography of the region as already noted.
- We already have Commonwealth Connections; the greenway vision for Massachusetts, a plan produced by the Department of Conservation and Recreation in 2001, which identifies many priority river, ridge, and coastal greenways.
- We already have a number of successful and high profile greenway initiatives underway that connect to our neighboring states including, but not limited to, efforts to protect the Appalachian Range, the Connecticut River, and the Quabbin to Cardigan Greenway.
- Finally, Massachusetts has a strong record of land and greenway protection involving a diversity of public, private, and local partners.
Massachusetts has an opportunity to strengthen its leadership in the struggle against climate change. As we – organizations, agencies and individuals – continue to develop and implement strategies and action plans to deal land protection, smart growth and climate change; greenways corridors should be a central part. None of the strategies needed to deal with climate change will be easy, but with leadership, commitment and partnership, we can help provide the necessary space for inevitable change.
One of the main purposes of a trail is to provide access to places, features, experiences and scenic landscapes. As such, trail designers, developers and maintainers should always consider how trails can enhance accessibility for a range of users, including people with disabilities. We certainly don't want to pave the wilderness, nor do people with disabilities only wish to experience trails in highly developed settings, but we do need to consider trail accessibility throughout the range of recreational opportunities and settings that we provide.
In addition, the Americans with Disabilities Act requires that many trails become accessible. Accessible Trail Guidelines for what this might mean are being finalized at the federal level now. As we create new trails or alter old ones, we need to consider questions like; will a person with limited mobility have an equal opportunity to use this trail? Are there existing conditions that may limit the trail’s ability to become accessible? Ultimately, how can we make trails most accessible? Hopefully, the information below will provide some guidance as you think about these questions.
Frequently Asked Questions about Accessible Trails and How We Create Them
Excerpted from Stuart Macdonald, American Trails magazine and Chair, National Association of State Trail Administrators
1. What is an accessible trail according to federal guidelines?
The proposed guidelines for accessible trails provide minimum technical specifications for accessibility. A fully accessible trail should have:
- A firm stable surface
- Clear tread width of 36" minimum
- Tread obstacles less than 2" high (up to 3" high where are 5% or less)
- Maximum cross slope of 5%
- Running slope (trail grade) that meets one or more of the following:
- 5% or less for any distance.
- up to 8.33% for up to 200' (with resting intervals no more than 200' apart)
- up to 10% for up to 30'
- up to 12.5% for up to 10'
- No more than 30% of the total trail length exceeding a running slope of 8.33%
- Passing space (with a width of at least 60”) at least every 1000'
- Signs that indicate the length and characteristics of the accessible trail segment
2. What kinds of trails are subject to the proposed accessibility guidelines?
The proposed guidelines for accessible trails apply to those trails which are designed and constructed for pedestrian use. Trails primarily designed and constructed for recreational use by equestrians, mountain bicyclists, snowmobile users, or off-highway vehicle users do not need to follow the guidelines, even if pedestrians occasionally use them. It is important to note that multi-use trails specifically designed and designated for hiking and bicycling are considered pedestrian trails.
3. Does that mean an urban bikeway is a "pedestrian trail"?
Accessibility guidelines would apply to trails used by bicyclists and skaters for non-motorized transportation, because they are also designed for pedestrian use. However, bicyclists and skaters have design needs which exceed the minimum guidelines for trails. In some cases, the AASHTO Guide used for bikeways may require a greater level of accessibility than the proposed trail accessibility guidelines.
4. Will existing trails need to meet accessibility standards?
The proposed guidelines apply only to
- Newly designed trails
- Newly constructed trails
- Altered portions of existing trails
5. Must we improve accessibility when trail maintenance is done?
You do not need to improve accessibility when doing routine or periodic maintenance or when you repair existing trails. Examples of routine maintenance include removal of debris, reshaping the trail bed, erosion control, etc. However, if maintenance activities can be carried out to enhance accessibility, then they should.
6. Does an accessible trail have to be paved? What about handrails and other edge protection?
Paving is not required, as long as the surface is "firm and stable." Handrails and edge protection are not required, but if they are provided, they should meet appropriate standards.
7. What about new trails that are nowhere near a road or an accessible trailhead?
Only trails that connect to an accessible trail or an accessible trailhead must meet the proposed standards.
8. What if building a trail to an accessible standard just isn't logical, desirable, or even possible?
Trail builders are encouraged to provide access as much as possible. However, you do not need to follow the proposed accessibility guidelines if doing so would:
- Cause substantial harm to cultural, historic, religious, or significant natural features or characteristics;
- Significantly change the nature of the setting or the purpose of the trail;
- Require construction methods or materials that are prohibited by federal, state, or local laws; or
- Not be possible because of terrain or the prevailing construction practices.
9. Who will these accessibility guidelines apply to?
Initially, these proposed trail accessibility guidelines will apply to federal agencies. However, it is likely that these will be incorporated into state regulations soon.
State agencies, municipalities, non-profits and citizen trail groups should consider adopting these or similar guidelines now to accomplish the goal of providing accessible recreational experiences to all.
A Vision: the Connecticut River Greenway
By Terry Blunt, Conservation Works
The concept of a greenway came late to the Connecticut River. Not until the mid 1980s did this river, New England’s longest, receive much attention. More accurately, the landscapes along the river had not previously received much attention. The 1972 Clean Waters Act had, however, given great attention to cleaning up the nation’s waters. It was a carrot and stick piece of legislation: Congress appropriated millions of dollars to fund clean-ups, and simultaneously required municipalities and industries to remove waste from their effluent. The Connecticut was about to receive it’s due.
Protecting the Water
The effects were gratifying. By the 1980’s the river was beginning to show activity: recreational boating increased and fishing became more visible. A federal effort to restore Atlantic salmon habitat and increase the American shad population was underway. And, people began to regard the river landscape as real estate. What had been considered a stinky, foul resource enjoyed a new image. Property along the river began to rise in value, creating concern at the local, then regional and state levels that these resources were in jeopardy.
Protecting the Greenway
In 1984, a state open space bond dedicated 3 million dollars for acquisition of land along and near the Connecticut River. The National Park Service and Department of Environmental Management (now DCR) collaborated to create a coordinating committee representing all interests in the river and shoreline. The committee of thirty-three members included farmers, motor boaters, canoeists, sportsmen, utility executives, town appointees from the nineteen riverfront communities, and representatives from each of the state and federal resource agencies. After teasing out differences, the diverse committee agreed - most importantly, land along the river should be acquired and permanently protected. The approach used natural characteristics and demographics to segment the river into “reaches,” with separate management plans.
Acquiring the Land
At the beginning of this effort, there was very little in the way of protected shoreline or public open land along the river, save several scattered boat launching facilities and an occasional agricultural restriction. The Connecticut travels just under 70 miles as it passes through the Commonwealth, creating about 140 miles of shoreline, and little of it was protected open space. The objective of the Connecticut Valley Action Program was to identify the most significant places along the river and secure them by outright purchase or through Conservation Restrictions.
The Target Areas
Target areas were established as priorities, recognizing that acquiring miles of shoreline would take a lot of time. As acquisition continued and the target areas were secured, the state’s ownership became large enough to be managed as a unit, and in 1996, the Connecticut River Greenway State Park was born.
Just as the “emerald necklace” encircles metropolitan Boston, the target areas created a “string of pearls” along the Connecticut River. They include such places as French King Gorge, Elwell Recreation Area, floodplain forest reserves in Hadley and Longmeadow, Paleo and Native American Indian sites, scenic viewpoints, riverine beaches, river access points, and sites of rare species.
Each of the target areas can take on a stand-alone character: standing on the Wissatinewaug site in Gill overlooking the Falls and Connecticut rivers, you can imagine an encampment of Native Americans gathered to fish for salmon at the base of the falls. You can enjoy solitude on the Connecticut River Water Trail through Deerfield, Montague and Sunderland where there is little sign of housing development and protected riverfront accounts for much of the scenery. Fishing for shad at the confluence of the Deerfield and the Connecticut holds its own rewards, and watching for American bald eagles from Hockanum beach or biking over the River on the Norwottuck Rail Trail can be great fun.
