The concept underlying the project termed the ‘Trail Through Time’ is to create a heritage trail in the town-owned conservation lands of North Acton, Massachusetts. What will be unique about this particular Trail is that it will access sites and stone structures representative of two distinct cultures that existed both serially and concurrently within a relatively small geographical area.
The nascent vision, conceived during the 2006 Nashoba Brook Stone Chamber restoration field work, developed gradually during the following year as it was successively presented to individuals, both within and without the town, each of whom has expertise in a discipline or technique vital to the successful realization of such a concept. By late winter 2007, a coalition was formed for the active design of such a ‘Trail Through Time’ (TTT).
The current design proposes a loop trail that will follow existing Land Stewards' trails in the target area and access a cluster of sites with stone structures from Native American, pre-Colonial, Colonial, and Industrial time periods. All sites lie within the North Acton conservation lands and one contiguous Carlisle conservation property bordering Acton. Each site will require some degree of restoration or enhancement. All will be conceptually connected through the use of informational panels to be erected at each site that present both general and specific historical, archaeological, and other pertinent data.
The proposed project has three interrelated components: 1) the Trail itself, 2) the sites it would access, and 3) collaborative educational programs. The project's time frame for completion is open-ended. Single-site restorations will be undertaken as funding and site complexity allow. Phase I of the TTT will be implemented exclusively within the North Acton cluster of conservation lands (together with the one contiguous Carlisle parcel). A possible Phase II might be considered when an operational Bruce Freeman Rail Trail could provide a link to East Acton Village and the Morrison Farm complex.
Portions of existing Land Stewardship trails within the Nashoba Brook, Spring Hill, and Camp Acton conservation lands will be designated as the TTT. Short spur trails to some sites may need to be constructed.
When the Robbins Mill Development's expected land transfer to the town is completed, a new portion of trail will be designed to connect the new parcel — which contains Native American sites and a probable Stone Chamber roof-slab quarry — to the existing cluster of conservation parcels. The Acton Land Stewardship Committee (LSCom) has agreed to build this portion of new trail to the TTT's requirements. The designated Trail will extend into Carlisle conservation land just across the boundary from Acton to access Native American rock structures located there.
Distinctive signage will be applied throughout the Trail, using a logo designed for and already used by LSCom to mark one cluster of enigmatic stone piles located in the Spring Hill conservation land.
Funding for the Trail will likely be minimal as only signage and possibly short bridge/boardwalk spans will need to be added to the existing infrastructure. Materials only will need to be purchased, as LSCom has always relied on volunteers for labor.
Three major access points, with existing adequate parking space, are suggested: Wheeler Lane, Davis Road, and Camp Acton. Improvements to these parking areas may eventually be sought.
Kiosks already at these entrances will be furnished with pamphlets describing the Trail and the sites that it accesses.
As presently planned, the Trail will access the recently restored Nashoba Brook Stone Chamber and its contiguous ‘blacksmith shop’ foundation; the Wheeler Farm complex; the Robbins Mill and dam complex; the Pencil Factory site and sluiceways; several Native American sites located in both Acton and Carlisle; and possibly other historic sites located in the area. These still-to-be-designated Native American sites lie within the swath of a thousands-year-old sacred landscape ranging through eight contiguous towns in the region, including Acton and Carlisle. Littleton, once the center of the Nashoba Praying Village that extended into North Acton, is also part of this Native American sacred landscape.
At the completion of restoration of each included site, an informational panel or kiosk will be erected to describe that site's significance, both as a stand-alone site and as part of the broader scope of the TTT. Such panels will be funded as part of the site project that each marks.
As currently envisioned, the project hopes, at the least, to establish a relationship with the Acton School Department such that an archaeological/historical field school can be conducted as an adjunct to each site restoration. Acton students who participate in such field schools could receive credit toward some portion of their extra 900-hours requirement. Another possible collaboration could be with Bridgewater State University's educational program for young Native American students, who could attend the field school. With or without such partnerships, the restored sites will be valuable as destinations for school program field trips.
The site selected for the next restoration is the Wheeler Farm, located at the end of Wheeler Lane. This farm complex dates to the 19th century, was used for raising dry cattle, and is comprised of a house foundation, rock-lined well, barn foundation, animal droving corridor, and corrals. The stonework is beautifully laid up and plentiful. Compared with the Chamber, little masonry reconstruction will be required. When brushed out, with saplings cleared away, the site will be a stunning stand-alone destination for tourists and hikers alike that should garner additional support and funding for future site restorations, possibly from resources outside of town.
A team of interested people has been formed. These include both professionals who participated in the Chamber restoration effort, and others with expertise in disciplines crucial to the success of the overall TTT project, but which were not required for the Chamber restoration. Notable in the latter category is Doug Harris, the Narragansett Tribal Historic Preservation Officer.
The team members have presented a proposal to the Community Preservation Committee (CPC) in the fall of 2007 to do a complete restoration with historical and probable archaeological survey of the Wheeler Farm, as discussed above, during the 2008 funding cycle.
The United South and Eastern Tribes (USET) issued a manifesto in 2003 stating its intent to explore partnering relationships with any of the eight contiguous towns, mentioned above, through which a thousands-year-old landscape sacred to the Native Americans extends. Doug Harris has proposed to act as the intermediary, together with Linda McElroy the project's overall director, between USET and Acton Town officials in exploring what form such a partnering relationship might take. Mr. Harris is enthusiastic about the TTT project and the opportunity it presents to explore such a partnering effort. He is optimistic that a collaboration, beneficial to all, can be negotiated.
Mr. Harris also brings to the TTT project resources that no one currently on the team has. His work has taken him to many sites in the Eastern Atlantic states, and he has excellent contacts within the National Park Service and other organizations that might be sources for grants for our project in the future. Access to the NPS communication system alone would be a great asset in publicizing Acton's project.
As part of a publicity effort, the early establishment of this website, modeled on the one created and maintained by the Acton Land Stewards on a volunteer basis, will supply the historical and archaeological data as they are uncovered by the site surveys. Eventually, it is hoped that it may also link to such additional resources as Google Earth and Wikipedia. These links will provide directions to and pictures of the sites, as well as complete data about the sites and additional resources for study.