Back on July 3rd, we walked the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail in Chelmsford Center. We were early on in our experience walking during the pandemic. But at that point we just wanted to see friends and get outside. Unfortunately, the weather that day was so humid, photos were not an option. So, I didn’t write about that walk at all. In fact, back then, I was thinking this would be more of a cooking blog or a restaurant blog. Who knew we’d still be dealing with pandemic lockdowns all these months later? So we decided a few weeks back to return to the scene of the crime…. well, kind of.
4th of July Pre-Pandemic
Did you know the pandemic would start in March and by July we’d all still be locked down? I know I didn’t. In fact, I left items on my desk at work (including a beautiful braided bamboo plant) thinking I’d be back in a week or so when everything blew over. Yikes, was I wrong! And my poor bamboo is now a sickly yellow color. I visited it this past Monday… I’m letting it live out its life as it can. Maybe it and I, will come back in the Spring.
But how do you know what a pandemic really is until you’ve lived one? I sit here now, thinking about our plans to take that walk back in July. It was the day before the 4th, and we wanted to do something to mark the holiday. So walking in Chelmsford Center was it. That may sound odd, but hear me out.
4th of July means the Chelmsford Country Fair
In past years, Beth and I helped to organize the fried dough booth at Chelmsford’s Country Fair celebration as part of our church’s community participation. We’d set up the booth on the 3rd; rain, shine, or “fire of hell hot.” Then sell fried dough that evening while the local high school groups were performing on the bandstand or on the common. Plenty of kids and families were looking for a favorite treat before heading home. And yes, they certainly could choose among many, but there was nothing as good as our fried dough, with powdered sugar, cinnamon, or even maple syrup and butter! Then we’d return at the crack of dawn on the 4th to get things rolling again and handle the crowds that came to watch the big 4th of July parade. It is amazing the amount of fried dough you can sell when the weather is great. And sad how much you have leftover if it rains.
Our July 2020 Walk
Our walk in July was quick. We hit our 6,000-step goal before 8:30 that morning. Not sure who planned that, but it did start our holiday off with at least a semblance of tradition. And we had a long hot summer day ahead of us to get ready for the celebration that wasn’t – the 4th of July.
A town that is serious about it’s parade
If you’ve never been to Chelmsford, you wouldn’t get how extreme the town is about that parade, and what a shock to the system it was to have a July 4th go by without it. But let me tell you, people put their lawn chairs out along the route a full week ahead of the parade to preserve their spot. The town puts warnings out every year asking people NOT to do that because it blocks sidewalks, sides of the road, etc. One year they even threatened to go out and collect all the chairs that were out there ahead of July 3rd. And they actually DID drive a pick up truck around collecting chairs. If you wanted yours back, you had to pick it out of a pile behind the fire station. Well, this year there was no parade, no road race, and no fried dough booth. But there was a chair honoring the day.
4th of July in a Pandemic
Needless to say, this year was different. No parade, no group gatherings allowed. It actually felt like any other day during this sorry COVID-19 year. Nothing excitingly special, and certainly not celebratory. But we had to do something! So we decided to stay local (to avoid the crazy people out on the road) and hike in our own back yard. We headed to Bruce Freeman Rail Trail. People weren’t all wearing masks on the trail. Believe me, hiking in a mask when you’re wearing glasses is a foggy event anyway. Hiking when it was steamy hot out made either the glasses useless or the mask a total pain in the “you-know-what.” But for the most part, we wore them. Because that trail was crowded. At the end, the four of us gave air hugs and headed home.
Is that all there is to Bruce Freeman?
With such a non-eventful walk, it isn’t surprising that we decided to give the trail another try. After all, we’ve been there multiple times before, but we hadn’t ever wandered further than Chelmsford. So we chose a different starting point when we returned in the Fall. The Bruce Freeman Rail Trail is a 25-mile long trail that runs from Lowell to Framingham with 10-foot wide paved paths and a 2-foot wide shoulder on each side. Perfect for families hiking, rollerblading, biking, jogging… and in winter, skiing. Right now a part of the trail from Golden Cove in Chelmsford to the Lowell line is under construction to complete some upgrades. It seems like they’re constantly upgrading, so visit the website first to make certain.
Acton, MA, the “new-to-us” part of the trail
On our second visit, we parked at the Acton lot. We’d heard it got crowded later in the morning, so as usual, we got an early start. That section of the trail is considered part of Phase 2 of the trail near the Assabet River. As on other sections there’s a beautiful wooded paved path in this area. Lots of wetlands, small ponds, the Nashoba Brook Conservation Land property, and random professional buildings backing up to the trail. Remember, this used to be the New Haven Railroad Framingham & Lowell line, so we couldn’t expect it to be true wilderness hiking. But it was a beautiful calm day, with the red berries of late Fall and Winter glowing here and there as we looked out over the faded browns and greens of streams and ponds.
Something warm to fortify us!
While it wasn’t cold the day we went hiking, it wasn’t warm either. So we started our day with a bit of breakfast at Acton Coffeehouse before heading out. If you’re looking for a place before or after your hike, I recommend it. It’s located in the West Acton Villageworks and has both indoor and outdoor (at least when we were there) seating. They’ve got a great line of their own coffees and tea from Massachusetts Matcha Company.
Ah for a cup of tea!
Just looking at their menu makes me wish for a return of those lazy autumn Saturdays and a cup of Ginger Twist with lemongrass, apple bits, orange peel, ginger, licorice root, and ginseng, or their Chamomile Citrus with orange peels, rosehip shells, chamomile, lemongrass, lemon myrtle, hibiscus, spearmint, and orange blossoms. This is the kind of place you could while away an hour or two just relaxing with friends.
Maybe we’ll come back to snowshoe?
We will no doubt return to Bruce Freeman again over the next few months, maybe with our snowshoes, and maybe a bit further south. If you’re looking for an easy trail to wander with plenty of parking and not too far of a drive out of Boston, this is one to add to your list!
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