Blackstone Valley Walking Tour Benefits from SNETT Improvements
Jul 28, 2017 06:00AM ● Published by Marjorie Turner Hollman
Walking tour musicians in action, l-R Amy Alvey, Mark Kilianski, Vito Cacavelli, Raianne Richards, Mark Mandeville
Bellingham was recently graced with a visit from the Massachusetts Walking Tour, a group of folk musicians who spend two weeks each summer hiking from one town to the next, carrying fifty-pound backpacks that hold all their camping gear and musical instruments. The Southern New England Trunkline Trail (SNETT) provided an essential “inter-town” travel highway for the troupe as they walked from Bellingham to Franklin, then back again to Blackstone.
Bellingham was fortunate enough to host one of the Massachusetts Walking Tour’s concerts, thanks to the support of the Bellingham Cultural Council, which provided funding for their visit. The community room at the Bellingham Public Library was filled with families and others from the community who came to listen, and/or participate in the concert itself. The next morning the Walking Tour set out for the Lake Street SNETT trailhead to make their way to Franklin, the site of their next concert. After their concert in Franklin, the walkers returned to the SNETT Franklin trail head and passed through Bellingham on their way to Blackstone for the final leg of their Blackstone Valley Walking Tour. On many portions of their tour, the group welcomed people from the community, who walked along with them. If you missed them while they were here, you can view one of their concerts at YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eNtDsFO3cKw).
Although many people in Bellingham still don’t know that we have a rail trail here in town, awareness is growing. A recent Eagle Scout project provided a trail kiosk and benches for the SNETT trail crossing on busy Center Street, right next to Fox Run Road. The town of Bellingham created a small parking lot next to the kiosk, along with signs, making the trail more visible and accessible.
Last year, Bellingham’s DPW completed a water system infrastructure project, utilizing the DCR right of way along the SNETT from Lake Street to Center Street. By using the rail trail right of way, thus avoiding tearing up roads, the town saved thousands of dollars. They agreed in return to restore the area to DCR rail trail specifications at the completion of the project, providing the town with a nearly mile-long section of completed rail trail. The packed stone dust surface is great for walking, biking, and pushing children in baby carriages.
In late June the DCR took another step to improve the SNETT in Bellingham by contracting to smooth out and improve the SNETT from Lake Street toward Franklin, stopping at the Prospect Street trail crossing. Also finished with a stone-dust surface, this section of trail offers some gentle curves through woodland areas. It then passes through a rock cut, then into an area of granite block retaining walls.
Although it has taken years to get the SNETT from “proposed” to “some improved rail trail,” Bellingham has seen some huge progress in this direction. In addition to the trail work mentioned, the Rt. 126 bridge (near Elm Street), which crosses the SNETT, needed replacement, and trail planners made sure the bridge was rebuilt to SNETT proposed trail specifications. Completion of this project last year has opened the way for more progress on the SNETT in years to come; the goal of connecting the trail to completed work on the trail in Blackstone is a few steps closer to becoming a reality.
Even as people in Bellingham are becoming aware of the SNETT, use of the Blackstone-Millville-Uxbridge portion of the SNETT/Blackstone River Bikeway has exploded since completion of the four-mile section of the trail last fall. This paved four-mile stretch includes eight bridges, crossing multiple times over the Blackstone River, as well as some local roads.
The Triad Bridge on this section of the SNETT is notable for the additional rail lines that at one time crossed each other at one spot. The SNETT uses the path of one former rail line, and another active rail line passes underneath the Triad Bridge. Next to the Triad Bridge stand abutments that were built long ago in anticipation of a third rail line traveling over the other two train tracks. Financing for the third rail line fell through when one of its investors booked a trip on the Titanic—he was not among the survivors. The abutments stand as a reminder of how quickly grand plans can dissolve.
While the SNETT, when it operated as a rail line, provided essential transportation to Bellingham for area farmers (the rail line was called the milk run, since it stopped for a number of farmers to load their fresh milk daily onto the train, for transport to Boston), it has not offered much transportation value for present-day residents. The SNETT has quite a history, but as progress is made in moving from “proposed” to “developed rail trail,” we look forward to a bright future for the trail. If you haven’t yet taken a stroll on the SNETT, now is surely a great time to get outside and enjoy the beautiful countryside that is here, right in our own back yards.