Something special happened in the first few strides of a recent run at Stonehurst, on the Western Greenway in Waltham, Mass. Although music filtering through the trees provided a reminder I was running alongside Bentley University, I still felt like I was deep in an ancient forest. Giant hemlocks loomed above. A large, or at least very loud, woodpecker hammered away on one of the massive trunks. Then a flurry of movement in a vernal pool revealed what I’m almost certain was a pair of wood ducks, startled by my arrival. I looked at my watch: I’d been running for 60 seconds.
I recently wrote about another stretch of the Western Greenway, from Belmont into Waltham, but this was my first time exploring this side of the trail network, and immediately it was exceeding expectations. Wide, soft trails vein Stonehurst, a property originally designed by Frederick Law Olmsted of Emerald Necklace and Central Park fame. (According to petitions posted on some of the trees, a 25-acre corner of this forest might be the home of a new public high school.) Those trails gave way to a narrow single track that passes between Waltham’s current high school and middle school. The Greenway connects 20 properties, which means periodic road-crossings; yet despite those interruptions, I was amazed by the nature of this run.
These might be the trailiest trails I’ve found this close to the city. Narrow, rocky, rooty, and winding up-over-and-around each contour in this landscape. More like running in the mountains than the suburbs, there was no place to get into a rhythm: As soon as I’d open my stride a little bit, I was sailing into a sharp bend or chopping my steps to avoid a new set of obstacles. Despite the sounds of traffic and a persistent beep-beep-beeping school bus in reverse, I found myself imagining I was approaching the bald summit of a mountain in Acadia National Park or, where young growth had arched over the trail, even exploring a corner of Middle-earth.
Only looking to run a handful of miles—and not quite having bargained for the challenge of this route—I turned around after about 2 miles, where the trail hit Trapelo Road. Had I continued across the street, I would’ve connected with the portion of the Western Greenway I already knew; I’m hoping to do the full Greenway in one big loop soon.