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Abundance of open space: another reason to “Celebrate Marlborough”

Abundance of open space: another reason to “Celebrate Marlborough”

MAIN STREET JOURNAL – Over the past several years, the City of Marlborough has stood out in terms of economic development, with new projects creating tax revenue growth and added jobs. The evidence is plain to see, with the Apex Center development as one example. But Marlborough stands out in another way that is not so plain to see, with more than 3,500 acres of open space and wooded trails to explore off the beaten path.

Pretty much all of Marl­borough’s conservation gems are a bit obscure in that none are located on main roads.  However, to those who seek them out, there is a wide variety of terrain and plenty of scenic sights to enjoy. Rocky ledges, large and small ponds, active streams, wooden bridges, peaceful meadows, and other types of scenic landscape await those who explore Marlborough’s great outdoors.

The City of Marlborough’s Recreation Department provides an excellent online resource through its “Conser­vation Trails” link which leads to trail maps, pictures and descriptions of every parcel within city limits, some of which connect into bordering communities.

There are eleven distinct conservation territories inside Marlborough’s city limits. These include, in order of size, Callahan State Park, the Desert, Cedar Hill, Ghiloni Park, Cider Knoll, Mount Ward, Felton Conservation Land, Holt’s Grove, The Grove, Sheepfalls Brook Trail, Lake Williams Trail and Jericho Hill.

Callahan State Park encompasses territory in Marlborough and Framingham, with a small piece in Southborough. The Desert is actually part of a larger parcel that includes the Memorial Forest and Hop Brook conservation lands in Sudbury.

Cedar Hill lies adjacent to Sawink Farm, both of which are predominantly in Westborough, but there is a trailhead and kiosk in Marlborough in the lot behind 360 Cedar Hill Street, where there is plenty of parking. Ghiloni Park is connected to some state forest territory that runs north between Concord Road and Hemenway Street.

When it comes to selecting a top five among the city parcels, size proves to be the key factor in determining which places make the cut. However, among the five, there is some room for dispute when assessing which is nicest.

Callahan State Park

There are roughly nine-hundred acres of land to explore at Callahan Park, including about one-hundred acres owned by the Sudbury Valley Trustees (SVT).   Within the park are three major ponds and nearly one-hundred acres of open fields. Fishing, hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding and cross-country skiing are among the allowable activities, though biking is prohibited on a portion of the SVT land.

The park is divided into two geographical areas, a north section accessible from a parking lot on Broadmeadow Road in Marlborough and a south section accessible from parking lots on Edmonds Road and Millwood Street in Framingham. Edmonds Road provides the boundary that separates the north and south sections. There is one trail that crosses the road to allow continuous hiking or biking in both territories. A loop hike around the perimeter of both sections, crossing over at Edmonds Road in between, will run about eight miles round trip.

The Desert

There are more than six-hundred acres to explore in the Desert and beyond, a parcel that includes Marlborough and Sudbury conservation land, state forest property, and land owned by the General Federation of Women’s Clubs known as the Memorial Forest. This area is quite unique in certain areas and makes for a decidedly different hiking or biking experience.

There is a parking lot on Concord Road in Marlborough, along with two on Dutton Road in Sudbury, including one that connects to the Memorial Forest and another that connects to the Hop Brook territory. This combined parcel is bordered to the north by the Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge, with an old railroad bed serving as a border between the two.

The name Desert derives from those sections of the land where sand may be found. This includes portions of the Pipeline Trail that defines the border between Marlborough and Sudbury, plus a large sand pit/field in the northeast section of the Memorial Forest near where the railroad bed crosses Hop Brook.

Perhaps the most scenic locations are the spots where bridges cross Hop Brook. One bridge is just east of trail intersection J on the official trail map and the other is at the northern tip of the Hop Brook conservation land. In between, is a railroad bridge. All three spots are well worth visiting, though a cautionary safety note is warranted regarding the railroad bridge, particularly for children.

