Autumn in the North Cemetery.

Sixty miles west of Boston, Massachusetts there is the small New England town of Sturbridge. Located at the junction of I-90 (The Mass Pike), and I-84 it has become known as the "Crossroads of New England". The town was first settled over 300 years ago, and like other small New England towns it has grown just enough over the years to be in a difficult place today. How do we embrace the future without forgetting how we got to our present? How do we attract the right kind of growth, and maintain who we are? And, what about our culture out here in Central Massachusetts?

These pages will cause one to think about how to protect what we have, our future direction, and how to move on in the very best way.

Those thoughts, and other ramblings, will hopefully inspire more thought, conversation, action, and occasionally a smile...

...seems to be working so far

Monday, December 10, 2007

Get Off the Beaten Path

You may have lived in town all of your life, and for that, I envy you, but you may not have seen a lot of the hidden scenes around the town. Over the last few years, I've stumbled across a few. Some have left me wondering what I was looking at, and others have left me standing, and smiling in silence. I only hope that they will be there for years to come.

I like to explore. Being new to Sturbridge a few years back, I felt I had to get to know the area. I didn't want to be just "living in Sturbridge", I needed to really know about it. The hidden trails and roads, the known ones, the secret areas no one frequents, and the well traveled ones that no one notices.

I found a bunch of places that have caused me to stop, think,and smile. I admit, I must have looked weird standing in the woods smiling to myself, but if you know me you would understand, and still think it weird.

Sometime when the weather warms, and the snow is gone, drive over to the Westville Lake area. Park in the lot outside the main gate, and walk across the road on the other side of the lot to another road running beside the river. This road was one of the original roads in the Village of Westville. The village was dismantled and folks moved out back in the early 1960's in order to make room for the dam project by the Army Corp of Engineers.

Follow the road along the river. Above you, to the right is the Grand Trunk Trail running parallel to the roadway. The large rocks you see along the slope were placed there to build the original rail bed. After you've walked a bit, you'll cross a large concrete bridge to the other side of the Quinebaug river, continue walking a bit and look to your right of the road for a large, old tree just on the edge of the road. Once you find it, look at the side of the tree and up in its lower limbs. There you will see old 2 by 4's nailed into the trunk as a ladder and the remains of tree house. When I saw this for the first time it was one of those times I smiled. I thought of the kids that had constructed it years and years ago when houses lined that stretch of road. The fun they must have had in that tree house looking out onto the river. Now, 40 plus years later, there it was, still there in the tree, and everything else on the ground gone.

Well, not quite everything. The roadways tarmac is still there in places, there is an old cistern still in place on the left side of the road, and a driveway leading to nowhere. Keep walking down the road, and on your right, between you and the river is a an open area. this is a great place to fish I am told, or to just sit on one of the rocks and watch the river flow. Off to your left is the remains of concrete building right on the river. It's a small, square concrete building that served some purpose long ago. I imagine it held controls, valves and such for the dam and sluice way further up stream.

If you continue walking on the road you'll notice on your left the steep hillside. depending on the season, you will see small streamlets flowing down the hill into the ditches and culverts, and on into the river. There is a turn around for cars up ahead, and another great place to cast your line. Yes, you can drive along this road in season, but it is so much nicer to walk the road.

Just where the turn around is the road forks. To the right it goes down to the river bank, to the left there is a yellow steel gate across the road to block automobile traffic. Follow that road. You won't be disappointed.

The road way gradually climbs higher above the river. Most of the old pavement is still in place. On your left is large rocks cut to make the road many years ago. The stone was used to construct the roadway. If you look down and to your right you will see that the roadway sits on a large stone wall for most of the way.

The view from here and down into the river is beautiful. I often think that it would be wonderful if the road could be redone and opened to the public. If you continue walking you will come to another yellow steel gate. The gate blocks traffic from coming down Old Mashapaug Road. Near the end of Old Mashapaug Road, look a the trees lining the roadway on your right. There are some old tin signs still nailed in place from long ago. They are advertising for the former filling station at the house on your left. The filling station island is still there, but the pumps are long gone.

If you are in for different view of the river, from the other side, then follow Old Mashapaug to River Road, and go right along River Road for aways. Look off to your right for another one of those yellow gates down in the woods a bit. Hike on down to it and follow the trail to the steel footbridge crossing the Quinebaug River. You are now officially on the Grand Trunk Trail. Follow the trail along the river, and back to the parking lot. You will see a portion of the trail cut through huge rocks, and open meadow. Your elevation will vary as you continue. The plant life is abundant here. I have seen things I had no clue as to what they were. There is also somethings I know all too well what they are. Towards the end of the trail, you will see old discarded car parts and old car bodies on your left. They are nestled in the leaves and amongst the trees. They seem to fit the area. They reflect another era.

Now, I've just mentioned a few of the things that you will find along your trek along the Quinebaug, if you open your eyes all the way, you will find so many more.

Take the time to explore Sturbridge. Go off that beaten path to WalMart, or the post office. Look at a map, Google the town, find a spot, park your car and walk.

I guarantee you that somewhere along your walk you will look weird in the woods, too.

Top: Old Sturbridge Village Road
Middle: The Quinebaug River
Bottom: Deer along Old Sturbridge Village Road
(c) 2007

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