Bruce Freeman Rail Trail in Chelmsford, MA

Bruce Freeman Rail Trail

The lovely Bruce Freeman Rail Trail runs right through my hometown of Chelmsford, Massachusetts. One trailhead is in Carlisle (right at the intersection of routes 225 and 27) and the other is at the Lowell/Chelmsford line at the Crosspoint building (which used to be known as the Wang tower way back when).  Most of the way through Chelmsford it directly parallels route 27, which I used to bike as a kid.  It’s a lot nicer to go on the bike path though — the path goes right by the lovely Hart pond, my old elementary school (Byam!), some surprisingly beautiful wetlands and then right into the center of the town.

Bruce Freeman Rail Trail

As seen in Chelmsford center, where there are a number of places to get some food and drinks. This photo is right behind Ginger Ale plaza, where you can find the Java Room, which has been a popular spot in town since it opened.

Turning around, this is the view of Chelmsford Center looking north:
Bruce Freeman Rail Trail
Go up the stairs and that’s Ginger Ale plaza on the left. There’s also parking on the right. A lot of local businesses are here just waiting to cater to path users! (That’s why I recommend the Center as the trailhead if you’re driving in from out of town.)

Full review and photos of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail after the cut…

From Chelmsford center, the path goes alongside route 110 and then heads into Lowell.  Crossing 110, I have to admit, was very confusing and hard to maneuver without dismounting.  I actually fell off my bike trying to negotiate a hard sharp turn while crossing the street, which is my own fault. Definitely dismount when crossing 110 — those signs saying “bikeway narrows” are NOT KIDDING. Until the path picks up again properly you have to go along a narrow sidewalk, you might think you’ve lost the trail at this point. Just keep following the sidewalk and you’ll see it pick up again.  I know there’s been some discussion that this part of the trail is confusing, so I hope in time there are some changes to make it a little easier to understand.

My recommendation for recreational riders is that unless you are trying to get somewhere in Lowell, it’s not really worth the trouble crossing through Chelmsford Center, across a lot of traffic, to continue into Lowell. (Though of course if you’re trying to get somewhere specific, this trail is AWESOME for not having to ride on heavily-trafficked roads like 110.)

So biking from Chelmsford Center going south towards Carlisle, you will go some pretty decent stretches without encountering any streets. This path isn’t nearly as heavily-used as, say, the Minuteman rail trail, so you can pick up some good speeds here.
Bruce Freeman Rail Trail
Leaving the center and heading south, you’ll see the streams that (I believe…) feed into the Middlesex canal in the center of town. The canal is kind of hidden — but if you walk near the Fishbones restaurant in the center of town you’ll get a little peep of the canal.

Bruce Freeman Rail Trail
The trail isn’t too heavily trafficked, though you will encounter a lot of families using the trail, which is great to see. Serious roadies need to keep in mind that even with “ON YOUR LEFT” etiquette, a lot of folks here aren’t still used to that so kids — especially the kids — will not necessarily understand what that means. Definitely use caution and announce yourself well ahead of passing!

Bruce Freeman Rail Trail

Bruce Freeman Rail Trail
As the trail parallels route 110 (again, leaving the Center going towards Carlisle) you’ll go through some protected areas and wetlands. I can’t wait to see this in the fall, it’s going to be gorgeous.

Bruce Freeman Rail Trail

Bruce Freeman Rail Trail
It’s always great to see people using the trail, but sometimes you want a nice, quiet ride. :)

One of the many MANY things this trail got phenomenally right was the intersections. Lots of signage for cars on the road and plenty of forewarning for path users.
Bruce Freeman Rail Trail

As you approach road intersections, in addition to signage and marks on the asphalt, the asphalt changes to arranged brick. This effectively acts as a rumble strip for bikers:
Bruce Freeman Rail Trail
It’s a very VERY smart idea.

Above was the High Street intersection. While you can get away with rolling stop/slows at later intersections, this is one where I HIGHLY RECOMMEND vigilance. Having grown up in this town and learned to drive on these roads, I can tell you that a lot of people tend to drive way too fast down High Street, especially since it’s coming down a steep hill. Until people change habits and get used to slowing down their cars at this intersection, bikers/walkers/skaters really need to be careful when crossing here.

Continuing past High street you’ll be going on another decent stretch without any interruptions.
Bruce Freeman Rail Trail
The trees steeple over the trail in a really beautiful way. Again, can’t wait to see this in the fall. The Bruce Freeman trail might become my favorite once I see it in autumn — if it topples the Nashua River rail trail as my favorite that will be a feat indeed! :)

Bruce Freeman Rail Trail

Bruce Freeman Rail Trail
When you get to this clearing with the power lines, know that you’ll be coming up to another road intersection soon.

Bruce Freeman Rail Trail
Aaaaaaand this is that intersection! Directly to your right is Byam Elementary School (my alma mater, haha) and in front of you is Agway. They’re very smart — they’ve put up signs facing the path advertising cold drinks and restrooms inside. (They also had toxic waste candy for sale, haha.)

