Kendra’s parents, Boris and Jane, are in town to help us with the twins. Usually when they visit from South Carolina, we go camping, or hiking, or some other adventure, but this visit we’ve needed all hands on deck because Kate is still in the NICU, Evan has multiple doctor’s appointments for his heart condition, Addie started preschool, and Kendra is recovering from her c-section and cannot yet drive. Life has been nothing short of hectic juggling our new schedule while trying to maintain some sense of normal for Addison.
With no doctor’s appointments over the weekend, Boris and I made some time just for Addison. While Kendra and Jane took care of Kate and Evan, we took Addison bicycling on the Nashua River Rail Trail that runs from Ayer, Massachusetts to Nashua, New Hampshire.
Date: September 7, 2013
Distance: 26 miles round trip
Elevation Gain: 289 feet
Our Bicycling Time: 4 hours, 5 minutes round trip
The 12.5 mile trail is paved over what was the Hollis Branch of the Boston & Maine Railroad that ran from Worcester, Massachusetts to Portland, Maine. The last train car ran in 1982, and the tracks were subsequently bought by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and paved over in 2001-2002.
We began our ride from the Ayer end of the trail. The urban landscape quickly faded as we entered beautiful wetlands. Addie squealed from the seat at the back of my bike, “mama, I LOVE this!” She was all smiles as we winked at each other in the mirror attached to my bike handle.
There were two underpasses in the first few miles of the trail, both of which feature murals painted by students at the NOA Gallery School of Fine Arts in Groton, MA, and the Groton School. They depict historic scenes and sights of Groton, as well as modern-day life in the town. Naturally I was drawn to the one that featured rowers.
As we biked across the bridge spanning the Groton School Pond, we spotted turtles sunning on fallen trees. At mile five, we entered the J. Harry Rich State Forest, and caught our first glances of the Nashua River. In another few miles we rode along the shoreline of the river, passed through Pepperell center, then Dunstable, and with 1.5 miles left, crossed into New Hampshire.
When we reached the Nashua end of the trail, we were surprised to find nothing but a parking lot and one dirty porta-potty sans toilet paper. Next time I would choose to start from the Nashua end of the trail, since the Ayer end has better bathroom facilities, as well as several places to get food and snacks.
There was a beautiful pond next to the parking lot, with rocks large enough to perch on for lunch. Addie and I walked to the edge of the water and discovered a school of fish with bright blue fins and tails. That made her day!
On our way back, we stopped in Pepperell center and got ice cream from the Rail Trail Ice Cream Stop. We stretched our legs in the grassy park along the trail and devoured strawberry and chocolate chip ice cream.
As we biked along the trail, I noticed many resting spots – granite slabs and park benches provide a great place to take a break and watch for wildlife. There are even racks if you want to lock up your bike and explore the surrounding wetlands and woods by foot.
We took advantage of one such spot to explore the shore of the Groton School Pond. Addie was delighted to see more fish, and we spotted several turtles bobbing their heads and gracefully swimming through the water.
Our time on the trail was quite enjoyable. The beautiful weather brought out bicyclists, runners, walkers, and rollerbladers, yet never did the trail feel crowded. We were able to cycle at a leisurely pace, taking time to enjoy the surrounding nature and wildlife.
One of the neat features of the trail are the granite mile markers which indicate the mileage to Portland, Maine, and Worcester, Massachusetts. They were used by train crews in the days before radio communication and served two primary purposes – they provided the crew with their precise location on the rail line and the opportunity to estimate the speed of the train. The Friends of the Nashua River Rail Trail have since restored these historic markers.
Directions to the Rail Trail Parking Lot:
Though there are several parking lots along the trail, as well lots on either end, we opted to park at the Ayer lot.
From I-495: Take Rte. 2 east or west to exit 38B, then follow Route 111 north to Ayer Rotary. Go halfway around rotary to Rte. 2A. On Rte. 2A turn right after Ayer Center, take first right on Groton Street to trail parking lot on the right.