Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Marshfield's Bridle Trail and Rail Trail

A view of the South River from Marshfield's Rail Trail.

Marshfield is one of those towns where it isn’t always easy to get from Point A to Point B. The presence of four tidal rivers as well as a significant amount of conservation land can make crossing town an indirect endeavor. There is simply a lot of territory – salt marsh, woods, wetlands – that when traveling by car, we have to go around. We get used to it. We drive the roads and don’t really think about what lies between our starting point and our destination. Until we look at a map and see that – for example – Rexhame Beach and Humarock are only a stone’s throw apart (via the Rexhame Dunes).

I’m following my dad’s footsteps and becoming a long distance runner. It’s a great way to experience the town. Moving at 5 miles per hour offers a very different perspective from what I can see in a car or on a bike. As my training runs grow longer, I’m compelled to seek alternate routes -- to keep things interesting. Sometimes this leads to discoveries or re-discoveries. This past month I remembered the Bridle Trail, something I’ve known about for decades but barely ever utilized. It turns out it’s a quick way to get from one side of town to the other. How could I have forgotten?

If you want to drive from the center of town to Marshfield Hills, your best option is to follow Route 3A, which crosses the South River and then winds around the Carolina Hill conservation area, eventually crossing the North River as well. But if you’re traveling on foot, or on a bicycle that can handle unpaved paths, there is a short cut. You can pick up a trail directly behind the CVS on Ocean Street. Heading north, you soon cross the South River via the Keville Footbridge, and then a quarter mile farther, you reach South River Street. Keep going, and about 2.5 miles and two additional road crossings (Clay Pit Road, Ferry Street) later, you’re at Pinehurst Road and Summer Street. This is the Bridle Trail, named as such because some wise citizens years ago deemed that it should remain open to equestrian access in perpetuity.

Much of the Bridle Trail is wide and evenly graded. It runs along what used to be a railroad bed and is predominantly flat, bordered primarily by woods. There are sections that are narrower, and here and there you need to watch your step, but for the most part it’s an easy, quiet trail through the heart of Marshfield.

In the Town Of Marshfield’s report, “Promoting Connection and Protection: A Comprehensive Trails Plan,” which was published last year, the Bridle Trail is likened to a “spine stitching together many of the other trail system(s), open spaces and neighborhoods,” and cited as “the most important existing trail resource in town.” Not only is it easily accessible to walkers, runners, mountain bikers and horseback riders, it provides connections among our commercial, residential and recreational areas.

The report outlines some proposed improvements to the trail, to promote safety and accessibility. Grading, brush clearing, signage and benches are the baseline recommendations. Further considerations would be widening and (partial) paving to accommodate wheelchairs, road bikes, inline skates and strollers. Having experienced similar trails in other parts of Massachusetts (see previous articles on the Cape Cod and Mass Central Rail Trails), I’m excited about these prospects, even though I know that significant funding and permitting hurdles exist.

Technically, the Bridle Trail extends only from South River Street to Pinehurst Road. Although it runs along the same former railroad bed, the portion of the trail south of South River Street doesn’t have the same “grandfathered” equestrian access and thus is known simply as The Rail Trail. Right now it ends at CVS, but there are vestiges of the old railroad bed through the woods along Webster Street and adjacent to Black Mount. However private homes and paved roads break up the trail, and it is so overgrown in places that passage is nearly impossible. One of the proposed “Future Connections” in Marshfield’s report involves major improvements in accessibility along this stretch, in order to link it to the southern section of the Rail Trail, which extends nearly to Duxbury.

At present, you can pick up the Rail Trail again in the middle of the Black Mount neighborhood, at the intersection of Stagecoach, Steamboat and Fletcher Drives. Like the Bridle Trail, it’s a wide, mostly-flat path through the woods, extending a little over a half mile to Careswell Street at South Point Lane. Along the way, there are several junctions with additional trails – leading through Crowder’s Woodlot and into the Hoyt-Hall Preserve – plus the historic Pilgrim Trail that once extended all the way to Rexhame.

If you’d like to visit the Bridle and Rail Trails, and you’re not traveling on foot, it’s important to know where to park. Official parking for the Bridle Trail is on Ferry Street, where there is room for several cars in an unpaved area just off the road. None of the other trailheads offer parking per se, but there is room for a car or two along the roadsides at Pinehurst, South Point and Stagecoach, as well as at the utility substation on South River Street. Commercial parking in the center of town is another option. Trail maps and other important information for both of these trail systems is available on the Marshfield Conservation website http://www.marshfield-ma.gov/conservation-commission/pages/conservation-land-trail-maps

by Kezia Bacon
May 2017


Kezia Bacon's articles appear courtesy of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a local non-profit organization devoted to the preservation, restoration, maintenance and conservation of the North and South Rivers and their watershed. For membership information and a copy of their latest newsletter, contact NSRWA at (781) 659-8168 or visit www.nsrwa.org. To browse 20 years of nature columns, visit http://keziabaconbernstein.blogspot.com

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