Right after Agway on your right will soon be Hart’s pond.
Bruce Freeman Rail Trail
It’s a great place for a swim (no lifeguards on duty though!). No reason you can’t hop in off the bike path if it’s a hot day.

Bruce Freeman Rail Trail
It’s a decent-sized pond, too. You’ll be biking right alongside it for a while.

Bruce Freeman Rail Trail
You’ll also be crossing a number of tiny private roads that lead to the water-side houses. Definitely use vigilance when crossing (as always!) but you don’t need to come to a full stop for these tiny roads.

Bruce Freeman Rail Trail

Kind of hard to see — but some neighborhood kids set up a lemonade stand along the path near the pond. Judging by their coin jar it looks like they did decent business that day. Smart kids!

After the pond drops out of view, you’ll continue to parallel route 27 towards Carlisle and even cross it at one point, be careful at these major intersections!
And then (alas) the sign that you’ve come to the end:

Bruce Freeman Rail Trail
Bruce Freeman Rail Trail

This is where stage 1 of the BFRT ends, but hopefully the trail will continue one day soon!

just follow rte 225 to get to the BFRT from the minuteman trail

Google elevation map showing where to follow Route 225 -- i.e. how to get to the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail from the Minuteman Trail

For bikers coming from the Boston area, it’s not too hard to pick up the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail from the Minuteman Trail. Remember that the Minuteman trail ends basically smack-dab in the center of Bedford? Pick up route 225 from there and follow it west for a while. When you get to the intersection of route 27 and 225, that’s where the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail starts.

I haven’t done 225 on a bike yet, so I don’t know about any major hills — I’ve done Bedford to Chelmsford on route 4 though and there are a few killer hills, so I think 225 in comparison is much better.

For more information about the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail, please check out the official website of the Friends of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail: http://www.brucefreemanrailtrail.org/index.html
They have info on how you can support the trail and efforts to continue its construction/extension. Considering how beautiful phase 1 has turned out, I hope other towns realize what an asset this kind of public space is and support it.

[[Addendum]]
Also, I want to give a big THANK YOU to the Friends of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail and the Chelmsford Police Department. When I was biking the path yesterday (Saturday September 5 2009), a big tree collapsed right around the Lowell/Chelmsford line and cut off the path at about 3pm.

Bruce Freeman Rail Trail

Bruce Freeman Rail Trail
Luckily no one was hurt but you couldn’t pass around the tree. Within an hour the police were there with chainsaw crews, and they cleared the tree. Hooray! I stand corrected, thank you Ken for the correction. The police were indeed present to help direct traffic around the tree but the chainsaw crews were courtesy of the Friends of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail. A big thank you to the Friends and to the CPD!

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7 Comments

  1. Posted September 7, 2009 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    This is a terrific post, Maria! Great photos — love the cat — useful info ( about being vigilant in certain places, for example) and breaking news — Tree down! Glad you’ve linked your blog to Facebook.

  2. Ken
    Posted September 7, 2009 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

    Hi Mary,

    Actually it was the “Friends of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail” that chopped up the tree, the police came by while we were cutting and helped with traffic as the trail was busy.

    -ken

  3. Posted September 7, 2009 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

    ah ha, i stand corrected. i’ll make a note in the entry.

  4. Ekaterini G
    Posted September 14, 2009 at 6:36 am | Permalink

    Fantastic review, Maria! And the photos are phenomenal. I can’t wait to see this trail in the fall, either.

  5. Amber
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    Very helpful blog. We are house-hunting in Westford and I saw the trail from the road and wondered where it all went. Thanks so much for the info and pictures. Just another perk to the house we were looking at!

  6. Susan Brooks
    Posted December 13, 2009 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the great overview of the trail. I walked part of it this fall and loved it. I sent a link to a friend who used to live near Wang Towers. Made a mistake and moved to Santa Rosa California. Bet she misses this winter weather, poor thing.

  7. Posted June 9, 2010 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    Hi Mary,

    Nice account of the BFRT, and photos. Thank you.

    Re: Your statement – Leaving the center and heading south, you’ll see the streams that (I believe…) feed into the Middlesex canal in the center of town. The canal is kind of hidden — but if you walk near the Fishbones restaurant in the center of town you’ll get a little peep of the canal.

    I don’t know the names of the streams that flow through Chelmsford Center, but they are not part of the Middlesex Canal.

    The north branch of the canal route does cross the northern end of the BFRT, on the Crosspoint Tower side of Route 3, on its way between the Merrimack River, at Middlesex Village, and the Concord River Crossing in North Billerica.

    Also, streams did not feed the M’sex Canal. The Concord River was the sole source of water for the north branch.

    It should be possible to link portions of the canal towpath (e.g., Canal Road in Chelmsford, McLannan Way and Lowell Street in North Billerica) to the BFRT to extend its length and provide a generally traffic-free link to North Billerica (e.g., to the commuter rail station); the ‘Friends’ of the BFRT are aware of this.

    More information about the canal can be found at .

    HTH,

    Bill Gerber
    President, Middlesex Canal Association

4 Trackbacks

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