A little less than a year ago (if you can believe it has been that long), I wrote an article titled “Exploring the Reading Forest While Maintaining Social Distance.” At the time, most residents were just finishing their first full month of quarantine, and many began to itch for an escape from their homes as the weather began to turn nice – or as nice as it can get in New England in April. The Reading Town Forest offered and still offers, an escape for residents who suddenly found themselves more home-bound than they had been ever before.
Almost a year later, we’re still here, still looking for an escape from the routines that have defined our lives for almost a full calendar year. The Reading Town Forest still offers an escape for many, but as Ace Foulds and other members of Walkable Reading will tell you, there are still swathes of Reading’s neighborhoods that are just waiting to be explored.
“Several years ago (2006), I heard there was a group in town that met regularly to discuss issues related to getting around town other than by car. Some members were walkers, others avid bike riders or runners. The goal was to look around the town as it related to pedestrian-friendly access. I’m both a walker and runner and when I have to do errands in Reading, I prefer to leave my car in my driveway so I thought I’d attend and I was immediately hooked. We are a small group, so everyone has an equal role. We came up with a mission statement to: ‘encourage and enhance increased pedestrian and non-motorized access to the community for all through education, promotion, and advocacy’’ said Foulds.
Over the last several years, the group has been doing just that: making appearances at every major community event, such as Friends and Family Day, Earth Day, New Resident Open Houses, and the Fall Street Faire, and bringing with them pamphlets, games, and prizes in the hopes of promoting their image of a pedestrian-friendly Reading. When they are not attending these celebrations, they attend local government meetings in order to offer their input on how to make the town more friendly to those traveling on foot.
“We are not an official town committee, so we have no enforcement power. As such, our main role is to look at infrastructure plans, changes, ideas, and make our opinions heard. We’ve attended meetings of the Select Board and Metropolitan Area Planning Council, written news articles, and provided Town Departments with input as needed. Our most recent involvement was to advocate for the test of new road patterns for route 28 (Main Street)” said Foulds.
The group, whose core members consist of Foulds, Ginny and Everett Blodgett, Virginia Adams, Gina Snyder, and Amy Karcz, have had a huge impact on not only making the town of Reading more pedestrian-friendly but also keeping residents engaged by encouraging them to explore unseen sights that lie right outside their front doors.
“We’ve successfully advocated for bike racks around the square and keep them decorated with fresh flowers during the spring and summer. We have organized nine annual Winter Walks in collaboration with the Reading Trails Committee, with guided treks through Bare Meadow and refreshments at Mattera Cabin. We’ve mapped out neighborhood walks which can be downloaded from the Town of Reading website. We organized a Spring Spruce-up weekend and historical walks in Laurel Hill Cemetery, the West Street Historic District and we created a ‘historic house tour’ complete with an audio walking guide which is downloadable from the Reading Public Library. In addition, we have assigned a member to be a walk-leader in the Reading Ramblers program run by Reading Elder Services” said Foulds.
For residents looking for a safe way to stay active this winter, Foulds suggests taking the opportunity to rediscover the town by foot.
“Reading’s beautiful cemeteries are safe spaces to get a mile or so in even when the sidewalks around town are still snowbound. Sidewalks around schools are also usually cleared enough for a pleasant stroll. Once neighbors shovel the sidewalks in front of their homes, I suggest neighborhood routes. Before going out, you can use Google Maps to plan a route with whatever distance you feel you are up for” said Foulds.
She suggests, however, that residents always keep a watchful eye for speeding cars and distracted drivers, especially when walking through Reading Square.
“I find Reading Square to be relatively safe. I do caution all to be extra vigilant crossing streets. I can’t tell you how many near-misses I’ve had even in crosswalks with pedestrian light advantage. Distracted drivers and snow banks are not a great mix” said Foulds.
When asked what some of her favorite routes to explore in the winter were, Foulds had a myriad of suggestions for walkers of all skill levels.
“My favorite routes would have to include Prescott St., Summer Ave, and Willow St. These are usually pretty clear of snow and picturesque. A bonus is the Maillet property on Willow and Lowell Streets. It is such a treat to ditch the traffic for the trails. This is short enough to be enjoyed by kids as well as adults. If you need more off-road pleasure, check out Bare Meadow or the Town Forest with multiple trailheads for parking. A great resource for these properties is the Reading Town Website’s map page”
For those really looking to explore Reading, Foulds suggests becoming a “Townie.”
“Another fun project, many in my running group, Mystic Runners, have undertaken during this pandemic is to become a ‘Townie’. The object is to walk on every street in town. Some use apps such as Citystrides, others go old school and print the street map and listing from the town website and highlight as they go. It’s quite a challenge but a lot of fun. You really get to know the town and you set your own timetable” said Foulds.
As for if she feels safe while walking and running in the town, Foulds thanks residents for their commitment to the “Mask Up” and social distancing guidelines.
“I’ve noticed and greatly appreciated that most walkers and runners around town have followed the guidelines to ‘Mask Up’ and step aside when possible to socially distance while enjoying the outdoors” said Foulds.
Foulds encourages residents interested in learning more about how to explore Reading on foot to follow Walkable Reading and Reading Ramblers on Facebook, where they can view articles and tips on how to stay healthy and active during the pandemic.