The world of Landscape Architecture is about the ultimate success of a project—whether that be a beautiful landscape design, a symbol of how that effort respects history or nature, or the happy faces of young and old enjoying a park or recreation facility. Rewards can be found in the process of building support and consensus or even in coordinating the volunteer effort to construct a project. It can also be in the appreciation of the users. The most rewarding part of our job, however, is when you can combine all of those aspects. Such is the case for a town-wide volunteer project in the historic and beautiful Holliston, Massachusetts.
In 1847, a railroad through Holliston was constructed to connect Milford to Framingham and, consequently, the world from there. But the construction of highways in the 1950s led to lower ridership on the passenger trains, until only freight trains traveled those rails. By 1970, half of the railbed in town was abandoned, and the last freight train ran through town in the 1990s. Luckily, the town thought ahead about protecting the historic structures by planning to convert the railbed to a rail trail.
Throughout the 1990s, negotiation efforts began with landowners to acquire the necessary rights-of-way. The largest hurdle was gaining rights from the railroad company itself, taking 13 years for the land to be finally acquired by fee or lease. Today, the Town’s goal remains to acquire all of the rights-of-way as funding is made available.
Building support can be the biggest challenge faced in the process. Over the years, the economy fluctuates, the town leaders change, and the town’s finances get tighter. Support for the Trail requires as many people to be involved as possible. The beauty of a rail trail is that it can involve people from all ages, political backgrounds, or interests. Over 350 meetings were organized with various groups and activities: the Garden Club, Boy Scouts, Historic Commission, Planning Board, Conservation Commission, Finance Committee, Police, Fire, Community Preservation Committee, Lions Club, public input and forum sessions, feasibility study meetings, abutters, Holliston in Bloom, Celebrate Holliston—and many others.
What project in any town has involved as many individuals: community groups, businesses, town officials, volunteers? What project has involved such a range of ages from a cub scout planting effort to a intergenerational trails cleanup? Simply put, the Trail has brought the community together. Volunteers from all ages have contributed to working on the Trail, cutting vegetation, removing railroad ties, constructing handrails and decking, putting in siltation fence, raking, and installing landscaping, signs, and kiosks. Professionals have donated goods and services such as surveying, mapping, planning, tree cutting, chipping, offering electrical and lighting services, trucking of materials, and constructing gazebos in addition to the actual Trail construction. Community groups get involved, too: schools, seniors, veterans, the Newcomers Club, American Legion, Holliston Business Association, and more.
Celebration of the Town’s History
There are so many positive aspects to the Upper Charles Trail in Holliston. It brings awareness to the history of the railroad, the Town, and its people—from the Mudville section with its story of the Irish immigrants, mills, and waterways to the former cranberry bogs and quarries. The Trail also protects, preserves, and showcases historic structures such as the unique pink granite Eight-arch Bridge, a rare horseshoe-shaped tunnel, and numerous cattle passes and granite bridges.
The Upper Charles Trail provides a fun outlet for healthy activity and is open to users of all ages and abilities. Running clubs use the Trail for a safe location for jogging away from busy streets. Hiking clubs use it for walks; and a trail-riding-birthday party for an eight-year-old was even held on the Trail. The Trail has been a host location for pet walks, the First Night Lantern Walk, a Spring Stroll and Holiday Stroll, fundraisers, flea markets, and outdoor concerts.
In all, each of these exciting and crucial development points and uses leads back to the original point: rewards. Nothing is more rewarding than seeing the many smiling faces along the Trail.
Robert Weidknecht, RLA is a Senior Associate at Beals and Thomas, Inc. in Southborough, MA. For additional information, contact Robert.