Each protected space is of interest unto itself, but it is the sum of the parts that make up a greenway. In time, with more acquisitions and connections, the sum of these parts will take on the shape of a huge oak, the upper limbs securely connected to the trunk, all functioning together as a whole organism: that is the vision of the Connecticut River Greenway.
Urban Rivers, Smart Growth, and Trails
By Eric Hove, Assistant Director of Sustainable Development,
Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy & Environmental Affairs
Communities across the Commonwealth and the nation have taken a renewed interest in their riverfronts. In doing so, they gain opportunities to increase their tax-base, restore environmentally degraded sites and waters, and expand local and regional recreational attractions like trails.
Most of our oldest cities developed along rivers, which served as the main source of power and transportation and as a convenient waste removal system. Over time, industrial activities degraded the health and quality of our rivers. Cities turned their backs on these “linear cesspools” and were gradually cut off from their rivers, both physically and psychologically. With the Clean Water Act and elevated environmental consciousness that began in the 1960s and ‘70s, rivers have experienced vast improvements and protections. Although some of our state’s rivers still have contamination issues, many are now pleasant places to stroll along, canoe on, and even fish and swim in.
Urban Rivers & Smart Growth
The unnatural colors and unpleasant odors associated with some of our rivers are now a thing of the past. Cities are reclaiming a once neglected resource as an asset. From a smart growth perspective, previously developed riverfront sites are appropriate places for new development. Locating new jobs and homes in areas that already have infrastructure, businesses, and transportation options not only reinvigorates downtowns, but reduces sprawl. However, before property owners reinvest in these areas or allow people to move in, brownfield sites should be remediated and environmental problems addressed.
Perhaps most importantly, bringing more people back to the river builds a constituency to work for further improvements and amenities that enhance the quality of life. Recreational trails, neighborhood restaurants and shops, streetscape improvements, and public art all contribute to the remaking of urban riverfronts into desirable destinations. And that’s the key to restoring these rivers - people that love the river will take care of it.
Urban Rivers and Trails
Rivers are natural locations for both water and land trails for a variety of reasons: they’re linear and scenic, they link historic sites and population centers, and they offer the opportunity to reconnect with nature. Recent studies have linked land use to public health - especially obesity rates. Recreational trails provide additional opportunities to get that thirty minutes of daily exercise that we all need. Trails also provide an alternate way to get to work or school, helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. There’s already been an impressive amount of work planning and constructing regional trails that follow rivers in Massachusetts, such as the Connecticut, Blackstone, and Concord Rivers. And there are more initiatives to come.
In 2002 and 2007, the Executive Office of Energy & Environmental Affairs (EEA) hosted UrbanRiver Visions charrettes in thirteen communities. These one to two day planning events brought together a wide range of residents to envision the future of their urban riverfronts. Working with a team of consultants, community members crafted vision plans (www.urbanrivervisions2.org/default.asp) and action steps, accompanied by plenty of energy. Connections among the river, neighborhoods, and local and regional trails figured prominently in all the visions. Other key topics during the charrettes included riverfront access, scenic view preservation, and impassable stream debris.
Communities that think seriously about their rivers can make impressive strides in realizing their visions. Just this past month, the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) awarded two grants for riverfront work. Shelburne Falls received a Smart Growth/Smart Energy grant to develop a site assessment and design plans for an observation deck overlooking the glacial potholes at Salmon Falls on the Deerfield River. As part of this grant, the town will also plan for the trail node to improve the connection to the Mahican – Mohawk Trail. Haverhill, a more urbanized city, is receiving $400,000 to acquire a rail right-of-way on the south side of the Merrimack River. When complete, this rail trail will connect to the boardwalk on the north side of the river, creating a 2.5 mile walking loop, linking two commuter rail stations, and connecting to a regional trail network. These are just two examples of community efforts to expand trail networks and create unique riverfront destinations.
What’s really exciting about the convergence of river restoration, smart growth, and trail development is the far-reaching social and ecological benefits that result. The impacts range from the global (helping mitigate climate change) to the individual (less risk of heart disease and diabetes). When done right, riverfront revitalization can restore the habitat and health of wildlife, humans, and potentially, the rest of the natural world.
Building Sustainable Trails: Volume One
In New England, many of our woodland trails follow old routes from farm and timber operations. They were never designed or intended for long-term sustainable recreational use, and this often results in trails that require high levels of maintenance, do not fully protect environmental and cultural resources, and fail to provide the most positive user experiences.
Core Elements of a Sustainable Trail
Designing and developing sustainable trails is the key to a successful trail system. The core elements of a sustainable trail are that it:
Protects the environment
Meets user needs and expectations
Requires little maintenance
A trail that cannot balance these elements will not be sustainable, and should be closed or not developed.
Characteristics of Sustainable Trails
While there are many factors that can influence the sustainability of trails, the key characteristics are that they:
Connect positive, and avoid negative, control points
A sustainable trail will lead users to desired destinations such as water features, historic sites, vistas, interesting landforms and user facilities; while avoiding wet areas, steep slopes, critical habitats, and other culturally or environmentally sensitive areas.
Keep water off the trail
Erosion is the number one problem for sustainable trails. It damages trails, is expensive to repair and diminishes the user experiences. In New England, water is the primary erosive force. Trails that collect water or channel water will be both environmentally and economically un-sustainable.
Follow natural contours
Trails lie on the land in three ways – along a fall-line (in the direction of the slope), on flat ground, or along the contour (perpendicular to the slope). Of these types of trails, only the contour trail on the side-slope easily sheds water and is thus sustainable.
Keep users on the trail
When users leave the trail tread, they widen it, create braided trails, and create social trails. These can cause environmental damage and raise maintenance costs. Users leave the trail when it becomes eroded or wet, or when the trail does not meet their needs or expectations.
Offer different user experiences
Sustainable trails and trail systems must meet different users’ needs and expectations. If they do not, users may abandon the trails and / or create their own, less sustainable trails.
Ultimately, a sustainable trail design will most often be a trail that connects desired control points by roughly contouring along the sides of slopes.
Designing Sustainable Contour Trails
So the contour trail is the most sustainable design, but how does one specifically lay out and create these trails so that they do not collect or channel water? A sustainable contour trail should conform to the following five “rules:”
Outslope: The trail tread should be outsloped (sloped away from the hillside) by 5%. This will allow water that comes on to the trail to flow off downhill and not be channeled down the trail.
Grade Reversals: While the trail will generally follow the contour of the land, it will also most likely either be climbing or descending slightly. However, a sustainable trail should also reverse its grade often (from down to up and vice versa, “surfing the hillside”). This will reduce the watershed of any given section of trail, prevent water from collecting and running down the trail, and reduce any erosion potential. Most trails should include grade reversals every 20 to 50 feet.
Half Rule: A trail’s grade (percent slope) should not be any greater than half the grade of the hillside that it contours along. For example, if the slope of the hill the trail runs along is 16%, than the grade of the trail should be no more than 8%. This will allow water to flow across the trail, off the trail and continue down the slope. This is especially important along gentle slopes.
Ten Percent Average Grade: An average trail grade of 10% or less will be most sustainable, on most soils and for most users. This does not mean that shorter sections can’t be steeper.
Maximum Sustainable Grade: The maximum sustainable grade is the steepest grade the trail will attain, and should be determined early in the planning process. Typical maximum grades may vary from 15% to 25%, but this is site specific and depends on factors such as soils, rainfall, the half rule, grade reversals, user type, desired difficulty level, and number of users.
Water bars are not sustainable. Use grade reversals or grade dips (small grade reversals) instead.
Use full bench (not partial bench) trail construction on side slopes. See http://www.imba.com/resources/trail_building/contour.html for details.
Fully close and reclaim unsustainable trails. Brush piles at trail entrances don’t work. You should block entrances, but also try to reclaim the entire corridor of closed trails. See http://www.imba.com/resources/trail_building/reclaiming_trail.html for details.
