By Ann Needle
Aug. 9, 2021
“This one is near and dear to my heart,” Congresswoman Lori Trahan said of proposed legislation that would help tie Stow’s Track Road into the Assabet River Rail Trail (ARRT). She was speaking on Aug. 5 at the Community Center to about 25 officials and supporters from Stow and surrounding towns of how refurbishing the unpaved Track Road would benefit many. Trahan said her family is among those who use the regional rail trails frequently.
Support for the road seemed enthusiastic. Despite the buckets of rain falling outside, after the presentation, most of the attendees ventured down with Trahan from the Community Center to briefly view a muddy Track Road.
$750,000 at Stake
According to Trahan’s office, the proposed legislation would give Stow $750,000 in federal funds to help connect Track Road to the Hudson/Marlborough and Maynard/Acton portions of the ARRT. The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the Stow legislation as part of the $8 million Trahan supported for several projects throughout the Third District.
Track Road runs from the edge of the Maynard bike trail near the Assabet Refuge entrance on White Pond Road, along the Assabet River to Crow Island. Cars and trucks take the road down to the island for ultra-light flying and other activities, sharing the dirt road with pedestrians and bikes. A dirt road from Crow Island connects Track to Sudbury Road, across from the entrance to Barton Road.
As Trahan’s office explained, “Construction of an improved multi-use path along Track Road will provide regional recreation and transportation benefits. Improvements to Track Road will also make the current gravel road accessible to a wider range of users through paving, signage, and street markings.” It was also noted that the unconnected portions of the bike trail are “almost entirely in Stow.”
Trahan said that the U.S. Senate must still pass the legislation, but currently is absorbed with the infrastructure bill, making timing uncertain for the Track Road funding, if any.
Also, Track Road is not a straight paving job.
Should the funding come through, Town Administrator Denise Dembkoski said it would likely pay for design and engineering plans, aimed at making Track Road safe for both vehicles and pedestrians. She estimated the entire project would run about $4 million, hopefully funded in part by available federal and state grants.
“As Far as You Could Go”
Trahan noted that, after visiting the ARRT in Hudson and Marlborough, she saw how it has fueled economic growth nearby. But, when traveling the ARRT with her family, Trahan said it became obvious that Track Road was one of the stark dividers between the Maynard/Acton and Hudson/Marlborough portions of the ARRT. “I realized this is as far as you can go.” With the pandemic drawing so many outside, she added, “This year proves demand is only going to increase over time.”
But it was the opening of the Maynard portion of the ARRT in 2018 that brought attention to Track Road’s potential to connect the bike trail, and “really opened up this possibility,” said Stow Select Board Chair Ellen Sturgis.
One of the biggest obstacles to connecting Track Road will be obtaining easements or property sales from landowners along the road, especially in Stow.
Tom Kelleher, president of non-profit Assabet River Rail Trail Inc., told the Community Center audience there are five separate pieces of property in Stow, along with Track Road, that run along the former railway that came through Stow years ago. The good news is, “Owners on other parts of the river indicated they’ll sell,” he stressed.
Kelleher added that, outside of Stow, the ARRT is mostly complete, although some of the towns still have work to do.
Stow Conservation Commission Coordinator Kathy Sferra remarked that the Track Road project would fit nicely with a top Conservation Commission priority of improving walking and cycling opportunities around town. Sferra also noted that many older residents need a place to exercise without “rocks and roots.”
“We’re just thrilled,” said Maynard Town Administrator Greg Johnson, who lives in West Acton. “It’s a regional draw, it’s economic enhancement, it’s everything we like. I really want to ride my bike all the way to Hudson someday.”
Echoing the many backers of a Track Road project, Stow’s Allan Fierce, of Assabet River advocate OARS, remarked that the Road’s primary location along the Assabet makes it an exceptionally scenic biking spot. He added, “I don’t know that there’s a nicer trail on a river anywhere else in this area.”