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Re-routing the Multi-Use Reservoir Trail

posted Aug 12, 2012, 8:39 AM by michele biscoe   [ updated Aug 12, 2012, 8:42 AM ]
Among other things, the Resource Management Plan for the Middlesex Fells Reservation (RMP) provides for slightly increased access to the Reservation for mountain bikes. For example, a trail on which mountain bikes were previously prohibited, the Reservoir (Orange) Trail, was designated a multi-use trail.

The DCR partnered with the Greater Boston chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association (GB NEMBA), to identify problem areas on the Reservoir Trail to be fixed before officially opening it for multi-use. I am grateful to Adam Glick and Tim Post of GB NEMBA for helping me understand the background and the details of the situation.

In the late winter of 2012 DCR and GB NEMBA created a list of about a dozen issues, of which four were identified as "Priority Projects."  One of the Priority Projects involved an area of trail that had become a mud pit because it was poorly located in a wetland:  the goal of the project was to re-route the trail to higher ground and create a sustainable, contoured reroute that would both protect the wetland and keep the trail in that approximate location.

The rerouted trail completely avoids the wetland.  It is a single-track 3' wide trail, whereas the segment it replaces was 8-12' wide.

A narrower tread is consistent with contemporary best practices in recreational trail-building.  Writing for the Medford Transcript, Nicholas Iovino refers to the National Park Service’s Guide to Sustainable Mountain Trails: Trail Assessment, Planning & Design Sketchbook - 2007 Edition:

In his book . . . Hugh Duffy states that 'front country' trails, or trails three to five miles from a trailhead, should have a recommended width of two to five feet.

“'I can also visualize areas that might even have 18 [inch] wide trails in NPS units in the front country,' Duffy wrote in an e-mail."

This is clearly a win-win situation.  The Reservoir Trail reroute will reduce the impact on the natural resources of the the Middlesex Fells Reservation and make the the trail more accessible to more people.

The DCR erred, however, in failing to communicate with the Stoneham Conservation Commission regarding the closure of the old section of trail. Wetlands are protected by the Wetlands Protection Act [Massachusetts General Laws (MGL) Chapter 131, Section 40], which is administered at the local level by the municipality's conservation commission.  A DCR spokesperson told the Matt Byrne, for the Boston Globe, “'We did not [file plans with the Conservation Commission] and that was a mistake.”


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