Friday, May 2, 2003
Minuteman Bikeway breaks ground for Bedford Depot Park
Most cycling and in-line skating enthusiasts in our area know about the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway. For those of us who don't, this rail trail is a paved, 12-foot-wide, 11-mile path built in 1992 over the old Lexington Branch commuter railroad between Bedford and west Cambridge. Beginning just down the road from Carlisle, on South Street off Routes 4 and 225 in Bedford, the Bikeway passes through Lexington and Arlington and ends near the Alewife T-station.
The old railway line was constructed between 1846 and 1873. Passenger service ran for the next century, ending in 1977 after the Boston & Maine Railroad sold its Boston-area commuter rail assets to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA). The last freight train rumbled down the track in 1981, and then the line was closed to enable building of the MBTA's new and now familiar Alewife Red Line Station.
Most popular trail
According to the national Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, the Minuteman Bikeway is the most popular of the over
1000 rail trails in the United States. Officially opened in Bedford in 1993 and named for the Minutemen whose battle road it follows, the Bikeway has, for the last decade, been an asset to cyclists, in-line skaters, joggers, power-walkers, and folks just out for a good stroll. In the winter, the Bikeway is left unplowed, and becomes an equally popular cross-country ski route.
Carlisle cyclists who have used the rail trail are enthusiastic: Art Milliken and his wife Lee have biked from their Estabrook Road home to the South Street, Bedford trail entrance, a distance of five miles, and have also enjoyed cycling the trail itself. When Lee's mother lived in Lexington, they would bike to the center of Lexington for lunch and then bike back. Ernie Huber, of Partridge Lane says, "It's a multi-use trailand it seems to me it's a place where everyone gets along." Huber has ridden the Bikeway all the way to the Alewife T-station in Cambridge and connected there with the Linear Park/Somerville Community Path that took him to Davis Square, Somerville. The Minuteman Bikeway is, Ernie declares, "a real enhancement to our communities."
Bedford Depot Park
In November of 2002, with state and federal funding, the Town of Bedford broke ground for an exciting project designed to enhance the Bedford terminus of the Bikeway and provide facilities for cyclists, skaters and pedestrians. It is called Bedford Depot Park, and its design emphasizes the railroad history of the Bikeway. The project will restore and preserve the existing 1870s Railroad Depot and Freight House, as well as Boston & Maine Railroad Budd Rail Diesel Car #6211, retired from passenger and baggage carriage in the early 1980s and recently moved to the site. In addition, the park will include attractive landscaping, period benches and lighting, public sanitary facilities, and 69 new parking spaces. The Freight House, built in 1877 as the engine house for the narrow-gauge Billerica and Bedford Railroad, is now operated by the Friends of Bedford Depot Park and sells hot and cold beverages, snacks, hot dogs, and historical merchandise. It provides travel and local railroad history information as well, and proceeds from all sales aid Bedford's revolving fund to support the park project. The Freight House, staffed entirely by volunteers, is currently on its summer schedule, open between 10:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
Many of the Friends of Bedford Depot Park have lent their special talents directly to the project. Arthur Ellis, a retired engineer from Raytheon and an avid model railroader, built the "conceptual model" of the proposed park to build interest in the project. Dan O'Brien, now an employee of Amtrak, uses his experience as a former employee of the Boston & Maine Railroad working on Budd Rail Diesel cars to assist as a consultant in the cosmetic restoration of Car #6211. Other Friends do hands-on work on the restoration projects, plan excursions for railroad enthusiasts to tourist railways, oversee the impressive organization web site (www.bedforddepot.org), newsletter, and historical information resources, and manage sales and fundraising.
Friends' president Jim Shea says that when the project is completed, his organization will shift its focus from enhancing the park project to stewardship of the park. They will continue to operate the Freight House as a service to the public, and enlarge the scope of their railroad history museum using both the Freight House facility and the restored railway car. They have an ancillary project to further expand their railroad museum by laying 1200 feet of track along the narrow-gauge rail trail to accommodate historic rail cars for the public to tour. This rail trail was laid over the old two-foot-gauge commuter railway line that connected Bedford and Billerica, and its entrance is near Bedford's Minuteman Bikeway terminus on South Street.
Although Bedford Depot Park is now very much a construction site, it is easy to access the Freight House and the Minuteman Bikeway. Shea says that the latest news from the contractor is that the site work, (landscaping, benches, parking area, and lighting) will be completed by the end of June. With the mercury attempting to rise at last, it is not too soon for Carlisle's cyclists, skaters, and pedestrians to check out the offerings at the Freight House and experience the Bikeway. No bike? No skates? No problem. Try a few miles as a good walk, or try using it to begin training for next year's Boston Marathon!
© 2003 The Carlisle Mosquito