After nearly two decades of dedication and perseverance, a small group of volunteers continues to make great strides in the development of the North Central Pathway, connecting two historical north-central Massachusetts towns. The committee of local citizens, formed back in 1995 to develop and promote the trail, remains active today.
"We started with a group of about 20 people and are now down to a core group of six people all dedicated to making it to the end," says Cindy Boucher, the Winchendon co-chair for the North Central Pathway. "They each do their own special thing: one does the maintenance, another stocks brochures, one takes photos, I coordinate with the engineers...between the six of us, we manage to get things done."
Even Ludger Robichaud, a resident of the city since 1937, still does maintenance on the trail and serves as the Gardner co-chair for the North Central Pathway. He has bicycled all around the country and attributes his good health in part to trails.
"I'm lucky to be so healthy at 83," says Robichaud. "My second wife is 25 years younger and tells me that I'm keeping her young."
As soon as the construction of Phase 5, slated to begin next year, is completed, the rail-trail's current gap between Winchendon and Gardner will finally be closed. When another short section is added in 2015, the paved pathway will stretch 13 continuous miles, connecting popular attractions such as Whitney Pond and Crystal Lake to homes, businesses and schools.
"The bike path is beautiful," says Boucher. "It's very rural and woodsy, with wildflowers and wetlands."
The sections through town at either end of the trail are especially popular with recreational walkers. And although there is a 2.5-mile on-road section in Gardner, it's an easy ride on quiet streets.
"We were amazed by how much it's been used," says Boucher. "People stop me on the street and thank me because it's such an asset to the community."