On June 30, the Greater Boston Chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association (GBNEMBA) worked with the Student Conservation Association (SCA) to fix another long-standing trail problem on the Orange Trail at the Fells.
This was high on the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR)'s list of priority projects to address on the Orange Trail. There was also an opportunity for GBNEMBA to collaborate with the SCA Trail Crew to get this done which we were very happy to engage with and share our respective trail-building skills.
Located a short walk south of the Sheepfold, there was a poorly designed and poorly constructed set of short boardwalks that attempted to prevent damage to a wetlands drainage that the Orange Trail went straight through. Because the boardwalks were built far too short, were not supported or connected properly, and had no entrance or exit ramps many trail users simply ignored them and bypassed them. The trail widened and it turned into an often-muddy mess.
Working with DCR's Natural Resources Specialist, Alexandra Echandi, in the months prior to Saturday's work day, we identified an alternate, sustainable route for the Orange Trail that moves it up the hillside completely out of the wet area. Interestingly, our scouting discovered an old stone bridge/dam likely a product of the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) from the 1920s or 1930s. The location of the bridge suggests that the Orange Trail may actually have been located higher up than where it has been, and that it intersected with the Gerry Hill Path rather than going straight through the wet area down low.
With about 18 volunteers (including the SCA crew and one MTBer who stopped to pitch in) we were able to make short work of the 600-foot reroute. The terrain lent itself perfectly for the creation of a rolling contour singletrack trail which takes advantage of sustainable trail water managment techniques that will help lower maintenance requirements and keep the trail in good shape. As the old stone bridge is within the buffer of the pond uphill from it (the pond was likely created by the stone bridge/dam) the Stoneham Conservation Commission made some specific trail alignment requirements to DCR in their RDA that they issued for the project which helped guide where the trail could be safely located. DCR also will be performing some additional armoring or hardening of the surface of the bridge to help protect it.
Thanks to DCR Ranger Mike Bruce, who sectioned up the old boardwalk with his chainsaw, we were able to haul out the old boardwalk to Chandler Road for disposal by DCR. Many hands made light work of the heavy sections of boardwalk!
The SCA crew was able to close down and revegetate the southern end of the reroute so that the old trail disappeared. The northern end will require purchasing of native plantings consistent with the wetland location. The SCA crew temporarily closed the northern end with a dense brush pile. GBNEMBA is providing DCR with a $500 grant for the purchase of these plantings.
One other important thing to note is that this reroute works to increase the net habitat and reduce the 'footprint' of the trail system at the Fells. The new trail is probably two feet wide on average and the old trail bed, like most of the existing trails at the Fells, is at least eight feet wide. If you do the math, it's likely that we achieved a minimum 400 percent reduction in net trail bed with this reroute. This is the same for the reroute we did back in March on the side of Bear Hill.
The Fells trails started out as foot paths (those that weren't carriage paths anyway) and over time have become much wider and have lost much of their original character. Sustainable reroutes both increase the health of the trail system, the health of the surrounding ecosystem by reducing the size of the trails, and focus trail users' impact in a smaller space. Shared-use, singletrack trails provide a very positive experience for all trail users and whether you are on bike or foot, you feel more connected to the land.
We had a great time working with the SCA crew. They were enthusiastic and did great work. We look forward to future opportunities to collaborate with the SCA. Many thanks to all the volunteers, DCR and the Stoneham Conservation Commission for making this happen.