Free Wheelin Off the Rails

  • Visit North Central

Scenic Cycling With No Traffic

There’s no shortage of scenic byways and back roads in Johnny Appleseed Country — but if you’d like a “closer to nature” view of the countryside, park the car and take your bicycle for a rail trail tour!

The region offers a wide range of terrain for people touring on two wheels. While serious enthusiasts may seem daunting, speeding around in Spandex, there are plenty of regular folks who love to ride a bicycle as a simple means of exploring and enjoying local scenery with the added plus of a low-impact, aerobic workout. Gather a few friends or family members and a bicycle ride becomes a fun—and free—social event.

Riding the Rails

But many local pedalers have discovered the area’s rail trails—abandoned railroad beds that have been resurfaced to accommodate passive recreation. These are also known as “linear parks” because they are long corridors of dedicated open space which is often landscaped along the shoulders of the travel-way. Some are paved for the ease of baby strollers and in-line skaters, and others are finished with a flat surface of crushed stone and stone dust, which works well for most wheels.

There are several popular rail trails in Johnny Appleseed country, and some little-known ones ripe for discovery.

Roll Along the River

For a 12-mile long, paved option, try the Nashua River Rail Trail in Ayer center, just northeast of Devens along routes 2A and 111. Starting just off Park Street, it currently terminates at a parking lot on Gilson Road in Nashua, NH, but along the way, pedalers like to stop for ice cream in the riverside village of East Pepperell.

A Sterling Route

A volunteer group, Wachusett Greenways, continues to build and maintain the
Central Mass. Rail Trail that is completed in several long stretches from Sterling Center to Route 122 near the Barre/Oakham line. The crushed stone trail bed invites a multitude of users—walkers, runners and all kinds of bikes, as well as trikes for the younger set.

In Sterling Center, on Route 12, turn down Cross Street next to the fire station and head for the Cider Mill building, with its tall, square tower. The building houses an antiques shop, and trail parking is just beyond the shop’s door.

Hikers & Riders Meet

There are also several trailheads with parking in Rutland—one at Wachusett Street just west of route 68; one on Glenwood Road between Wachusett Street and Campbell Street; one on Miles Road off Route 56 just north of Rutland Center. Also, on Route 122 just past the signs for Rutland State Park, there is a parking lot for the Midstate Trail which leads, in a few hundred feet, to the rail trail. From here, it’s possible to travel the rail trail for miles in either direction.

Follow the Pathway

Then there’s the North Central Pathway, which will eventually connect Gardner and Winchendon with 16 miles of a paved corridor that parallels Route 140. A scenic section of almost one mile starts behind the Veterans Memorial Skating Rink on Central Street in Gardner and ends at a parking spot on Green Street across from Mount Wachusett Community College. Another parking spot is on Route 140 just north of the intersection of Green Street.

This trailhead is paved for several miles, and mountain bikes can continue on it into Winchendon on the rolling, unpaved section. A parking lot at the corner of Route 12 and Glenallen Street accesses a beautiful paved section that curves around Whitney Pond and ends near downtown.

The Western Frontier

For mountain bikers, an easy (flat) unpaved route is farther west on the Ware River Rail Trail, stretching from the Templeton village of Baldwinville south to Route 122 at the Barre/Oakham line, where it gets really close to the terminus of the Central Mass. Rail Trail. An easy access and parking is on Route 2A just west of Templeton Center—look for snowmobile route signs. Another trailhead with parking is on Route 62, at Granger Road in Barre, a mile or so west of the Barre Falls Dam entrance.

Ready to explore Johnny’s backyard? Leave the roads behind — for a safe and family-friendly ride!

Contributed by Marie Auger