Hitting the Bike Trails
Hop Aboard for a Pleasant Spin
By Edward Shanahan
That involved showing up, on a bike, if possible, to ribbon cuttings first downtown and later out in Leeds for two new links in the growing chain of bike trails connecting Northampton neighborhoods as well as joining the city to nearby communities.
And so this how it went.
1:25 p.m. From Fairway Village, down Spring Street in Leeds, up Meadow Street to Florence Center; then hop on the original (1983) bike trail to its terminus at Stoddard Avenue, along State Street to Main Street, south on Pleasant to the entrance to Union Station and at last onto the bike trail above Strong Avenue.
1:50 p.m. A large group is gathered at the new rust-colored bridge that spans Bridge Street where the first ribbon cutting will take place. The mood is festive as friends, bikers and officialdom mingled. There are tables loaded with maps, brochures, snacks and beverages. The day is sunny and pleasant as is the
2:40 p.m. Della Penna, proudly displaying his new Danish-made urban bike with many cool accessories, got the group oriented by describing the anomalous situation of the bike trail occupying one former railroad bed only 10 or 12 feet away from a still active track on which trains still run once a day back and forth to Vermont. Della Penna is not only steeped in the lure of bike trails for which he has lobbied over many years throughout New England. He also provides fascinating snippets on local railroad history including the fact that the downtown bike trail overlays a New Haven railroad route built back in the 1840s.
3:18 p.m. We travel west on the familiar old bike path that all of us know well and which is always so tranquil and welcoming with its canopy of trees and easy grade. Additional stops occur in Florence, not surprisingly first at Chestnut Street next to Della Penna’s bed and breakfast at the very edge of the bike trail. He uses his own experience as fodder to persuade critics in other communities that bike trails make good neighbors. We stop again to view the site of old Florence train station, now occupied by the Florence Paint store. He also points out the former Norwood Engineering brick structure on North Maple Street that trains used to enter to deliver and pick up heavy equipment in the good old days.
3:43 p.m. Then on to the final destination, the celebration of the opening of the trail in Leeds, but first after we reach the end of the original trail path at Bridge road, we leave railroad right of way and head into Look Park. For reasons that I still don’t understand and for which Della Penna could not provide elaboration, the park now hosts a short section of the trail where it previously had none. The former pedestrian path has been expanded to accommodate bikes, and MassHighway, designer and supervisor of the trail extension to Leeds, has installed generic signs and brightly painted travel lanes with obvious information. One jarring element is that the section of path running down the hill from the Garden House, next to the minature golf area and ending near the vistors’ center is now posted off limits to pedestrians. How come?
3:50 p.m. Exiting Look Park at the small bridge and waterfall near to Route 9, we now traverse the section of the trail I was so strenuously concerned about earlier because of the number of trees that were cut down during construction. Well, it is not as bad as I had anticipated. And the stretch from the Arch Street Bridge and into Leeds is about the prettiest ride in the entire city as it runs along the nicely elevated land with the sight and sound of the river below. This section is not just for bike-riding but for a leisurely walk. It’s sure to become a favored destination for those seeking to commune with nature.
3:58 p.m. A big crowd of Leeds residents and a large fleet of bicycles greet us at we reach the site of the festivities, just before the trail crosses Florence Street west of the Leeds School. This is very much a community event. Lots of children, provided by the Leeds Civic Association and again speeches and praise for the city’s long-term efforts (the memory of the late City Councilor Ray LaBarge is invoked and cheered). The event ends with a valiant attempt to take a giant group photo.
4:20 p.m. I finished the circuit by riding along the trail as it cut into the hill below Front Street and continued for another quarter mile past the dramatic waterfall on the left, before it makes a U-turn ( it can’t continue west because the divided citizens of Williamsburg don’t want a bike trail in their town) and doubles back along Grove Avenue.
4:30 p.m. I pedal along Main Street in Leeds to the bridge over the Mill River, past the Northampton Country Club, up Spring Street and back to Fairway Village.
4:36 p.m. Nice outing. Lots of exercise, conversations with many people, beautiful scenery and generous displays of hometown pride. Hard to top. All that in a mere three hours.
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