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Submitted by Leslie Merritt on
Photo of two people carrying large wooden board to construct raised wooden bike path.

Within eyeshot of the Manning St. terminus of the Mass Central Rail Trail in Holden is the main entrance of Trout Brook Reservation. The 660 acre parcel, along with the abutting White Oak LCS area, are a popular hiking and fishing destination. While less known for mountain biking, the rocky trails are frequented by locals and make up a respectable portion of the overall singletrack in Holden.

Trout Brook itself is fed from the north by a smaller tributary called Ball Brook. Travelers on the Bob Elms (aka “Blue Dot”) trail, so named for a beloved local scout leader, from either direction would typically begin descending into a soupy mess well before reaching Ball Brook. The stream-crossing itself being a patchwork of unstable, improvised bridges prone to being relocated by seasonal floods. This is where some local riders saw an opportunity.

Empowered by Wachusett NEMBA's local team initiative, Mike Wilander, Anthony Craig and Jason Magoon, all of Holden, hatched an ambitious plan to span nearly 100 feet of brook and bog in the spring of 2020. Not knowing where to start Wilander simply sent an email to Holden's conservation agent. The trio soon found themselves before the Holden Conservation Commission with their proposal. 

According to Craig “It took a while to cultivate a relationship with the agent and commission. Once we got approval... the project moved quickly.” After receiving the Commission's approval to proceed, the group headed into the woods with Wachusett chapter president Brett Russ and Holden Con-Comm agent Glenda Williamson to formalize their plan and make a decision about a persistently wet section of the existing trail. "The three of us were a bit torn about whether it was better to revitalize the original section of the trail or reroute around it" said Wilander. The group came to agreement on legitimizing a nascent trail which had emerged to bypass the difficult section. The Commission agreed with their plan and the project headed on to phase two.

Spanning Ball Brook required an application for "Request for Determination of Applicability" with Mass DEP. This is a formal process for determining whether or not a site is bound by the Wetlands Protection Act. Approval for the project was granted by the DEP in the fall of 2021. With that approval in hand and winter fast approaching a call went out to the Wachusett chapter for a work day.

"We had about 20 people show up." Wilander recalled. "One small team closed down the flooded and eroded section of the trail... the larger group raked the new reroute, taking care to use the contours so that the new section would not erode and become a problem." A few weekends later a smaller crew gathered to place about 60 feet of small bog bridges where the new trail passed through the Ball Brook buffer zone.

Photo of a group of people constructing raised wooden biking path.

When it comes to building a bridge, building it is the easy part. In the wake of the pandemic supply-chain issues had doubled the price of lumber. With a budget of zero Tony Craig began applying for grants ultimately securing $500 from NEMBA. Another round of funding came via Fritz's Bicycle Shop in Worcester and Tomten Biketown in Leominster. Once two-thirds of the funding was in place the town of Holden's conditional funds were guaranteed. Thankfully as the year passed while funding coalesced, lumber prices fell and the budget once again became realistic.  

As the window began to close on the 2022 season and funding deadlines loomed, lumber was ordered and another chapter work day was called. "I think we were under budget by less than $50" recalled Wilander about Craig's impressive handling of the finances. Equally impressive was volunteer turnout, with nearly twenty chapter members showing up to help on a rainy November Sunday. The span required a significant amount of lumber including multiple sixteen-foot four-by-sixes, all of which needed hauling about a mile into the woods. The end result is an impressive seventy-foot long, three-foot wide bog bridge resting on six-by-six sills. 

"The consensus is that there is more work to be done on the west side of Ball Brook, especially in the wetland's buffer zone" Wilander said. Holden conservation agent Glenda Williamson has nothing but praise for the project; “The 0.5 mile trail reroute, construction of footbridges and the Ball Brook crossing have significantly diminished user impacts upon the stream and adjacent resource areas. Thank you so much to the NEMBA Wachusett Chapter for your financial contribution, hard work and dedication that made this project a success.”

Photo of a raised wooden bike path.

Willander later recalled an encounter the group had at one of the town meetings, “As we were walking out of the second Con Comm meeting we were approached by an older gentleman... He said he had  known Bob Elms and was tickled pink that we were carrying on his legacy of service by working on his namesake trail... It was also a confirmation that what we were doing would be appreciated by more than just the small group of people I ride with.”  

For more information about Trout Brook Reservation go to: