From the Concord Monitor, By Tim Jones / For the Monitor July 1, 2011
Regular readers probably already know that my sweetheart Marilyn and I are big fans of riding rail trails on our fat-tire tandem bicycle. Riding a rail trail is really the perfect bare-ground outing for us.
In what has, so far, been a ridiculously busy early summer for us, plagued by, it seems, almost constant rain and cold, we’ve had trouble getting in as many outings as we’d like. So when a free morning happened to dawn clear, sunny and cool, we decided we had to make something fun happen, if only for a few hours.
The Northern Rail Trail in Grafton and Merrimack counties is shaping up to be one of the best rail trail rides in all of New England. The stone-dust or gravel surface is firm and easy to pedal on (especially with a fat tire or cyclocross bike), and the scenery is beautiful.
This trail is particularly convenient. If you are traveling on Interstates 91 or 93, you are only minutes from a trail terminus, and access from I-89 is even faster. If your bike is on the car anyway, why not stop and ride for an hour or two?
I should note that Marilyn and I don’t particularly enjoy riding with a lot of traffic. Though the NRT essentially parallels either Route 4 or Route 11, you don’t often see or even hear motor vehicles. Much of the time you are riding through quiet woods and fields, alongside beautiful flowing streams and placid ponds.
The northern end of the trail in Grafton County (northernrailtrail.org) was finished first. It runs 23 miles from downtown Lebanon through Enfield, Canaan, Orange and Grafton.
Another 23 miles in Merrimack County have now been completed. This section runs through Danbury, Wilmot and Andover to end (for the moment at least) in Franklin. Eventually, the trail will continue on to Boscawen and Concord, though in these days of tight money and endless budget fights, who knows when that will happen?
Marilyn and I have been riding short sections of the NRT when we were in the neighborhood on other business. I believe we’ve done most of it.
On this particular summer morning, we pulled into the parking area at Potter Place, right off the junction of Routes 4 and 11, and started pedaling east toward Franklin. We only had about an hour to ride and hoped we could get in 10 or 12 miles or so. Not a “big” ride, but fun nonetheless. We haven’t been able to pedal much this spring and we weren’t sure how far our legs and seats would take us. But we need to start conditioning for some longer rides we have planned later this summer, so every little bit helps.
This section of trail is almost flat (most rail lines avoided hills as much as possible) and has a nicely packed gravel/stone dust surface. It runs along the Blackwater River, through pine and hardwood forests, skirting the edges of some beautiful wetlands. Gorgeous scenery for a summer morning.
We’d pedaled only about 2 miles before we came upon a lovely covered bridge we’d never seen before. At about the 6-mile mark we ran out of time and turned around at the Higland Lake Inn (highlandlakeinn.com) in East Andover, which looks like it would make a perfect overnight stop for a weekend getaway.
Someday soon, we’ll take two cars and ride the whole NRT end to end in one day. But for now, these section rides out and back are a perfect break on a busy summer morning.
Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!
More trail resources
New England and New York are blessed with an abundance of old railroad beds, many of which are rideable on fat-tire bikes.
The best source for rail trail information nationwide is the Rails To Trails Conservancy (railstotrails.org). Just go under “Find A Trail” and click on either a state or a region to find listings. There are 392 open trails in the Northeast totaling over 3,200 miles. Visiting the website, I just discovered a new trail in Maine, the 85-mile Downeast Sunrise Trail that we are going to have to ride soon.
If you ride in the Granite State, be sure to get a copy of Charles F. Martin’s book, New Hampshire Rail Trails (nhrailtrails.org/guide.htm), which gives the history of the rail lines along with useful info for today’s bikers. The website itself also has some useful links to other trail organizations.
You may have already read of rides we’ve taken on the Cape Cod Rail Trail (mass.gov/dcr/parks/southeast/ccrt.htm) and Ashuwilticook Rail Trail (mass.gov/dcr/parks/western/asrt.htm) in Massachusetts, the Island Line Trail (trailfinder.info/trail.php?id=1) and Missisquoi Valley Rail Trail (mvrailtrail.com) in Vermont, the Airline State Park Rail Trail in Connecticut (pages.cthome.net/mbartel/ARRabout.htm) and the Aroostook Rail Trail in Maine. If you are interested in these past stories, they may be archived on this newspaper’s website. If not, you may find them at EasternSlopes.com or email me and I’ll send you a copy.
(Tim Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Original article at http://www.concordmonitor.com/article/265917/riding-the-rail-trails?CSAuthResp=%3Asession%3ACSUserId|CSGroupId%3Aapproved%3ABA4A9537C4BF4594E11F4B09D8217743&CSUserId=94&CSGroupId=1