Mountain bikers will find the Desert to be a breeze, perhaps even too easy. The terrain is mostly flat and the trails are clear of obstacles in most areas. However, biking is not allowed in the Memorial Forest.

Ghiloni Nature Trail

Located on Concord Road across from Marlborough Country Club, Ghiloni Park is one of Marlborough’s natural treasures. Not so well known, however, is the nature trail that runs east from the access road between the park and Route 20. This trail connects with state forest land to the north for a combined one-hundred-plus acres.

From the access road, the trail leads to a wooden bridge and connects to a short loop hike to the east. Round trip is under a half hour. There is a nice, relatively new trail spur that runs east off of this loop, along a stream and eventually all the way to Ewald Avenue.

An alternate hike could begin at the northeast tip of the state forest. Public parking is allowed at New Horizons, just north of the state forest’s Hemenway Road trailhead. This trail system runs west across two streams, then south towards Ghiloni Park. A round trip hike from the Hemenway trailhead to the Ghiloni Nature trail and back is close to three miles.

Mount Ward

Perhaps the most obscure of Marlborough’s conservation lands is the parcel known as Mount Ward. With a primary access that lies at the end of Langelier Lane, a cul-de-sac in the east end of the city, the area does not benefit from drive by visibility. A second trail access from Route 20 behind the gas station at 656 Boston Post Road East takes walkers by the Evergreen Cemetery for approximately a half mile and connects into the Mount Ward trail loop. There are roughly one-hundred acres to explore including some private land that lies between the cemetery and the mount itself.

From the kiosk at the end of Langelier Lane, the main connector trail heads south along the western edge of the mount. To the east, there is a circular trail that loops around the mount, offering an elevation gain of about one-hundred feet along the way.

There is no scenic vista at the summit, but a stately old Maple Tree is ready to greet all visitors along with a nearby bench that will offer hikers a spot to pause. The hike from the kiosk and back is about one mile.

Biking is allowed but the terrain on the loop trail up the mount is difficult in several spots. Plus the overall size of the parcel is small for riding. Those who do opt to use a bike will find it more manageable to traverse the mount by riding in a counterclockwise direction.

Cider Knoll

Though it is smaller in size compared to Marlborough’s top outdoor attractions, Cider Knoll (shown in picture) is truly a hidden gem and, for some, it is a favorite among the city’s parcels. Combined with land formerly known as Mello Farm, the parcel is just over one-hundred acres in size. Most of the roughly two miles of trails are close to abutting homes, but there is just enough buffer for hikers to feel they have left the city behind. The primary parking access is on Stow Road, though parking at the south end of Woodland Drive is also allowed.

Cider Knoll is regarded as an ideal spot for bird watching with a pond and bordering wetland area that provides for a rich wildlife habitat. The most scenic area within the parcel is the north hiking loop. Moving counterclockwise, hikers will initially encounter a pine forest. Then, while heading south on the west side of the loop, there is a ledge to the right with a river at the bottom. In the fall, it can be an especially picturesque spot.

And there is more …

Among the remaining Marlborough parcels, there are new trails to explore along the east and south sections of Jericho Hill with a loop trail at the top and a scenic view of the city.

Coming soon, a 26.2 mile Panther Trail connecting open spaces around the city is planned for completion next year. In addition, there are plans to create a  33-mile Borough’s Loop Trail which will connect open spaces in Marlborough, Southborough, Westborough and Northborough.

This article by Jim Ash originally appeared here

Editor’s note: For a more comprehensive look at conservation lands and scenic spots in Marlborough and beyond, visit the Hiking and Biking and Scenic Spots tabs at msjnews.com.

This is the third in a planned bi-monthly series of stories that will “Celebrate Marlborough” for the remainder of the year. To view past stories, click on the (more) tab under the “Special Editions” section at msjnews.com. The Main Street Journal is partnering with WMCT-TV on this series. Look for related WMCT broadcasts roughly one month after the print stories are published.

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