OUR OPEN SPACES: Maintaining Marblehead’s trails

Perhaps surprisingly, Marblehead-owned natural open spaces include five miles of trails for public use. Whether walkers are looking for a quiet retreat from busy neighborhoods, exercising or following new forest and field growth, the paths chosen never close. Keeping them open and usable throughout each year is a job assumed by volunteers of the Marblehead Conservancy.

Trails need attention. A passing storm may take down trees or branches, dropping them onto the paths. Such blockages must be removed and the area cleared for safe passage.

Depending on the surface and slope, rain and melting snow can erode muddy trail surfaces. To fix this, trail crew volunteers dig drainage ditches and create water barriers to take water off the trails. But it is regular usage in any weather and through all seasons that causes the greatest need for repair work. 

 Dick Marcy, a Conservancy Trail crew volunteer, clears a fallen tree from the boardwalk at Hawthorn Pond.

Walking wears a trail surface, exposing rocks and tree roots and making them possible tripping hazards and often injuring the roots. Experience has shown that covering the trails with wood chips helps protect tree roots and reduces the chance of tripping. Thankfully, the Health Department makes wood chips available at the transfer station, and the Recreation and Parks Department assists in moving large quantities of them to drop-off points near the trails. Moving the chips from these drop sites to worn trails is done manually by volunteers as trails are too narrow for vehicles.

Trail servicing, then, requires a good deal of work and is carried out through the year. Conservancy trail crews are the primary source of labor with assistance, on occasion, from Scouts and students. As a wonderful example, the Marblehead High School cross country teams, which use the trails for practice, provided the largest single effort in 2022 to re-chip trails in Wyman Woods.

In addition to resurfacing worn trails, trail crews also trim trails of overgrowth. Often, alien invasive plants, like bittersweet and multi-flora rose, try to overrun a trail, so removing invasives and replacing them with native plants is also an important task of Conservancy trail crews.

Some trail servicing work can be planned, some cannot. Sometimes, things “just happen”. Although Conservancy volunteers walk the trails frequently, reports of situations or areas that need attention often come from visitors. People can visit marbleheadconservacy.org to email the trail crew.

Robert French is the president of the Marblehead Conservancy.

Robert French
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