I walked the first opened trail segment yesterday (Arlington St.-School St. + the former Arsenal siding). I was virtually alone save for 1-2 passersby during the half-hour back and forth because the initial segment doesn't connect to anywhere east or west yet, but a very nice walk.
They did an excellent job landscaping the ROW. Can't believe only a year ago it was a trash- and scrap-metal strewn industrial dumping ground. Occasional benches (although noticed a couple of them were tagged already) and bike racks. No trash cans yet, which I thought was odd. Lot of use of wood farm fencing against Arsenal St. property lines, which gives it a little bit of rustic feel (although don't know what that's gonna look like in a decade when the pressure-treated wood starts rotting). Quite a bit of new culvert work. For generally non-scenic light industrial property the backs of buildings were kept pretty nicely; only a couple small blighted properties en route. About half of it parallels the back of Watertown Mall where the excess parking is never used, and a big industrial park on the other side where Verizon has all its trucks parked. Very quiet and well-buffered from Arsenal St. noise, especially with the industrial park dead on a Sunday. They've got rows of new saplings on either side of the ROW the whole distance, so it should grow to be even better sound-buffered with time. It's already a nice contrast to the Arsenal drag. Industrial park side doesn't have a whole lot of tall tree cover because it looks 1980's vintage, but there are a couple grand old trees on some of the older factory lots on the Arsenal side overhanging the ROW. There's a spot between the Mall and Arlington St. that feels very woodland with the wind whipping through some of that old growth.
Only grade crossing on the current segment is on the industrial park access road, which was obviously barren yesterday. They put very, very nice tall granite markers at each entrance to the trail and grade crossing--maybe 6-7 ft. tall--emblazoned with "DCR Watertown Greenway" on one side with the DCR logo and some lush wetlands logo (new Charles River trail logo?) on one side, and a color (!) map of the entire Charles trail network on the other side. This is all engraved. The map shows the line contiguously connecting to Alewife, the Minuteman, the Somerville Linear Path, and the Mystic River paths on one end, and the Charles River past Watertown Square in Arsenal Park on the other end. Watertown Greenway colored green, other trails in black, water blue. Compass, town names, everything. Exquisite worksmanship...those markers are spectacular-looking. And so new they're gleaming white. Obviously they've got their plans to go to Alewife and on the piece-together through the Square "in stone", so to speak. I don't know how full-on accurate it's shooting to be, but the fact that it's a contiguous connection to Alewife gives me a little hope that they'll build some connector between Fresh Pond and and Alewife (maybe behind the plaza to Terminal Rd. with a footbridge over the tracks) instead of requiring the dangerous ped/bike detour around the parkway. And interestingly, the complete trail segment through the Square to the River had this little green stub continuing west off it which was a not-so-obvious hint they're thinking Waltham via Bemis Branch on a later phase. Plus the whole Mystic River system connections from Alewife, which don't currently exist in-full either. Wow...if they can pull off all the moving parts involved, especially that tricky private property stitch job through the Square, this is gonna be one hell of a useful link between everywhere and everywhere.
ROW is incredibly wide. Definitely see the line's 2-track lineage in the grading. At no point along the trail is it ever narrower than 2 tracks + decent-size buffer. And behind the Mall it gets so wide that I wonder if there was once a 3rd siding track. ROW crunches a little bit just as you're nearing Arlington St. on one end and past the industrial park access road on the other. Clearly was something more there prior.
Of course, get to the School St. end and you're staring straight into the BMW showroom. Like, literally if you walk in a straight line you go through the showroom doors as if it were a big glass enclosed train station. Ugh. Doesn't look like it'd be too bad a detour around that building back onto the ROW when the town starts getting its back-lot easements for the rest of the trail to the Square. Thank goodness car dealerships are notoriously transient tenants who come, go, build, raze, rebuild without staying too long in one structure. Very unlikely this will be a ROW blocker in 20 years the way the Arsenal drag is likely to get redeveloped. Really, other than a nice facade and tinted glass it's not much more a cheap steel box...nothing that'll have any tremendous permanence. But, jeez, it really is just...right there on top of it.
Neatest thing by far is that they preserved the switch stand to the Arsenal siding. Fully intact...from the look of the bolts doesn't appear to ever have moved off its base. Shield on top's a little bent but it's otherwise complete, in perfect condition, and right there for you to look around, touch, take pictures of. I checked all the patent renewal dates on the base...last date said 1911. Thing is quite possibly that old. Very good-condition find. I would recommend visiting and taking pics of it before somebody tags it. I'm surprised it lasted that long vandalism-free. No placards yet anywhere on the ROW giving historical overview, but I can't imagine it'll be too long. The switch stand alone is enough of a curiosity.
Construction looks done on this segment except for a pile of sidewalk bricks at the Arlington St. end where they're doing some touch-up work. Saplings still have ties/braces on them until they grow a bit. Nothing whatsoever has taken place with the next trail segment from the other side of Arlington St. to Grove St. You look across the crossing and there are the tracks in the grass same as they ever were. And, man, is the brush ever thick under the Grove St. bridge. I walked Grove on the way back and I couldn't even see to the ground from either side of the bridge, much less peer through and get any glimpse of Newlyweds' siding. Maybe they're not working this additional segment this summer? I would've figured they'd tackle brush-cutting before the full year's vegetation growth came in, but I guess not.
Anyway, two thumbs up. The additional segments east and west are going to have to get filled in before this gets connected to the world, but a great start. And definitely one of the "good" trail plans out there for preservation and utilization. Has potential to become a model trail and critical link if they do get that wonderful granite map filled in to a literal "walk/bike anywhere to anywhere" bipedal mass transit system. At least somebody's thinking big on the urban planning side. For railfans, do check out that switch stand...one of the best-preserved specimens out there with full public access. It's visible right from the Watertown Mall back parking lot where the main path and the Arsenal siding path converge. Can't miss it...just park, walk up the grass, look around, pull out your camera.