One acorn from death

Trepidation. That’s the word I’d use to describe today’s skate.

I’d meant to explore Milford’s Upper Charles Trail for some time, but of course showed up after a rainstorm in fall, which means the entire thing was littered with prettily-colored fall leaves that caused my wheels to slide and little twigs that are treacherous to skaters. An acorn obscured by the other debris would be sure death. Oh well, it was an exploration, not a race.

the Route 85/Hopkinton town line section of the Upper Charles trail

The path does wonders for Milford, a working-class town. Parts of it are enveloped in pastoral woods and offer glimpses of ponds while in other places you see loading docks and cinderblock buildings. It’s well-used close to town, with families biking and strolling. One woman, teetering unsteadily behind her kids on a pair of rollerblades, shouted “I’m getting there!” when I passed. That was cool.

the path is functional if not pretty from beginning to end

Where were these conduits of suburban activity until now? There’s a huge gap in our history from the time the railroad claimed this corridor in the 1870s to about 30 years ago when the suburbs started to grow again thanks to the proximity to jobs in Boston. Back then these towns had streetcars and trains to get to work in the shoe factories and mills. Then Americans shifted to cars and it was all over. I love my car as much as anybody but would I prefer to bike or skate to my destination instead? Absolutely.

That’s not to say this path has erased all obstacles to safe and smooth travel. There are several road crossings that I navigated with extreme care, not wanting to do a butt-plant in front of an audience. Amazingly, people _stopped_ when I arrived at crossings, contrary to my assumption that they’d whiz by pretending I wasn’t there. That’s huge. That means motorists don’t have to be anti-pedestrian and anti-bike, they can alter the behavior that we automatically associate with self-absorption and ignorance.

negotiating 4 on ramp crossings for I-495 was a little nerve-wracking

The question is, can we successfully alter our behavior that limits the number of railroad beds from becoming paths like this? It’s a race against time as the suburbs fill up and expand and the rights-of-way become more valuable for roadways and development instead of community amenities. Why do some communities like those along the East Bay Bike Path in Rhode Island, or the Stowe VT bike trail or the Shining Sea Trail on Cape Cod succeed while others fail?

When I was a reporter I followed the plans of several communities to develop trails like this. Few have been executed in the past 15 years, the obstacles all being much larger than acorns. My hope to see them completed in my lifetime is tempered with trepidation.


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