All You Need To Know About The Cape Cod Rail Trail

The Cape Cod Rail Trail offers residents and visitors to the Cape the opportunity to ditch their vehicle and travel by bicycle along paved pathways from Dennis to Wellfleet.

The Rail Trail gets its name from its origins as a rail line corridor running up the Cape. When its owner, The New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railway went bankrupt in 1970 the corridor was purchased by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ Department of Conservation and Recreation and planning began on a possible paved pathway which could take pedestrians safely up and down Cape Cod.

The first leg of the Cape Cod Rail Trail, from South Dennis to Orleans, was completed in the late 70’s, the next, from Orleans to Wellfleet, was finished in the mid 90’s.

More than four decades later, the path is now operated by the State’s Department of Transportation, it follows the former railroad right-of-way for roughly 25 miles through the towns of Dennis, Harwich, Brewster, Orleans, Eastham and Wellfleet with numerous stops along way.

Though intended specifically for cyclists, the paved, relatively flat surface with clearly marked vehicle crossings also provides a wide unpaved shoulder which is used frequently by runners, walkers, roller-bladers, and horse-back riders.

As they ride, visitors to the trail are invited to pull off into one of the local communities for a quick bite to eat or to visit area shops or beaches. Restrooms can also be found along the way located at Nickerson State Park, The Salt Pond Visitors Center at The Cape Cod National Seashore, and at the National Seashore Headquarters.

“The Cape Cod Rail Trail is a significant asset to Cape Cod’s tourism industry,” explained Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce CEO Wendy Northcross, “Bicycling is one of the fastest growing outdoor recreational activities and helps us entice more visitors here to enjoy our region.”

Northcross added that when visitors bring their bicycles to a community, they bring their wallets too, “Nationally, it’s been said that bicycle tourism contributes $71 billion to the US economy. Because the Rail Trail has been so well maintained and expanded in the recent years, people have eagerly returned year after year to experience the relatively flat terrain and beautiful scenery.”

Over the last several years, local officials representing both the Cape and the Commonwealth have proposed expansions to the trail in order to encourage bicyclists to visit the area and to help ease congestion on the region’s already very busy roadways.

For well over a decade discussion and debate has circulated over the possibility of developing the pathway another 20 miles from Wellfleet to Provincetown.

Proposals have centered on the need for a safe place for bicyclists and pedestrians to travel on the tip of the Cape where roads are narrow and become congested and dangerous during peak summer months.

While discussions continue at the town level and through local ad-hoc bicycle committees, little in the way of actual progress on a northward expansion has been seen.

The first major update in a generation was announced in 2014, featuring a 3.7-mile extension of the trail itself, running from its previous stopping point off Route 134 in South Dennis west to Peter Homer Park in South Yarmouth. That leg should be open later this year.

The project, largely funded by the state, came at a cost of more than 7 million dollars, expanded the trail into Yarmouth, led to expanded and improved parking, and included the addition of two new road-spanning bike bridges over Station Avenue in Yarmouth and over Route 134 in Dennis.

Governor Charlie Baker spoke at a ceremony in June officially unveiling the developments, “The more we can do to make it easier for people to connect from one place to another through many means of transportation, the better off we’re going to be,” he said, while also announcing a 60 percent increase to the Recreation Trail Program budget.

With this success, officials are eagerly eyeing future expansions as well, “We can go from Wellfleet to Eastham to Brewster, Orleans, Harwich, Dennis and now we’re going to be able to say Yarmouth,” said State Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Matthew Beaton. “Then we’re going to go to Barnstable, we’re going to keep going to Bourne, we’re going to go the whole way to the canal.”

Perhaps indicating that that pursuit will soon be reality, the Town of Barnstable has already begun to purchase land in Independence Drive, a move which could pave the way for the Rail Trail’s potential extension into Barnstable.

Brewster State Representative Tim Whalen (R) spoke for the Cape’s statehouse delegation by saying “Thousands of people each day, both our local residents and our important summer visitors will benefit from these trails for years to come.”

By CapeCod.com Staff


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