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The Reformatory Branch Trail connects the historical towns of Bedford and Concord along a nearly 4-mile dirt path through wildlife refuges that ends a short distance from the North Bridge, the location of “the shot heard round the world”, where the patriot militia stood down British soldiers in 1775.
The trail follows a rail line built between Bedford and Concord in 1873 by the Boston & Lowell Railroad, later acquired by the Boston and Maine Railroad. Locals dubbed it the Reformatory Branch after it extended to Reformatory Station, next to a state prison, in 1879. Bedford and Concord bought the line in 1962.
Bedford Depot Park is a good place for services and connections to the Minuteman Bikeway and the Narrow-Gauge Rail-Trail. The Bedford Freight House features railroad exhibits and photos and tours of a vintage railcar. The Reformatory Branch Trail starts at a gravel parking lot and a trailhead 0.3 mile west from the park on Railroad Avenue.
Traversing the trail by foot or mountain bike is recommended because of rough conditions. Soon after getting under way you’ll reach the 19-acre Elm Brook Conservation Area and then the 20-acre Mary Putnam Webber Wildlife Preserve. Both wetlands serve as wildlife corridors for animals in the area. The trail emerges into a small gravel parking lot about 1.7 miles from the trailhead. Use caution crossing busy Concord Road/MA 62 here.
You’ll enter the 3,850-acre Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge after crossing the road. Birders flock to this freshwater wetland along the Concord and Sudbury Rivers as it’s visited by 220 species of birds annually. It also shelters white-tailed deer, muskrats, red fox, raccoons, cottontail rabbits, weasels, amphibians, and several nonpoisonous snake species. Bicycles are not permitted on trails within the refuge, but you can lock your bike to one of several trailside benches and explore by foot.
Look for a Trail of the Colonial Militia stone marker about 0.9 mile past the refuge. A side path leads to Author’s Ridge at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, where you’ll find the burial sites of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Louisa May Alcott, among others.
Another 0.1 mile down the path you’ll cross Monument Street in Concord. A side trip to the right leads 0.2 mile to the North Bridge, site of the “shot heard round the world,” the Minute Man Statue, and a visitor center. Bicycles are allowed throughout the Minute Man National Historical Park, although cyclists must dismount on the North Bridge and in many crowded locations.
The trail ends on Lowell Road. Take the crosswalk to Keyes Road, where parking and restrooms are provided at city offices during normal business hours. A trail west of these offices leads to the old trestle site across the Sudbury River and a boat launch.
Bedford is planning a future makeover for the eastern half of the former railroad corridor. The Minuteman Bikeway will be extended about 0.3 mile from Bedford Depot Park along Railroad Avenue to the Reformatory Branch Trailhead. From there, the existing dirt trail will be paved to a 12-foot-wide bikeway for 1.9 miles to the Concord city limits. The new and improved trail will be called Minuteman Bikeway Extension, but the segment in Concord will remain as it is today.
To reach the trailhead on Railroad Ave. in Bedford from I-95, take Exit 31B onto MA 4 N/MA 225 W toward Bedford. Go 1.8 miles and turn left onto Loomis St. Go 0.4 mile and cross South Road (parking is also available at Bedford Depot Park on the left at this intersection) onto Railroad Ave. Go another 0.3 mile and look for a gravel parking lot on the left.
To reach parking for the western trailhead in Concord from I-95, take Exit 29B onto MA 2 W toward Fitchburg. The exit ramp merges onto MA 2W /Cambridge Turnpike. Go 3.1 miles and take Exit 50 to remain on Cambridge Turnpike/MA 2A E toward Lexington and Concord. Go 1.5 miles and merge onto Lexington Road. In 0.3 mile, bear right to go around Monument Square, then turn left onto Monument St. Take the immediate right turn onto Lowell Road, go 0.2 mile, and turn left onto Keyes Road. The entrance to parking at the city offices is on the right.
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