I have one of those Rubel cycling maps of eastern Massachusetts. This map is so good that when I packed it away in a box that is stored during the current home move, I quickly decided I needed another in it's place immediately. From it I learned a network of bike-friendly roadways stretching across my part of the world. The maps shows the nicest roads in green as well as other helpful features. It's essential gear.
The features I've been studying lately are the "Proposed multi-use" trails. These are basically old overgrown rail road beds that haven't been built up into established bike-ways yet. I hadn't heard anything about the trails from other riders and only knew of their existence through the dashed green lines on my map. Though one of my regular road routes passes on a high bridge over one of the rail lines in Weston - from there, you can clearly see a skinny single track stretching to both horizons. I resolved to some day explore the rail trails.
Saturday turned out to be the day of rail trail exploration. I set out to Concord as usual and looked for the crossing in East Acton. It wasn't easy to find, but trail looked great from where I picked it up, so I followed it. The path ran just to the side of the rotting rail road ties, sometimes crossing over the tracks to the other side for one reason or another. The surface was surprisingly smooth in parts, and difficult in others where the trail basically disappeared into the overgrown forest. I road down the middle of the rail line through a few short difficult spots. The ties are degrading into soft peat and made riding over the ties bearable where it was the only option. I abandoned the trail during a few stretches where it was completely impassable. The frequent road crossings made it pretty easy to get on and off the trail.
This section is known as the Bruce Freeman Memorial Bike Path. It runs north-south down to Sudbury. I found out after the fact that the project is underway. Sections north of where I picked up the trail are under construction - the rail bed is being dismantled, and they are beginning to build a proper pathway.
Somewhere in Wayland, I picked up the east-west Wayside Rail Trail. It turns out that this line was scheduled to be converted to a multi-use path in the 1990's. From what I gather, the town of Weston quashed the project because they generally disliked the idea of having a busy recreation path like the Minuteman Trail in their back yard. Whatever the town politics, it looks like the project is dead and the trail will remain single track which is fine for my purposes.
The Wayside trail is markedly different from the Bruce Freeman path because the Wayside line is also a corridor for electric utility lines. As a result, it's pretty open and there is a uninterrupted track presumably for utility maintenance. I didn't take pictures for comparison. In all, the trails were fun and provided an alternative method of cycling in the area. My maps tells me that the are many more miles of trail, so I suppose I'll explore those sometime soon.