Maintaining a Trail through Partnerships
Wachusett Greenways and the Mass Central Rail Trail
by Colleen Abrams, Wachusett Greenways
Before the ribbon is even cut to open a new trail, maintenance has begun. A maintenance plan is integral in developing a fresh trail. Wachusett Greenways and its partners are constructing and maintaining the 30-mile central portion of the cross-state Mass Central Rail Trail (MCRT), and have found that a partnership of town governments, local businesses, state agencies, and volunteers is effective for both building and maintaining the trail.
Each partner in the public/private partnership carries out the portion of maintenance which fits its own resources. Since all of these partners have had a role in constructing the trail, they have a personal stake in continuing to care for it.
The Wachusett towns of Sterling, West Boylston, Holden and Rutland have all made the commitment to carry out routine machine maintenance, such as blowing leaves, mowing shoulders and plowing parking lots for the MCRT. They also have agreed to do periodic trail bed repair when needed. When Wachusett Greenways prepares grant proposals, the towns write letters of support stating their maintenance commitments. They have been diligent in keeping the trails in good condition. In three instances when heavy spring rains damaged short trail sections, they were quick to make the repairs. Following our most recent snowstorm the Department of Public Works in Holden plowed and sanded trail parking lots. The cost of required machine maintenance is manageable when shared by all the citizens.
State agencies are also important partners in trail maintenance. The Department of Conservation and Recreation has contributed to trail construction and repair. The DCR Watershed Division has moved and reconstructed parking lots and participates on the Task Force to build and maintain the trail. And the DCR State Parks Division has offered to assist in resurfacing a section of trail.
Business owners in the Wachusett area have donated trail construction services and now have begun to help with maintenance and upgrading the trail. In Holden, Robert DiPerrio recently contributed a day’s work with a bulldozer and backhoe to install a culvert and widen and resurface a section of trail.
Finally, Wachusett Greenways volunteers are a critical element of the maintenance team. A Trail Team Leader coordinates ditch cleaning and brush and tree chipping with teams of volunteers ranging from two to twenty people per session. To help with maintenance requiring hand tools, the Trail Team Leader also coordinates groups of volunteers, including middle school students and participants of the Worcester County Community Corrections program. Projects such as building fences, picnic tables and bridges, and producing trail guides have all been carried out by Eagle and Gold Award Scouts and students completing service projects.
To identify and address problems early and reduce the cost of repairs, a volunteer Greenways engineer inspects bridge abutments. This fall Greenways contracted a mason to repair the mortar on an original railroad bridge stone abutment. Volunteers also maintain new bridges by removing organic litter and preventing new growth at the bridge edges. Gardening volunteers plant trees, shrubs and perennial flowers at trailheads to provide an inviting entrance. In 2007 our first summer youth interns helped remove brush at parking lots.
Last year, we initiated a Trail Patrol program, and now every completed section of the MCRT has a Patroller. These volunteers remove litter and fallen branches, clear drainage ditches to prevent damaging blockages, and report trail problems to the coordinator. Volunteers repainted scratched paint on a new picnic table and the minor damage was not repeated. Since the people who use the trail are helping to build and maintain it, litter and vandalism are rare.
Local police and ranger patrols – especially on foot or bicycle – are also important elements of trail maintenance. Their presence and helpful, friendly interactions help trail users feel secure, and also help insure that watershed protection goals are met. Following the recent snows, a trail user finished cross-country skiing under a half-moon light and entered the parking lot. Shortly thereafter, a local police cruiser appeared. The officer was reassured that the resident was not lost in the woods and the trail user was pleased to know that the police department was another partner in securing the trail.
Through good communication and continued partnerships, the Mass Central Rail Trail will be a well-tended resource for this generation and beyond.
Greenways as Classrooms
For many people, the term "greenway" conjures up images of wildlife corridors or linear recreational trails. But greenways, especially along rivers, also make for great outdoor classrooms, particularly in urbanized communities where natural areas are a scarce commodity and the population is typically underserved by environmental programs. These greenway corridors offer a firsthand opportunity to explore natural systems and understand how human activities – past and present – have shaped the landscape.
A growing number of teachers, environmental organizers, and youth leaders are developing projects that use nearby greenways as their outdoor classrooms. At universities, professors use “living classrooms” to teach forestry, wildlife biology, hydrology, botany, landscape design, sustainable living, community history and physical education. By using greenways as classrooms, youth and adults alike see that learning does not necessarily begin with a textbook, but can come from observing the world around them and asking questions.
Here are a couple examples of Massachusetts greenways as classrooms:
Service Learning through Plant Monitoring along the Housatonic River Walk
Adapted from http://www.gbriverwalk.org
The Housatonic River in Berkshire County is a "working river" abused by years of industrial waste and neglect, but it also has great beauty and wildlife value. The Great Barrington Housatonic River Walk, a project of The Great Barrington Land Conservancy, has brought the river back to the community through volunteer riverbank clean-ups, a streamside path, community art, and gardens.
The River Walk is also a model for using native plants to reclaim dramatically altered banks of the Housatonic, and students are now becoming intimately involved in this native restoration process. The 2006 growing season was the beginning of an outdoor learning program that focused on native plant monitoring. The program provides hard data to assess progress and to guide decisions about future riverbank planting schemes.
Student interns began by pulling existing plants and rototilling the soil to form a planting plot. Within this area, they sectioned off eight half meter square “quadrants.” In each quadrant, they planted one of each of four native, perennial species including maple-leaved viburnum, thin-leaved sunflower, spicebush, and woodland agrimony. Four plots received “compost tea” treatments, while four remained controls. Compost tea is made by steeping compost in water, and the resulting liquid can be used as a fertilizer, and may also help prevent plant diseases.
On each plant, students measured plant height, number of leaves, number of flowers/buds, and number of side branches. In October, they collected the herbaceous plants (sunflower and agrimony) from the base of the stem to dry and weigh them. They also tallied and weighed the weeds. All of these data points were used to compare treatment and control plots, thereby quantifying the effects of the compost tea. These data also shed light on which species are most successful at River Walk, which in turn will be the species the Conservancy propagates and plants most frequently.
Through this program, students are learning valuable scientific techniques, and and providing useful data for a project of community importance – all on their neighborhood greenway.
The Classroom of the Concord River Greenway
Adapted from personal communication with the Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust
At left: 2006 Cleanup at Citizen Schools’ Wang Campus
The single most important factor in developing personal concern for the environment is positive experiences in the outdoors during childhood. The staff at the Lowell Parks & Conservation Trust (LPCT) witness this lesson each and every time they work with students outside. In the natural environment, students are eager to learn, ask questions, and explore.
For the past three years, the LPCT has been offering an after-school program called Backyard Adventures, in partnership with Mass Audubon – Drumlin Farms. In the fall of 2006, the program expanded to a second site with Girls Inc. of Greater Lowell.
The goal of these programs is to get the young people outdoors to discover the natural environment around Lowell. Through these programs, they explore the habitats of pond, meadow, forest, and of course, the river! Along the Concord River, students explore the future route of the Concord River greenway, the Wamesit fish ladder, and Muldoon Park. While many of the students have "seen" the river, they have rarely had a chance to experience it up close and personal. These programs allow young people that opportunity, and by including activities such as clean-ups, the LPCT is also trying to encourage these students to now become stewards of their environment.
In addition to youth programs, the LPCT has launched a project on the historical land use, social history, and oral history of the river with UMass Lowell professor Chad Montrie. This project is creating a Concord River history brochure, a walking tour, and a Powerpoint presentation. This group will also be working on publishing a book that uses the Concord River Greenway as an environmental and community classroom.
Through these projects, organizations like The Great Barrington Land Conservancy and The Lowell Parks & Conservation Trust are not only educating youth and adults through hands on activities, but they are also connecting community and nature through the powerful tool of the greenway.
Stepping Back in Time:
The Mahican Mohawk Trail
Envisioned as a 100-mile trail from the Connecticut to the Hudson River, the Mahican Mohawk Recreational Trail follows the historic corridor along the Deerfield and Hoosic Rivers that was once an important Native American route and later became used by colonial settlers.
The Mahican Mohawk is one of the state’s only east-west running long-distance trails, and it functions as the strand that ties together some of the most significant natural and historic resources in the region.
