NORTH CENTRAL PATHWAY:
-BIKE IT OR HIKE IT-
Last Updated: August 08, 2023
Length: Northern Section (Gardner & Winchendon); 7 miles
Southern Section (Gardner's northeast section); 0.8 miles
On-road connector between Northern & Southern Sections; 1 mile
Southern Section (Gardner's northwest section); 2.3 miles
Difficulty: Northern section ( Gardner & Winchendon); Easy. Paved, flat rail trail.
Southern Section (Gardner's northeast section); Easy. Paved, flat trail.
Southern Section ( Gardner's northwest section); Moderate. Undeveloped rail trail is hard packed dirt, but very passable.
To start from Gardner (Southern Section); Take exit 86 off of Route 2 to Route 68 north. When you enter downtown, take a right onto Route 101. Head through downtown and pass by the Town Green on your left where there is a Civil War Monument and some cannons. At the end of the green, turn left onto Park St. Immediately to your right will be the entrance to the Gardner Veterans Skating Rink. Park here. The trail starts from the rear of the rink.
To start from Winchendon (Northern Section); Take exit 90 off of Route 2 to Route 140 north.
To start from the Route 140 parking lot (Southern End); Before crossing into Winchendon, look for a small parking lot along the right side of the road just past the Green St intersection on your left.
To start from the Old Gardner Road parking lot (Central Section); After crossing into Winchendon, look for Old Gardner Rd on your right. Just down this road is the parking lot on the left.
To start from the Summer Street parking lot (Northern End); Take Route 140 north to Route 12 and continue north for 2.2 miles. Cross a pond and turn right on Beech St. Follow to Summer St where you'll find parking along both your right and left in front of the ball courts for the Clark Memorial Community Center. Head right for the trail head.
The North Central Pathway links the historic downtowns of Gardner and Winchendon. In Gardner [Southern Section] a paved trail travels along the East Side of Crystal Lake while an undeveloped rail trail travels along the West Side of the lake. Both of these trails link up (on-road) by Route 140 across form the Northern Section. The Northern Section, which is mostly complete, travels south from Winchendon to Route 140 in Gardner. This section of rail trail travels along the former rail bed of the B&M RR Worcester & Hillsboro Branch that ran to Contoocook NH, as well as, a section of the Baldwinville & Winchendon RR. Unfortunately, the two trail sections are separated by busy Route 140, making the Winchendon section more user friendly.
North Central Pathway; Northern Section:
Starting from the Summer Street parking lot in Winchendon [Northern End]; Follow Summer St right to Summer Dr and head left past the old Goodspeed Machine Company building. This will bring you to the trailhead. The paved North Central Pathway heads up to the old rail bed and heads Southeast across an old RR bridge. This was a double line, thus, a second old RR bridge parallels the trail. I believe this was part of the former Baldwinville & Winchendon RR, however, three different rail lines passed through Winchendon and I was unable to locate an old RR map. Down to your right is Tannery Pond and to your left is Whitney Pond. After crossing the bridge you'll see a dirt trail on your right. This is where the old rail lines split. Continuing straight the paved trail bears left off the old rail bed to follow the shoreline of the pond. Lots of benches overlooking the pond. The trail then bears right rejoining the old rail bed and crossing a short causeway. Pass by the Glenallen Street parking lot, where you'll find a Map Board at 0.8 miles, before crossing Glenallen St and a 2nd parking lot. You then travel alongside Route 12 a ways before the trail leaves the road behind at 1.5 miles. You quickly cross the first of 3 bridges over Millers River. You follow a berm alongside the river and marsh and cross a second bridge. Finally you cross your third bridge over the river before coming to N Ashburnham Rd at 3 miles. To reach the next section requires a short 0.8 mile on-road detour. Turn right on N Ashburnham Rd (residential), then right on Route 12 (narrow shoulder) and cross back over the river. Take your first left along Old Gardner Rd (low traffic). A slight hill brings you back to the trail on your left at 3.8 miles where you'll find a Map Board. Across the road is the Old Gardner Road parking lot. This section follows the rail bed of the former B&M RR Worcester & Hillsboro Branch. Across the street you can see where the old rail bed continued. The paved trail heads into the woods crossing Teel Rd at 4 miles (last road crossing until you reach Route 140). Woodland and marsh corridor with a slight upgrade. Pass by an old granite RR Mileage Marker W32 (32 miles to Worcester) on your left at 4.5 miles. Travel through a tunnel underneath Commercial Dr at 4.8 miles. Pass by RR Mileage Marker W31 at 5.5 miles (these old RR Mileage Marker were placed every mile along the tracks). You cross into Gardner at 6 miles and follow a causeway through a marsh. After passing by RR Mileage Marker W30 at 6.5 miles you'll come to the end of the trail after 7 miles next to Route 140 where you'll find limited parking.
