In addition to their value for recreation and transportation, rail-trails provide public spaces to share our collective culture and history. In recognition of Veterans Day, we’ve highlighted three rail-trails that offer quiet, reflective places to honor and remember our country’s servicemen and women.
World War II Veterans’ Memorial Trail
Hundreds of thousands of U.S. soldiers once rode the Old Colony Railroad line on their way to serve in World War II, and today trail users in Mansfield, Massachusetts, can pay tribute to that legacy on the 1.5-mile World War II Veterans’ Memorial Trail. During the 1940s, the Old Colony line carried servicemen and women from the Camp Myles Standish staging area in Taunton to the Boston port of embarkation. There, they shipped out to serve in the military in Europe and around the world. “It’s estimated that at least a million men were transported over that stretch of tracks,” says Kevin McNatt, president of the Mansfield Historical Society.
This important history was preserved in the early 2000s, when a portion of the abandoned rail corridor was dedicated as the World War II Veterans’ Memorial Trail—now a popular paved route that begins not far from Mansfield’s MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority) station and ends at the town’s airport. A trailside monument emphasizes the veterans’ sacrifices.
The Town of Mansfield owns the trail, and the Natural Resources Trust of Mansfield works to acquire and preserve adjoining land. The trust recently opened the WWII Veterans’ Memorial Nature Trail, which branches off the main rail-trail.
Derry Rail Trail
Enjoying nature and remembering the fallen veterans of Derry, New Hampshire, go hand in hand on the 3.5-mile Derry Rail Trail, where rustic wood benches impart a poignant message. “Welcome to My Bench,” the inscriptions read. “Sit upon my bench and enjoy the rest, enjoy the view. Out in nature is where my spirit flies. I have fought for my country and fallen. Enjoy, for I cannot.”
The paved trail, located on a portion of the former M&L (Manchester and Lawrence) and Boston and Maine Railroad corridor, runs from Windham into Derry’s town center. Along the way, it passes wetlands, deciduous woods, a historic depot and the memorial benches, which were funded and are managed by local American Legion, VFW and Halcyon organizations. Mark Connors of the Derry Rail Trail Alliance estimates that 25 to 30 benches line the rail-trail and the adjoining Derry Bike Loop Path. The rail-trail is a project of the Town of Derry and the Derry Rail Trail Alliance.
Eldorado Bicycle and Walking Path
A visit to the Eldorado Bicycle and Walking Path offers not just a 2.2-mile jaunt along a well-tended and landscaped rail-trail in Eldorado, Illinois, but also a step back into the history of America’s wars and an opportunity to pay tribute to veterans of those wars.
The mostly concrete trail, which was built along the route of the old L&N (Louisville and Nashville) Railroad, features an Avenue of Honor that commemorates local veterans of past U.S. wars. Planted in groups of three, a mixture of cherry, dogwood and other blooming trees adorn the trail, each designating a war in which American soldiers participated. The memorials begin with the Revolutionary War in the 1700s and run through wars fought in the early 21st century. The small groves are marked by engraved boulders commemorating the wars.
The City of Eldorado and the Eldorado Garden Study Club oversee the trail, which intersects with the 55.6-mile Tunnel Hill State Trail.