The String of Pearls:
The journey begins at Historic Deerfield. Originally settled by English farmers in 1669, Deerfield is now both a modern community and an “open-air museum” that preserves and interprets the architecture, artifacts and lifestyle of a prosperous early New England town. The 14 museum houses with their antique furnishings, along with the exhibition galleries and collections, comprise some of the finest examples of publicly available early Americana in the United States.
The trail then follows the Deerfield River Valley, one of the most scenic in the state, and leads to the confluence of the Deerfield and the South Rivers, a site of both remarkable beauty and historic importance. The steep-sided South River was the site of the tallest railroad bridge in southern New England (175 feet), and also the intersection of the New Haven to Northampton steam rail line and the hydro-powered Conway Electric rail line.
The trail next takes us to the Village of Shelburne Falls, the home of the Glacial Potholes and the world-famous Bridge-of-Flowers. Although access is currently restricted, the potholes are one of the most beautiful and geologically interesting attractions in Western Massachusetts.
At the center of the “spring of pearls” is the Mohawk Trail State Forest. Here the Mahican Mohawk route actually traverses 1.25 miles of what is thought to be the original Native American trail up to the top of Todd Mountain. Mohawk Trail State Forest also includes the largest area of old growth forest in Massachusetts (some 560 acres with 500-year old trees), and the tallest white pine trees in New England, where one tree, the Jake Swamp White Pine, is expected to reach 180 feet next year.
The final leg of the currently designated trail comes down off Hoosac Range above North Adams back to Route 2 where it then goes on-road to the doors of Mass MOCA, the Museum of Contemporary Art. Future extensions will bring this remarkable trail to Williamstown, Massachusetts, then on to Vermont and New York, west to the Hudson River.
A Multi-Modal Trail: One of the unusual aspects of the Mahican Mohawk trail is that it will knit together a variety of trail types and surfaces. The eastern section between Deerfield and Bardwell’s Ferry Bridge follows the old New Haven to Northampton rail bed, but the subsequent section to Shelburne Falls is a rather rugged woodland hiking-only trail.
From Shelburne Falls to Charlemont, the current designated trail is the Deerfield River itself, offering a wonderful opportunity for canoeists and kayakers to experience the trail, perhaps in much the same way that Native Americans might have.
Other sections of the trail follow unpaved county roads, and may also use snowmobile trails. The section from North Adams to Williamstown is currently envisioned as a hard surface multi-use trail.
While this patchwork may affect the cohesiveness of the trail, it also has the potential to bring together multiple users from cyclists to snowmobilers to kayakers, and to provide a variety of trail experiences.
Still Under Development, Where Can I Find it Now?
Although envisioned as a 100-mile trail, only about 25 miles are currently designated in Massachusetts, and some of these are on road, on water, or not well marked or developed. The best sections currently open for hiking include:
- Deerfield, Hoosac Road to Route 2 in Shelburne Falls: The current trailhead is at Hoosac Road in Deerfield where there is a sign and parking. From here, you can hike (assuming you can cross the South River) approximately 8 miles ending at a pullout on Route 2 near the State Police Barracks.
- Mohawk Trails State Forest: You can pick up the trail in the state forest if you take the nature trail to the end of the upper meadow, or pick up a trail map at the contact station. This section of the trail takes you approximately 3 miles to the summit of Todd Mountain and the original stretch of Native American trail, before heading on the South County Road in Florida, Massachusetts.
- From the Western Summit: From the Western Summit of the Mohawk Trail a final, one-mile stretch of woodland path descends the Hoosac Range to a trailhead and pullout on Route 2 across from Rock Manor Mobile Home Park.
The Main Event:
Public events can grow grassroots support
(By Charles Tracy, National Park Service – Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program)
You’re going to see for yourself how beautiful the river is. The Passaic River Paddle Relay helps create stewardship: people who care about what happens to the river.
Jerry Willis, N.J. Director, National Park Service
Public events – carefully planned – are one of the most effective tools for building and maintaining a grassroots conservation initiative. Whether you’re creating a new trail or greenway, protecting a river, or restoring a landscape, when people touch the water, walk the land, or sink a shovel in the earth, they will often discover a personal connection to the project, and begin to truly understand and even identify with the environmental needs. Then, advocacy and action can take root.
Different kinds of public events can advance grassroots initiatives in a number of ways:
- Un-covering Rivers: Many times rivers are hidden by our development of the landscape, sometimes even buried in concrete tunnels, or at best crossed-over by a high-walled bridge. Many rivers also carry past reputations with them into the present. River events – like the Passaic River Paddle Relay, the Amazing Bronx River Flotilla, or the Concord River Whitewater Rafting in Lowell – offer opportunities for exploring a river’s hidden treasures, changing perceptions, and celebrating recent conservation achievements.
The process of event planning and execution itself is also often effective in identifying and attracting local groups and individuals with a strong interest in supporting the project. These may then become the people who will form a new project’s core group of volunteers and partners.
Last but certainly not least, events often make good pictures, and pictures can help tell your story. Good media coverage of enjoyable and spectacled public events attracts new constituents interested in meaningful work and having some fun.
The Quabbin to Cardigan Collaborative:
Greenway Protection at a Multi-State Scale
Stretching for more than 100 miles along the Monadnock Highlands region from the Quabbin Reservoir in central Massachusetts to Mt. Cardigan and the White Mountains of New Hampshire, lies one of the largest remaining areas of contiguous forest in central New England.
Thanks to a long history of public and private conservation and forest stewardship, the Quabbin to Cardigan (Q2C) Greenways is still largely intact protecting ridge lines, stream and river headwaters, and critical habitats for many wide-ranging bird and animal species. Unfortunately, as across New England, a combination of factors from the globalization of the forest products industry to growing residential development pressures, are threatening the future of this regional greenway. If unchecked, the impressive treasure of currently protected lands within the region – Mt. Monadnock, the Quabbin Reservoir, the Tully Lake Area, for example – are in danger of becoming biological and recreational “islands.”
To meet this threat, an innovative partnership formed in 2003. Building upon the decades of conservation and stewardship work by land trusts and state agencies, the Q2C Collaborative, facilitated by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, brought together a broad cross-section of over twenty public and private partners to frame a joint greenway conservation strategy for the region.
Through consensus-building, the Collaborative first:
- Established an approximate boundary for a 3,100 square mile focus area, and
- Agreed on target resources for protection
- Large forested blocks, and
- Highly significant ecological features.
The Collaborative then focused on GIS-based mapping to:
- Develop a baseline of the region’s existing public and private conservation lands,
- Identify the location and size of forested blocks,
- Identify significant natural resource data, comparable in both states, and finally,
- Focus on the highest priority lands for targeted conservation.
Looking to the future, the Q2C Collaborative in now working to:
- Accelerate proactive land protection in the focus area,
- Identify and secure sources of private funding,
- Identify and secure additional sources for federal, state and local conservation funding, and
- Promote the Q2C regional vision with key stakeholders and the public.
Staying Connected - It’s Not So Easy!
Contributed by Dan Gould and Randy Toth, Snowmobile Association of Massachusetts
The Snowmobile Association of Massachusetts (SAM) is comprised of over 30 local clubs representing approximately 18,000 registered snowmobilers in Massachusetts. SAM is committed to “Enhancing Safe Snowmobiling in Massachusetts with a Vision of an Interconnected Snowmobile Trail System From Connecticut to Vermont and New York to Worcester.” SAM member clubs develop, maintain and groom over 2,000 miles of snowmobile trails in Massachusetts and they own and operate a fleet of over 100 snowmobile trail groomers. According to a study from the University of Massachusetts, snowmobiling adds over $55 million dollars annually to the Commonwealth’s economy.
An interconnected Statewide Snowmobile Trail System (SSTS) is vital to Massachusetts snowmobilers because it is the key to quality snowmobile riding in our state. Massachusetts state parks and forests are the basic building blocks which form the backbone of our SSTS. SAM clubs work with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation and other state agencies to develop and maintain snowmobile trails on state lands. Clubs pour thousands of volunteer hours and dollars into trails on public lands annually, to the benefit of many users.
However, without connections between the larger state parks and forests - the prime riding areas - snowmobile riding would be limited to simply riding back and forth on selected trails with only a few loops.
