This is not being a hiker. It’s more like being an adventurer.
The Merrimack Valley Watershed Association. in 1997, conceived of a trail that would stretch from Lowell to Newburyport and would actually exist on both sides of the river. Various local communities and organizations have put their effort, planning and time into it but each time they have hit a roadblock in funding or too little in grant money.
The will has certainly been there as powerful organizations such as the Essex National Heritage Commission, the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission, the Northern Middlesex Council of Governments and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management have tried to make it come to pass. All the communities along the river want to see it happen but end up suffering the same fate of not having the power to see it through. Fortunately but in a fractured manner, some of the paths have been created by 15 communities But I might add, in various stages of maintenance.
Consequently, you may find yourself crossing into private property complete with threatening signs posted. Or trails in such disrepair, they may periodically disappear or so choked with undergrowth that a machete would need to be used. So close to the river, the danger of sinkholes as the soil slips away is also a possibility. I have personally had the soil give way and a tree root being my only salvation from seriously being hurt. Any hiker needs to be prepared and to have enough equipment on hand in case of an emergency and that means a handy fully-charged cell phone in case of the need to call for help.
For Newburyport, the trail starts just west of the Chain Bridge in Moseley Woods Park. The steep, cliff-like banks causes the path to go down and up ravines but most of the way is well-cleared. Eventually, the path heads towards the river underneath the Whittier Bridge. In a short way, it then leads up to the City of Newburyport’s Water Department and a gravel road. This leads up unto a private home – just beyond (If you sneak past quietly) the trail starts again and leads into farmland but close to the water. If the signs are to be believed, be prepared to have dogs set upon you or have some terrible legal action done upon your person. As long as you stay close to the river, you are relatively safe. After awhile, you will find yourself entering state property, Maudsley State Park. The Trails become more open and are clear. From there, it is safe to head, yes, out from the Gates of Hell (interesting perspective) and the main public road. Take a right and head down to Curzon’s Mill and cross the lovely bridge into West Newbury.
Now this trail of course, is theoretically supposed to extend all the way to the Canadian Border. My advice: recognize the novelty of the idea that you just hiked a small part of this vast trail network and then walk away.
Someday it will be a reality. Right now, watch out for no trespassing signs!