Note; Caution; To reach the Southern Section you'll need to cross busy Route 140. Not recommended for kids on bikes. Construction is expected to begin in 2025 to build a bridge over Route 140 here.
North Central Pathway; Southern Section:
Starting from the Gardner Veterans Skating Rink [Southeast Section]; The paved North Central Pathway starts from the backside of the rink and follows the Eastern Shore of Crystal Lake North. After 0.7 miles, you come to a parking lot located alongside Green St. Look right across the road to spot 2 large wind mills. Cross over Green St where the trail passes in front of Mount Wachusett Community College and ends at a side road at 0.8 miles.
In order to connect to the Winchendon Section of the trail, you must use an On-Road Connector. [This is not recommended for kids on bikes as it crosses, then briefly travels alongside busy Route 140]. Continue straight along this side street and turn left when you reach Eaton St. This will bring you back to Green St. Travel right on-road utilizing the wide shoulder. This will bring you to Route 140 at 1.4 miles. A bit tricky crossing over Route 140. Go with the traffic light and use Extreme Caution. Head left alongside Route 140 utilizing the wide shoulder and you'll come to the start of the Northern Section and the Route 140 parking lot on your right after 1.8 miles.
Note; You may continue North along the North Central Pathway; Northern Section into Winchendon or cross back over Route 140 and take the Undeveloped Rail Trail back to Gardner. See below for directions.
Looping back to Gardner along the Undeveloped Rail Trail [Western Shore]; From Route 140;
Construction is expected to begin in 2025 to build a bridge over Route 140 here.
You may cross over Route 140 [USE EXTREME CAUTION as there is no cross-walk and fast moving traffic] and enter the dirt road with the DEP sign. Pass by the brown gate and travel along the old rail trail. This short dirt road section brings you to an electric sub-station. Go around it and you'll see another RR Mileage Marker (W 29). The road then converts back to a rail trail of hard packed dirt, but is pretty smooth. You travel past a small pond and follow the transmission lines to your left. At a 0.5 miles the trail runs alongside a hill with the power lines above you and a pond below. I believe it's part of Perley Brook Reservoir, which you get a better view of shortly. You then pass a gate and cross over Park St where the trail continues alongside Gardner Municipal Golf Course. RR Mileage Marker W 28 at 1.2 miles. The trail then briefly becomes a single track and ends at 1.4 miles at Jackson St. The rail trail ahead is impassable and leads to a electrical sub-station.
Construction is expected to begin in 2023 and be complete by October to build a Park and parking lot on the site of the old electrical sub-station.
So, you must take a left and pass through Crystal Lake Cemetery. This is a very scenic cemetery located along the western banks of Crystal Lake. After exiting the cemetery, you'll follow Crystal Lake Dr out to Park St and turn left. Follow Park St past the Greenwood Memorial Pool & Spray Park and up past Monument Park on your right where the Civil War Monument and cannons are located. Just before the junction of Route 101, on your left will be the entrance to the Gardner Veterans Skating Rink. Enter here to access the paved trail after 2.3 miles. From here, you can also explore downtown Gardner by heading right along Route 101.
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