Currently, the basic building blocks of public lands are interconnected via trails on unplowed city and town roads and via many miles of additional connecting trails on privately held farms and forests, commercial and residential property for which permission to ride has been obtained from the landowner. These private landowners are very generous folks who give us permission to use a small portion of their lands for riding when there is adequate snow cover during the winter.
As a result of this partnership involving state, municipal, and private landowners, Massachusetts has the foundation of a statewide snowmobile network that is the basis for a truly enjoyable trail riding experience in which a family is able to leave early in the morning and ride into the afternoon with a stop for lunch at a local restaurant - all with a minimal amount of trail repetition. An interconnected system is safer to use, easier to maintain and more enjoyable since it disperses snowmobilers over a wide area and provides a more memorable experience for those enjoying the outdoors. Private trails are also very important for snowmobilers to be able to gain access to gas, food, motels, parking areas and even repairs shops while traveling on a snowmobile. SAM clubs partner with local businesses to develop snowmobile trail links from the SSTS directly to privately owned services and businesses. SAM member clubs work diligently with their landowner partners to resolve concerns about permitting a snowmobile trail on their lands. Member clubs ask permission to use the land, provide information about state trespass and liability laws, and offer basic liability insurance coverage via SAM. They also help to clean up and maintain trails in the off-season. Additionally, SAM implements a $5,000 annual Trails Safety Grant to hire additional patrols of SAM snowmobile trails by the Massachusetts Environmental Police Officers.
Maintaining the SSTS is an ongoing challenge, and one of SAM’s goals for the future is to work to protect this system. While many landowners give permission to ride on their land year after year, a certain percentage sell their property to landowners who refuse requests to continue the trail operation or to commercial or residential developers which usually results in a trail disconnect. However, sometimes the larger farm or forest tracts are acquired by a state agency and we are able to negotiate an agreement to continue utilizing an existing trail.
Securing trail access over private lands may be accomplished by several means. First there is Informal Verbal Permission, basically a “Handshake Agreement.” It is useful, but does not provide much in the way of long-term trail route stability. Also, it does not normally spell out any terms and conditions relating to trail development and maintenance.
Written Permission for trail access is a more formal type of agreement. This may take the form of a license which is a written revocable agreement between a landowner and trail user that grants trail access. It is not permanent or binding on future landowners. It can contain conditions of use and management agreements vital to the snowmobiler and landowner interests. Another form of formal written permission is the Perpetual Trail Easement. This is a perpetual legal agreement between a landowner and trail user that grants trail access and specifies conditions of use and trail management including clearing, maintenance, trail marking and grooming. The easement is perpetual and appears on the title of the property. Such agreements may contain “use restrictions” such as no wheeled vehicles, no hiking, limited hours of operation, restricted speeds, or maintenance responsibilities.
Ultimately, satisfied landowners mean continued snowmobile trail access. Landowners’ concerns are our concerns! As snowmobilers, we work with our landowners to address any special issues or concerns in order to keep the trail system open and connected. Many clubs sponsor yearly landowner appreciation dinners to thank their landowners. Currently, we are in the process of exploring the use of recreational easements to preserve some of our historic snowmobile trails. For more snowmobile related information, please visit us on the web at www.sledmass.com.
Public Trails – Private Lands:
Q&A for Massachusetts Landowners and Trail Groups
(Adapted from Creating Greenways: A Citizens Guide)
Although most trails try to take advantage of the natural, cultural, and scenic resources on public lands, inevitably, trails of any length will encounter private land. Historically, many trails crossed private lands, often on farm and forest roads, usually through informal arrangements among neighbors. By necessity, as both our physical and legal landscape changes, arrangements for trails on private lands are becoming more formal, and many of the following questions and concerns commonly arise. Below are some general questions and answers that will hopefully assist both landowners and trail groups as you blaze the way toward the future of Massachusetts trails.
In What Ways can a Landowner Grant Permission for Trail Use on his or her Land?
Permission for trail use on private land can range from an informal agreement (sometimes called a “handshake agreement”), to formal written permission, to a license agreement, to a perpetual trail easement.
What is a Trail License?
A license is a revocable written agreement between an owner and trail group that permits trail access. It is not permanent or binding on future landowners. A license can be a useful tool, superior to verbal and written permission, in that it can stipulate conditions of use and management agreements.
What is a Trail Easement?
A trail easement is a perpetual legal agreement that allows others to use someone’s land in the manner provided for within the easement. An easement can be very broad, granting access to the easement holder and the public, or it can restrict what kind of access, when and under what conditions access can be used. For instance, the easement can be for public access to an entire property, or it could be restricted to a certain users on a trail of a certain width. An easement can be for hiking only, or lake access, or bicycling, or hunting – whatever uses the parties agree to, limited or expanded to the extent they decide.
What is a Conservation Restriction?
A restriction (as opposed to an easement) allows someone who does not own the land to prevent the owner from using the land in a way they would otherwise have a right to. A Conservation Restriction (CR) is a particular kind of restriction that complies with Massachusetts General Law c. 184 sec. 31-33. A CR that is intended to be perpetual must be signed by the Secretary of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. A CR is concerned with preserving the land in its natural state, and protecting its wildlife habitat, scenic views, forests and meadows, water quality, greenway connections, and other similar natural features. For an example of a CR, go to www.mass.gov/envir/dcs/restrictions/default.htm, then click on the "Conservation Restriction Handbook" which contains further information and a sample CR.
There can be extraordinary tax benefits for the donation or bargain sale of a perpetual CR. Care must be taken to follow the rules for the deductions, which are subject to change, and one should seek professional advice if the intention is to obtain the tax advantages.
A trail easement may be included within a Conservation Restriction by including easement language such as:
"The Grantor grants to the Grantee and to the general public an easement to pass and repass upon said parcel on foot for the purposes of fishing, hiking, or nature study and the Grantor also grants to the Grantee an easement for the purposes of clearing, marking and maintaining the trails."
Conservation restrictions with trail easements are the best tool for private trail protection short of outright land acquisition. They are perpetual and appear on the title of the property. They can also provide a useful tool for landowners who want to preserve the natural qualities of their land.
If a Landowner Grants Trail Access through Permission or a License, Could this Lead to a Permanent Easement through Adverse Possession?
No. Continuous use of private property under permission or license from the property owner does not ripen into an easement (see MGL Chapter 187, Section 2). If permission is given for trail use, then that use is not adverse to the rights of the owner and cannot lead to claims of adverse possession.
If a Landowner Allows Access across their Property, Will They Become Exposed to Liability for Injuries Suffered on their Property?
MGL Chapter 21, Section 17C limits a landowner’s vulnerability to law suits. While anyone, including a trail user, could sue a landowner, the owner’s liability is limited by law to circumstances of unlawful, wanton, and reckless conduct. In part, the law reads:
Any person having an interest in land . . . who lawfully permits the public to use such land for recreation, conservation, scientific, educational, environmental, ecological, research, religious, or charitable purposes without imposing a fee . . . shall not be liable for personal injuries or property damage sustained by such members of the public, including without limitation a minor, while on said land in the absence of willful, wanton, or reckless conduct by such person.
Willful conduct is an intentional act or failure to act with knowledge (or knowledge of facts that would lead a reasonable person to know) that such conduct not only creates unreasonable risk of bodily harm to another, but also involves a high degree of probability that substantial harm will result. Any landowner with a hazard such as an open pit or unsafe structure should repair or remove it, whether or not a trail exists on their property and whether or not they allow public access.
Do Lands under MGL Chapter 61B have to Allow Public Access for Recreation?
No. Owners of land in Chapter 61B may open their lands for public recreational use, but do not have to.
Who is Responsible for Maintaining a Trail on Private Land?
Whoever accepted the easement or license is responsible for the care of the trail, in cooperation with the landowner. The trail organization should lay out, cut, blaze, and maintain the trail to specified standards. The landowner should always be consulted concerning major modifications, such as cutting large trees, opening stone walls, or building bridges. Routine maintenance is the responsibility of the trail group. It is a courtesy to notify the landowner prior to embarking on any trail work.
If a Landowner Opens their Land for a Foot Trail, How can He/She Prevent Unauthorized Motorized Use?
