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Northampton - Northfield via Amherst, Wendell and Warwick
Cue sheet northbound | Cue sheet southbound
The route segment between Northampton and Northfield consists of two very different parts. The part between Northampton and Amherst follows the Norwottuck Bicycle Path (photos and comments) and is the eastern half of the Connecticut Valley core route, suitable for novice bicyclists. It offers a spectacular overlook over the Connecticut River and a route to the cultural attractions of Amherst, including the Emily Dickinson House, the University of Massachusetts and Amherst and Hampshire Colleges. Also, since the path parallels Massachusetts Route 9, it provides "back door" access to a number of retail outlets along Route 9, including large shopping malls. One ice cream store owner has even posted a sign next to the path, and reports that a considerable percentage of his customers are path users. More and more retailers may be expected to follow his example.
The segment north from Amherst is of an entirely different character. It passes through woodlands and includes two climbs of nearly 1000 feet in each direction. This is a route for dedicated bicycle tourists. Its attractions are the challenge of the riding, wild, wooded scenery, New England town centers each with its white church and town hall, and a number of public swimming and picnicking areas, many in state forests. The town center of Warwick is secluded and pretty,
and despite its small size has a bed and breakfast. Otherwise, services are sparse along this route, though the town center of Orange is not far to the east on a level road near the midpoint of the route, and offers shopping, lodging and other services.
Northfield is a larger town, with an economic base provided by the Northfield-Mount Hermon School. It also has a youth hostel, the first in the United States, where bicyclists may spend the night. The road between Warwick and Northfield
is one of the most beautiful in Massachusetts, very secluded and quiet, with a steady, moderate climb from Northfield.
From Northfield to the Vermont border, the route follows the west bank of the Connecticut River. Just across the Vermont border is the town of Vernon, with a historical society museum open Sunday afternoons and worth visiting; the Vernon Dam, with underwater viewing windows in its fish ladder; and the nuclear power plant. The route from Vernon leads north to Brattleboro, a crossroads from which bicycle tourists may continue in any of several directions.
The Norwottuck bicycle path is not yet complete, so comments on it are not yet definitive. It is already attracting heavy use, and can be regarded as a success in terms of ridership. It also appears to be considerably better designed than many other Massachusetts bicycle paths. However, safety measures will be important. Accidents on this path deserve to be monitored carefully in order to guide improvements. These should include measures to slow motor traffic on cross streets. The combination of novice and child cyclists, which this path will attract, and fast, crossing traffic at unsignalized intersections poses serious risks. Placing barriers across the path, as on the Northampton path, will not solve the problem, that the cars are going too fast. [More detailed comments on photo and comment page.]
The narrowness of the path's Connecticut River crossing is unfortunate; there is much wasted width in the railroad bridge that was reused, and it would not have been difficult to foresee that the bridge would become a sightseeing location. Congestion is likely here. At the very least, signs should be posted to discourage stopping on the bridge, or markings to restrict it alternately to one side and then the other along the bridge's length.
The entrance to the Route 9 tunnel curves sharply, reducing sight distance greatly. Preferably, the curve will be widened; at least, warning signs and a center stripe should be installed.
Improvements to the connection between this path and the Northampton path have been discussed in the section on the Westfield-Northampton route segment.
The route from Amherst to Northfield is on narrow country roads. At present, traffic on these roads is light. It will increase, particularly near Amherst, whose population is growing steadily. Also, riders on this part of the route will almost entirely be experienced adult touring bicyclists. Road improvements need to keep pace with growth. The problem is much farther in the future in the north end of the route, where population is relatively stable and most of the route travels through a very remote area. The exception, on Route 5-10 where it crosses the Connecticut River, is a wide highway which can easily accommodate bicycles alongside motor vehicles.