Nature's starting to take over at the Steamline Trail

There’s no other way to describe the short length of trail that runs upstream along the Nashua River from the old Central Steam Plant in West Fitchburg before ending abruptly at a stone overpass. Mixed in with wildflowers and other lush vegetation bordering the rejuvenated river is the detritus of the Industrial Age – rusting pipes and girders, boarded up brick factory buildings.

It’s the antithesis of a place like the Lowell National Historical Park, where the old mills along the Merrimack have been carefully cleaned, painted, and polished to present a sanitized version of the Industrial Revolution.

This was like visiting a ghost town.

For someone who grew up near these mills and remembers when they ran three shifts a day every day, it comes as a bit of a shock to see these once busy buildings standing abandoned, victimized by the elements and vandals.

I remember coming down to these same mills once, with a friend whose father worked there. It was all noise and confusion – trucks coming and going, machinery running, smoke and dust everywhere, men loading and unloading things. Everything was running, everyone was busy. No one believed it could ever end.

Now there are just neatly printed information boards along the way, describing the city’s era of prosperity and the contribution these mills to that prosperity. The buildings are sturdy, built for the ages. They had to be, to support all that heavy machinery. But the industries they housed weren’t, and one by one they closed up or left town. The city never quite recovered.

On the bright side, nature here is gradually making a comeback. The river is clean. A great blue heron flew overhead as I walked there. Lily pads and pickerel weed line a small cove.

It’s an interesting place to visit, both beautiful and haunting.

The trail starts at a small parking area along Westminster Street, just across from a playground and variety store, near the intersection of Route 2A and Route 31.