If the landowner stipulates foot travel, this should be included on signs at the entrance to the property, and alternative access points should be blocked. There are penalties for operating motorized vehicles on private land, and landowners and trail groups can work together by informing local police of violations. MGL Chapter 266, Section 121A makes it an offense punishable by a fine of $250 to enter onto private land with a motorized vehicle whether or not the land is posted against trespass.
Please remember the above information is intended to be general in nature, and specific cases may require further legal counsel.
Ten Ways to Support Greenways and Trails
(From American Trails and the National Trails Symposium)
This past fall, at the National Trails Symposium in the Quad Cities of Illinois and Iowa, participants crafted the following recommendations for the future of greenways and trails in America. This list has been forwarded to the members of the 110th Congress, the White House, key agency heads, and leaders in the trails community. However, it is up to all of us to promote these steps to support the growth of greenways and trails.
- Promote Connections In Our Communities – Work toward trail and greenway infrastructure that connects people and places in our neighborhoods, towns, cities, and regions. Trails and greenways should be readily accessible within a 15 minute walk of every American.
- Create a National Trails Network/System – Create an integrated trails network at all levels: linking cities, states, and regions of North America, as well as trails accessing national, state, and local parks, forests, and other public lands.
- Commit Sustainable Funding – Develop ongoing, sustainable revenue streams to fund the creation of greenways and trails. These include federal and state programs such as Transportation Enhancements; Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ); National Park Service Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance (RTCA) program; Recreational Trails Program; Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), and Community Preservation Act funds, as well as other state greenway grants and local appropriations.
- Expand Environmental Education – Environmental education should be an integral part of a national and local school curricula at every level.
- Associate Trails with Health and Fitness – Trails are, and should be, a significant part of community health and fitness programs.
- Encourage All Americans to Participate – Support opportunities for citizens to give back—helping to plan, fund, and volunteer on trails in our neighborhoods, parks, and state and federal lands.
- Promote Sustainable Transportation – Trails and greenways provide alternative modes of travel, which lessens our dependence on foreign oil and reduce CO2 emissions contributing to climate change.
- Engage, Motivate Youth – Promote stewardship with youth conservation / trail building corps.
- Promote Access and Accessibility – Work toward an accessible, safe system for all abilities within easy reach of all homes and places of employment.
- Build Greenway and Trail Partnerships – Promote greenway and trail creation as vital elements of infrastructure, working in partnership with homebuilders and developers; transportation planners; utility, flood and fire control agencies; and others with mutual benefit.
In an era of diminishing wild spaces, we must create a legacy of places of outdoor recreation and solace readily accessible to all Americans. Let’s encourage the vigorous pursuit of this vision for current and future generations.
DCR Completes Off Highway Vehicle Policy
The trails in our parks are used by a diversity of recreational users. One such use is by off highway vehicles (OHVs), such as ATVs and off-road motorcycles. OHV use on public lands has been growing nationally, by as much as 300% in many areas, over the last decade. In Massachusetts, an estimated 90,000 households participate in OHV recreation on public lands. Historically, eight DCR forests have been open to OHV use. Unfortunately, with a growing population of enthusiasts; few legal riding areas; and inadequate past attention to the siting, construction and maintenance of designated trails; this activity has produced environmental degradation in many areas and touched off conflicts with other trail users. As a result, DCR is working to tackle this issue by developing a new policy for OHV trail use, siting, maintenance, and management.
The Policy Development Process
Recognizing the scale of the challenge and the range of interests, DCR adopted a regional, multi-stakeholder approach to the issue in 2005. We assembled an OHV working group composed of trails users, scientists, land managers, and others to expand the discussion and inform the agency’s decisions. The most important task of this working group was to develop a set of objective criteria that could be used to assess the appropriateness of OHV use on any given DCR property.
The group’s deliberations produced draft criteria that were presented in public meetings across the state in 2006. Public comments from these sessions were incorporated into the final policy. The new OHV policy establishes a two-tiered process for assessing and designing OHV trails, what we call a “coarse” and “fine” filter process. In the first stage, a GIS analysis is used to assess the extent of important natural resources on a property, including wetlands, drinking water supply resources, rare plant and animal habitats, priority natural communities, forest reserves, and steep slopes. This analysis will be used to determine if OHV use is at all compatible with the property. The second stage or fine filter seeks to address the specific siting, management, and maintenance of OHV trails. The policy also includes provisions to encourage safe and enjoyable motorized recreation areas, including mileage goals, coordination with local communities, and cooperation with local clubs and supporting organizations.
Last fall, the draft policy was submitted to the Stewardship Council (DCR’s advisory board) for their review. In February, the Council approved the policy. The full policy is available on DCR’s website at www.mass.gov/dcr/recreate/orv.
DCR has now begun the process of applying the coarse filter criteria to the properties where OHV use is currently allowed – Beartown, F. Gilbert Hills, Franklin, Freetown – Fall River, Georgetown-Rowley, October Mountain, Pittsfield, Tolland and Wrentham State Forests. Depending on the outcome of this assessment, the agency may take action in the next few weeks to eliminate or reduce OHV use in specific properties prior to the riding season that begins May 1, 2007. The agency will hold public meetings in communities where designated OHV use changes.
Enforcement an Ongoing Concern
The Stewardship Council added an important condition to their approval of the new policy. Recognizing that illegal OHV use is widespread on public and private lands across the Commonwealth, the advisory body challenged the agency to produce a plan for addressing enforcement concerns by early August, 2007. Any plan to improve OHV enforcement must address penalties for misuse of these vehicles and the capacity of law enforcement agencies to catch law-breakers. Any process to strengthen OHV laws and regulations and bolster law enforcement capacity should involve the Legislature, multiple law enforcement agencies, environmental interests, land management entities, and motorized recreation enthusiasts. The agency is therefore initiating a process that encourages participation by these and other diverse interests and will proceed quickly to produce a plan for the council’s review in early summer.
The Elements of Sustainable OHV Management
Growing demand for motorized trail recreation and a steadily decreasing supply of open space available for the sport will ensure that OHV recreation will continue to be one of the most polarizing challenges in trail recreation for the next decade. DCR believes that effective and sustainable management will requires three essential elements:
- Legally designated riding areas designed, constructed, maintained, and managed specifically to accommodate this use,
- Strengthened state laws, OHV regulations, and expanded enforcement capacity to deter illegal riding, and
- Consistent information regarding safe and environmentally responsible motorized trail recreation coordinated among land managers, law enforcement agencies, dealers and manufacturers, and local clubs and riders.
This complex topic will continue to spark energetic debate. DCR will continue to encourage broad coalitions of stakeholders to work together in pursuit of all these essential elements. DCR is hopeful that the network of individuals, organizations, and decision-makers who have been engaged in this process so far and/ or who care about trails in Massachusetts will contribute to the consistent communication that is critical for effective and sustainable management.
To submit suggestions or questions, please contact DCR at firstname.lastname@example.org or the agency’s comment line at 617-626-4973.
The Art of Conservation:
Connecting communities with their landscapes through art
~ Charles Tracy, Director of Art & Community Landscapes, National Park Service
Over a century and a half ago, artists brought to the American consciousness the beauty of the New England landscape and the Hudson River, and the magnificence of the territories west of the Mississippi. Thomas Cole, Asher Durand, Thomas Moran and Frederic Edwin Church, among others, played a key role in framing the agenda for early landscape conservation; leading up to the establishment of Yellowstone National Park, the first federally held public park, in 1872.
Today, contemporary artists continue to inform, inspire, and advance conservation efforts that encourage landscape preservation and restoration, urban greening and bioremediation, and broader community participation in environmental initiatives across the country. Through the vision of artists, community awareness is increased resulting in the protection and enhancement of ecologically vital areas – rivers, trails, and greenways – that provide opportunities for education and recreation. Here are two examples:
In New York City, artists Mags Harries and Lajos Heder worked with a coalition of community groups to create the Golden Ball, an annual multi-media art event designed to tie together the fractured experience of the Bronx River by uniting the complex layers of people and artifacts along its banks. The Golden Ball and its Keepers floated down the river from suburban Bronxville to inner-city South Bronx. The annual event was a powerful catalyst for increased funding for river restoration, park development, and enhanced public access to the river.
