This article is part of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Trail Moments initiative—to elevate new and tried-and-true trail voices around the country, and how trails impact the lives of Americans. Learn more at trailmoments.org and #TrailMoments on social media. Share your story, or view a collection of trail moments stories.
Earlier this year, I took a trip crisscrossing the country in my electric car, traveling 12,000 miles to visit friends and family in more than a dozen states. I took my e-bike along with the idea that I would hit every rail-trail I could to explore America’s growing network of trails.
When I got back to Georgetown, Massachusetts, four months later, I hadn’t accomplished my trail-riding goal. The first in a series of unfortunate incidents during the trip was a leg injury I sustained when I dumped my bike in the mountains of New Mexico. Later, my bike was stolen (and retrieved) in California—so tack on a few weeks of getting it operational again. There were lots of reasons and excuses.
After arriving home, it struck me that after visiting everyone else’s backyard, I should explore my own backyard and get to know it better. What better way to start than with the trail that passes a mile from my house, a piece of which I’ve been working to get completed for the last 15 years. In my town, I’m on a volunteer committee working to secure a 4.5-mile section of railroad right-of-way for conversion to a public pathway, part of the Border to Boston (B2B) Trail.
When complete, the B2B route will span 70 miles from the New Hampshire state line to Massachusetts’ capital and largest city. It’s the north-south backbone of a growing trail network in the northeastern region of the Bay State offering both local and long-distance connections. Currently, it’s possible to ride the entire distance of the B2B on a combination of off- and on-road sections, so with renewed enthusiasm, that’s what I set out to do.
The B2B trail traverses a variety of natural and manmade environments, and some sections are paved, while others have a surface of packed earth or stone dust. Its southern sections run through “thickly settled” territory, as New England road signs colloquially say. The route comprises bike lanes, parks, a university campus and off-road trails going through early 17th-century towns such as Salem, Marblehead and Swampscott before heading through another half-dozen cities and connecting to Boston’s trails and the North Station, serving MBTA Commuter Rail and Amtrak trains.
Connecting all these towns and cities to the north will create a commuter path to rival the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway, a 10-mile Hall of Fame rail-trail on the outskirts of Boston, coming in from the west. There are gaps in the B2B route that need to be developed between off-road trail sections to avoid dangerous intersections and streets, but they are moving forward rapidly, and many improvements will happen in the 2023–2025 timeframe.
The northern stretches are more natural in character, running between classic New England towns such as Topsfield and Newburyport. My favorite section extends from the Merrimack River through Salisbury; it passes through beautiful marshlands and forest, making for a relaxing ride.
A Work in Progress
Having the B2B pass so close to my house has motivated me to ride more frequently. I'll take my bike to the other side of town to visit Camp Denison (44 acres of conservation land with a pond), or just go out for the exercise, or swing by the grocery when I need a few items. I always keep paniers on my bike for that quick stop at the store.
And I love that I can head out my door and ride 15 miles to Seabrook, New Hampshire, or any portion of the 55 miles to Boston. The B2B is also part of the expansive East Coast Greenway developing from Maine to Florida, so riding to Maine’s Eastern Trail, the newest Hall of Fame rail-trail, is calling. Numerous other east-west trails take off from the B2B, like the Ghost Trail in Salisbury that goes to Amesbury. These connections make bike travel between towns an enjoyable afternoon outing.
The B2B in my area currently has a 19-mile on-road bypass of three towns where the railroad right-of-way will eventually become trail. While the bypass is beautiful rolling countryside, it is out of town. I look forward to having the trail completed through town, including the replacement of a couple of small bridges with a consistent surface that will create a continuous trail to ride between parks, schools and shops near the center of town easily and safely.
Almost every time I’m on the B2B, I meet new people and talk to them about using the trail. It’s a wonderful community asset now and just keeps getting better.
The Border to Boston Trail is part of an exciting initiative called the New England Rail-Trail Network. Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is working with trail advocates and transportation leaders from the region’s six states—Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont—to advance a plan for connecting New England’s 1,000 miles of open trail and develop criteria for prioritizing future trail projects that can build momentum and mobilize support for the effort. Learn more on RTC’s website.