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The Minuteman Marches Towards Boston

Passing through the historic area where the American Revolution began, the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway is an 11 mile paved trail along the former Boston & Maine Railroad connecting Cambridge and Lexington. Following the discontinuation of freight service in 1981, the line was annexed by the state ten years later, allowing the building of the Bikeway, which was formally opened in November of 1993. Through ongoing community efforts, this rail-trail is slowly being extended towards Boston.

Only 15 miles from downtown Boston as the crow flies, the Bikeway begins at the B&M Freight House in Bedford. Originally built in 1877 to house engines, this unassuming building became the central storage depot for goods received and shipped in the area. Since then it has been a grain store, a VFW hall, a bakery, and a sandwich shop. While it was finally turned into a visitor center and snack shop, the building closed this year as part of a large renovation project which includes the $125,000 restoration of a former diesel passenger car that operated on the line.

The trail then heads southeast into historic Lexington Center, where "the first blood was spilt in the dispute with Great Britain" according to General Washington's diary, kicking off the American Revolution on April 19, 1775. The visitor center located at 1875 Massachusetts Avenue, is open 9am-5pm, Monday through Sunday, April through November, winter hours are 10am-4pm. Be sure to stop at the Great Harvest Bread Co for a slice of hot bread (1736 Mass. Ave, 781-861-9990).

Known simply as "the Bike Path" to locals, it continues on towards Arlington, past Great Meadows, a 183-acre nature preserve and watershed. These wetlands are home to 56 species of birds, 12 species of amphibians and reptiles, and nearly 400 species of plants, and can be explored via hiking trails. On the town border, the Arlington Reservoir features a walking path, public swimming in the summer, and ice-skating in winter. Passing by the last remaining lumberyard once served by the railroad, the Bikeway makes its way into Arlington Center, which is home to many boutiques and restaurants, serving a variety of cuisines including Asian, Indian, and Italian.

Continuing further, one is compelled to stop at beautiful Spy Pond. Once used for ice harvesting, supplying Boston and shipped as far away as India, this calm urban lake is now a place of relaxation and recreation. Spy Pond Park, an extensive park that opened in April, includes benches and tables, a playground, and a baseball field which hosts Little League games in the summer. Any time of year, one can enjoy watching the sunset over the hills on the far side of the pond, the orange glow of the sky reflecting on the water.

The path ends at Alewife Station, which provides parking and subway service into Cambridge and Boston. However, one's walk need not end there, as the Red Line Linear Bikepath continues through Cambridge into Davis Square in Somerville, listed in 1997 by the Utne Reader as one of the fifteen "hippest places to live" in the United States. A mix of college students, immigrants, working class families, and artists give the city its unique character.

Wishing to extend this path even further, a local coalition of citizens, the Friends of the Community Path have been on a mission to extend the Bikepath to the Charles River. Just last week, the city of Somerville was granted $200,000 by the state to build Community Path Park, issued under the Massachusetts Urban Self-Help Program, created in 1977 to assist cities and towns in developing land for recreational purposes. The Minuteman Bikeway is the most popular rail trail conversion in the country, and the 500th such trail in the nation according to the Rails-To-Trails Conservancy. Clearly, the Minuteman marches on.

Ted Beatie
11/21/08


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