“What was the impact on the Bronx River? The Golden Ball brought magic, ceremony, and energy. That energy is now an inseparable part of the larger effort to restore and improve the river.” ~ Lajos Héder, Harries/Héder Collaborative
In the Quinebaug River Valley in northeastern Connecticut, folksinger Sally Rogers worked with schoolchildren from three different communities to write, perform, and produce fourteen songs based on oral histories of long-time valley residents. The “Songs of the Heritage Corridor” performances and recordings supported a larger effort to reconnect valley residents with the river, and have contributed to long-term efforts by the National Park Service and Quinebaug and Shetucket Rivers Valley National Heritage Corridor to create river greenways and recreation trails connecting valley communities.
“What was the impact on the children and the community? By singing the history of the people and the places around them, the memory of the land became one with their own memories.” ~ Sally Rogers, Folksinger
Art can capture public attention and animate the goals of community environmental projects in ways that our traditional approaches – public meetings, events, and publications – could never do. Art helps greenway and trail managers connect and communicate on a deeper level with a much broader audience than is ordinarily possible.
Citizen Organizing to Promote Trail Projects
- Adapted from a presentation at Moving Together 2006 by Bob Armstrong
The Friends of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail was formed in 2002 following a Rails-to-Trails Conservancy presentation that focused on successful rail trail projects in every region of the country but ours. This energized a small group of people to start work on a proposed 25-mile rail trail that will run through eight communities from Lowell to Framingham. Fortunately, they were not discouraged by the fact that 15 years earlier, the state had called for construction of this rail trail, but not one mile had yet been constructed.
The First Steps
The Friends had no formal game plan, only a group of enthusiastic supporters willing to spend large amounts of time on a project that seemed so achievable. They began meeting on a regular basis at a local bike shop, and recruited speakers from many sources to help educate them on a subject about which they knew very little. They also organized meetings with town officials and state agencies to develop credibility as a responsible group willing to work on a project that was supposedly important to everyone, but had not moved forward.
A Formal Organization?
One of the first suggestions was to have The Friends become a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization. After ignoring this idea for two years, it became obvious that in order to gain credibility with their supporters, and with local and state officials, the required (and arduous) filings would have to be done. The tax-exempt status also encouraged tax-deductible contributions and membership dues to support the organization.
Publicity became another priority, and the Friends developed a colorful logo to promote their identify. This led to merchandise such as hats and t-shirts, and the group was pleasantly surprised to see people they didn’t know wearing their logo proudly at town events. They also created a website that languished for a period of time until a talented volunteer stepped forward to oversee the development. The website is now one of the most professional and extensive websites of any rail trail organization (www.brucefreemanrailtrail.org).
To increase their membership, the Friends started appearing at town-wide events and purchased banners and a booth canopy to gain attention. What started as a small effort to develop supporters blossomed into a major activity and the results are obvious. There are now over 3,000 supporters signed up and over 400 dues-paying members. Positive articles appearing in local and regional newspapers played an important part in generating support for the rail trail. These articles quickly became reprints that were distributed widely to decision makers involved with the rail trail.
Education and Outreach
Once noticed, now educational programs were needed to build a constituency around the project. The Friends group sponsored walks along the right of way to encourage residents to support the rail trail. They gave PowerPoint presentations to other groups looking for interesting speakers. They created maps for each town and for the full 8-community corridor to help people understand where the trail was located in relation to their home and nearby towns. And they developed a newsletter to let people know how the rail trail project was progressing in their town, and how adjoining towns were handling similar issues. Finally, they organized numerous trail clearing projects. These not only built support for the rail trail, but helped people see first hand where the rail trail was located and how it impacted (or didn’t) abutters and wetlands.
The Friends of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail can point to many accomplishments during the past four years.
They helped raise over $500,000 of CPA and private funding for the rail trail.
They have been responsible for starting work on the 25% design phase of the rail trail in four towns, with another town not far behind.
They have reached a tentative agreement with MassHighway to include the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail crossing of Route 2 in Concord’s Rotary Redesign project.
They are meeting continually with local and state officials to keep them supporting the rail trail, and
They have received major funding for the rail trail project in the TIP.
Despite their many organizing successes, the Friends have not seen a mile of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail completed since their founding. However, they are keeping their fingers crossed that construction on the 7-mile Phase 1 portion of the rail trail will start in 2007. This will show their supporters the first tangible sign of progress on the trail. Their major organizational goal now is to keep all of their volunteers in the 8 communities along the rail trail corridor fully engaged until the full 25-mile project is completed.
Forming a Greenway and Trail Committee
Adapted from Creating Greenways, A Citizen’s Guide by Jennifer Howard
Many, if not most, successful greenway and trail efforts in recent years have been achieved as a result of the vision, advocacy, and hard work of volunteer citizens – capturing their dreams, and working to realize them.
Working toward a community greenway vision is similar to any kind of major public program or campaign. Among the essential first steps are defining your project, forming a core group of committed individuals, and publicizing (marketing) your ideas.
Volunteers (and even professionals) will rarely realize success on their own. Establishing a greenway or trails committee early in the process is often key to your ultimate success. Such committees will benefit your project because they can:
Provide Assistance: no one has time or inclination to do everything that needs to be done in order to achieve success in developing a greenway or trail, but many hands can make light work.
Add Credibility: formalization can add both credibility and organization to your efforts which are often prerequisites for moving forward.
Broaden Perspective: We each bring our own notions, biases, and blinders to the table of any project. With a committee, especially if it is representative of the diverse perspectives of the community, potential opportunities, strategies, and pitfalls are more likely to be fully explored.
Garner Support: Committees can help build support for your project, both in the work that they do to drum up interest, and in the reputations that they bring to the effort and the groups that they represent.
An alternative to forming a brand new greenway committee is for an existing community committee or organization, such as the Conservation Commission, Open Space Committee, or a local land trust to adopt your greenway project and become its sponsor. This can work quite well. The Discover Hamilton Trail, for example, was developed by the Town Conservation Commission; this 9.9-mile-long trail links greenways in Hamilton with the Bay Circuit Trail in Ipswich and with the Hamilton Historic District.
It is important, however, to make sure that the reputation of the group and the other work in which it is involved will not compromise your goals or limit the potential constituency of your greenway effort. If this is the case, your cause may be better served by asking a representative from these various groups to participate in your new greenway committee.
At the outset especially, enthusiasm and commitment to the project are more important than expertise. Information and financial support can always come from outside sources, but motivation and dedication must come from within.
Additionally, seek out and invite people who represent the breadth of diverse opinions from your community. Different potential user groups, land owners, related organizations, and political perspectives will all be important for success, so invite them in early.
Finally, look for people who are problem solvers rather than problem finders. Groups that are committed to finding positive solutions to the obstacles they will encounter will be likely to succeed.
Whatever the make up of your committee, good leadership will be critical. Again, the leader isn't necessarily the individual who is most knowledgeable about greenways and open space planning. More importantly, the person you choose must be truly committed to the project, have the time and energy to devote to it, and possess excellent communication and organizational skills. In addition, an effective leader:
Delegates important tasks and responsibilities;
Recognizes the strengths and weaknesses of others;
Initiates and focus group discussions without dominating them;
Recognizes and articulates good ideas;
Gets along with all types of people and enjoys working in a group; and
Motivates the group and keeps its progress on schedule.
(adapted from The Open Space Planners Workbook)
Once the group is formed, it should clearly (and perhaps narrowly at the outset) define its focus and goals. In general, citizen groups are effective in one or more of four areas:
Advocacy: Advocating for and promoting a project or goal;
Fundraising: Bringing both grants and donations to support a project;
Education programs: Educating and building a constituency around trails and greenways through walks, talks and interpretation; and
Volunteer work: organizing and guiding volunteers to build or maintain trails.
Pick one or two of these areas to focus on at the beginning. Identify a relatively easy early project such as a trail walk, fundraising event, or newsletter. Then accomplish that project, and build a reputation for success.
But remember, good ideas can take time. Great ideas can take even more time. The Bay Circuit Trail was first conceived of in 1929. The Bruce Freeman Rail Trail is, to date, 20 years in the making. But with committed leaders and strong citizen advocates, even Rome can eventually be built.
Tips for Successful Volunteer Workdays
Many successful trails have been developed in Massachusetts through the hard work and dedication of volunteers. Volunteer projects can provide an effective labor force for building trails, and they can be a useful form for outreach and education. However, managing volunteers is not simple, and if organized sloppily, can result in few accomplishments, lost opportunities, and much dissatisfaction.
Here are 11 tips, adapted from a recent article in the International Mountain Bicycling Association’s Trail News newsletter prepared with the help of Mark Flint, that anyone managing volunteers should follow.
Be Prepared: If you are running a ramshackle show, you won’t get much done. Worse yet, you’ll run the risk of losing volunteers. Make sure you have your tasks assigned, your tools ready, your leaders trained, and your work day planned. People will only volunteer their time if they feel their effort makes an impact.
Emphasize Fun: Trail work can be tough, but should also be fun. Don’t take it too seriously. Use a little humor and include a fun element in the middle or afterwards – such as a BBQ, a group hike or ride, or a get-together at a local restaurant.
Provide Trained Leaders: Volunteers need inspiration, encouragement, and direction in order to complete the project efficiently. Leaders should know their tasks, give clear instructions, demonstrate tool use and techniques, and explain the goals so that volunteers and crew leaders are on the same page.
Don’t Waste Time: People volunteer because they want to do something. Strive to minimize “standing-around time” and maximize a sense of accomplishment. Start on time, make sure your project is ready to go, and plan for tangible results. Then every once in a while, step back and encourage your volunteers to take a look at what they’ve achieved.
Keep the Workday Short: Remember, these are volunteers, not contestants on “Survivor.” Don’t schedule projects during the hottest months. Don’t work for more than four or five hours. And do take breaks.
Thanks and Reward Everyone: Volunteers need to know their work is valued. Thank them at arrival, thank them during the day, and thank them, when they leave. List volunteers in newsletters or put photos on your website. Hand out T-shirts or prizes. Consider an awards program. Or throw an annual party at the end of the season to recognize volunteers.
Record Your Success: Tally the number of volunteers, total hours logged, and time put into planning. Invite the local press to cover your event. Assign a photographer to capture “before and after” photos. This information will help in outreach and future project planning.
Stay in Touch: Collect names, addresses, phone numbers and emails, so you can keep volunteers involved. This is particularly important for first-timers. New volunteers are likely to return if they feel both welcomed and appreciated.
Imagine a Massachusetts laced with ribbons of green – corridors connecting cities to state parks, villages to towns, scenic landscapes to hiking and biking trails. Now imagine that these “green corridors” are somehow linked together, creating an integrated network of greenways, trails, parks, bikeways, rivers, cities and conservational areas – all connected!
Greenways are more than just bike paths, more than river buffers, more than linear parks – Greenways are vital pieces of state-wide green infrastructure – a network that provides benefits from alternative transportation, to wildlife habitat, to healthy recreation, to clean water. Greenways can both protect and connect us, and ideally, they do both.
Protective Greenways: Protected river corridors and mountain ranges, forested stream buffers, agricultural greenbelts, long distance trail easements, and even linear parks and parkways – these human conserved and / or designed “green” corridors provide recreational opportunities, but they also help protect the quality of our environment and our quality of our lives.
Greenways can act as buffers and help filter sound, heat, and pollution. Take a ride on the Cape Cod Rail Trail, and enjoy the relative calm, cool and cleanliness.
Greenways provide habitat for both humans and wildlife, offering places of shelter, recreation, and respite. The Holyoke Range Greenway, traversed by the M&M Trail, provides an unbroken corridor, connecting the Mount Tom Range, the Connecticut River, the Holyoke Range, and potentially the Quabbin.
Greenways can also protect us by providing healthy and safe recreation and transportation. Commuters on the Minute Man Bikeway, for example, are protected from the otherwise harsh roadside environment.
Finally, greenways, especially if integrated with river and stream corridors, protect one of our most important natural resources – clean water. Vegetated stream buffers filter pollution and halt erosion. Protected corridors can reduce impervious surfaces, intercept and store stormwater, reduce the impacts of flooding, and provide the clean water supplies on which we depend.
Connective Greenways: In addition to protecting, Greenways connect us – to each other, our neighbors, our communities, our parks, and the natural ecosystems around us.
Connected communities: Bike trail and linear park development in many communities is demonstrating that we don’t have to get in our cars to recreate, commute, shop, or even visit our friends.
Trails and greenways tend to integrate rather than separate. They are open to, and used by, everyone – wealthy and poor, black and white, old and young – and as we move along greenway corridors, we often find opportunities for social interaction that we might not find in other settings.
Many greenways, especially along urban river ways, are opening up areas that have long been hidden public view, contributing to economic revitalization, and connecting us to many of our forgotten natural, historic, and cultural resources.
Finally, trails and greenways allow us to link communities to local conservation lands and nearby state parks. In doing so, they create new forms of access and increase the value of these recreational and natural resources.
Without trails and greenways, our landscape would be a mosaic of disconnected nodes – sub-divisions, downtowns, job sites, parks, schools – connected only by asphalt and automobiles. With greenways, we are connected in so many more ways – people to places, green to gray, economy to environment. That’s, “why greenways?”
Trail Training Opportunities:
Resources from the National Trails Symposium
On October 20, trail and greenway professionals and enthusiasts from all over the country gathered along the Mississippi River at the Quad Cities (otherwise known as Davenport, IA; Moline, IL; and a couple others) for the 18th National Trails Symposium. There were sessions on creating regional greenway plans, building sustainable trails, establishing an inter-state bicycle network, developing successful water trails, and managing for motorized recreation.
In addition, there were sessions describing different types of national trail related training opportunities, some of which might be useful in Massachusetts. Here are some of the options. After perusing, please offer feedback as to what types of training might be most useful to the greenways and trails community of Massachusetts.
Universal Trail Assessment Process (UTAP)
American Trails and Beneficial Designs, Inc., offer the UTAP Coordinator Workshops throughout North America each year. UTAP provides objective, accurate information about the conditions of any trail or outdoor environments. The assessment results can help users determine whether a trail meets their interests and abilities. Land managers can also use the information to identify areas where access may be limited, and determine whether a trail complies with accessibility guidelines. See www.americantrails.org/nttp/UTAPnttp.html.
Tread Lightly, Tread Trainer Program
This national program trains participants in practical methods of spreading outdoor ethics, specifically regarding motorized recreation, to the public. The training is provided through a one-day course and focuses on understanding the role outdoor ethics play in the recreation community, learning the Tread Lightly principles of responsible recreation, and providing participants with the tools to conduct workshops and coordinate community outreach. See www.treadlightly.org/trainer.mv.
Leave No Trace Trainer Course
The course is a vital component of the nationwide Leave No Trace program. Participants receive introductory training in Leave No Trace skills and ethics in a condensed two-day format. The Trainer Course teaches student participants about the seven principles of Leave No Trace and techniques for disseminating these low impact skills. See
Builders and Stewards:
IMBA Trail Builder School
International Mountain Bicycling Association Trail Care Crews work with bike clubs, land managers, and other trail groups to teach sustainable, natural surface, multi-use trail building techniques. This means building trails that last a long time and require minimal maintenance to help reduce trail damage, protect the environment, and enhance visitor enjoyment. Specific topics covered include sustainable trail design; basic construction; turns, drainage and bridges; trail re-routes; trail reclamation; rockwork; fostering volunteer clubs and partnerships; and effective use of signage. For more information, see www.imba.com/tcc/trailschool.html.
National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Coalition (NOHVCC)
The NOHVCC Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) Recreation Management Workshops are designed to bring together decision makers, resource specialists, recreation planners, and OHV enthusiasts in order to create a better understanding of OHV public needs and desires; examine environmental issues surrounding OHV activity; promote more effective ways to manage OHV recreation; and enhance the planning, design, and maintenance of quality OHV trails, trail systems, and areas. Management workshops are typically two to four days in length and include field time whenever possible. See www.nohvcc.org/index.asp