Southeastern Mass. Bioreserve opens 20-mile hiking trail in Fall River

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FALL RIVER – Standing among decades-old pines and cedars off Blossom Road as orange and yellow leaves danced through the air in a gentle autumn wind, local officials reminded a group of hikers and nature lovers that they were in a city.

“Everyone thinks Fall River is downtown,” said Paul Ferland, the city’s director of utilities. “There’s also this other half of Fall River here.”

The city recently marked the opening of a new hiking trail in the Southeast Massachusetts Biopreserve — a 20-mile trail taking visitors through all the natural landscapes of the forested eastern half of the city.

The timing coincided with the 20th anniversary of the Bioreserve itself, a 16,000 acre expanse of water and protected land that protects both the Watuppa and Copicut watersheds and is available for anyone to use for free to hike, run, bike or enjoy the peaceful landscape.

“That’s what we want in Fall River: recreation,” Mayor Paul Coogan said. “People need to understand that it’s part of our city. Come and use it whenever you want. Take a walk. Watch the world go by in a much more peaceful setting and enjoy some time off to yourself.”

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The Bioreserve Loop Trail is “an effort of love”

From the Watuppa Reserve headquarters on Blossom Road, what is now known as the Bioreserve Loop Trail winds through forest and past old stone walls in a massive 20-mile circuit. Visitors can walk the lands of Copicut Woods owned by reservation agentsto Copicut Reservoir near Dartmouth, through areas known as Boiling Spring and Cedar Swamp, then head north along the Freetown border, west to the Flangeand back.

Town forester Mike Labossière said hikers are encouraged to tackle the entire loop at once if they choose. But the Bioreserve Loop Trail isn’t actually a new trail, but a series of smaller, pre-existing trails newly connected to each other, allowing new hikers to do a little at a time.

“We didn’t want to create new trails because it’s a bioreserve,” Labossière said. “We are trying to protect biodiversity…and wetlands.

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The effort to create the Bioreserve Loop Trail involved more than simply drawing a line on a map connecting the trails. City staff and volunteers Massachusetts Appalachian Mountain Club Southeast Chapter spent every Tuesday since April, weather permitting, making sure this trail was clear and well marked with blazes – spots of blue paint on the trees marking the route.

“They did the blaze—20 miles, both sides of the trees—cleared the trails, fixed what needed to be fixed, a little rerouting on the wetlands,” said Diane Simms, president of AMC’s SEM chapter.

Their work even involves light carpentry – the perpetually wet areas will need four wooden bridges, which the club also pays for.

“They’re still finishing,” Simms said. “SEM has done the work by building bridges. In fact, one of our leaders is building the bridges at home and is going to implement them here.”

Labossiere said Ren Aguiar, an intern at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, created a logo for the Bioreserve Loop Trail that was incorporated into signs that, like fires, help visitors know where they are going.

“It’s an effort of love — love for the city, love for nature, love for this community,” Labossière said.

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Putting the Fall River Bioreserve “on the map”

The idea for the BLT came to Labossiere after reading an article from the Trustees of Reservations that highlighted must-see outdoor hotspots throughout the state. The Bioreserve was one of them, but it’s such a large space with so many trails that he thought it might feel overwhelming for newcomers.

“He had no identity,” Labossière said. “It became a call to distinguish the bioreserve with a signature trail.”

You don’t have to do the whole course in one go, but Taunton’s James Hartman is among the first to have done so. He said he and his wife completed the BLT in seven and a half hours.

“I had never done 20 miles before, and it was an experience,” he said. “It was something you don’t normally get on a hike.”

“It’s really going to be on the map when it comes to top trail experiences in the state,” Labossiere said.

Making the trail 20 miles long also honors the efforts to create the Bioreserve 20 years ago. A land deal first crafted more than two decades ago traded 300 acres of property in the state forest to develop an office park in the northern part of the city – in exchange, thousands of acres of land have obtained retention restrictions, preserved in perpetuity. The area amounts to about half of Fall River by area. The biological reserve is owned and managed by a patchwork of organizations, including City of Fall River Water Departmentthe state Department of Conservation and Recreationthe Reservation trusteesthe state Department of Fisheries and Wildlifeand the Buzzards Bay Coalition.

This perpetual preservation of half of the city’s resources is crucial, Labossière said. “A healthy ecology, healthy biodiversity, improves our quality of life, protects the things that are important to us, and gives us a place for nature and for finding peace,” he said.

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Anna Thomas walked through crisp piles of bright orange leaves and declared the day ‘perfect’.

“I’m happy to be here,” she said. Thomas, who works at Moving mass, had visited the Quequechan River Rail Trail in downtown Fall River, but had never visited the Biological Reserve before. “It was good too, but not like that. It’s better – completely different and better.

With the new trail to show off, Labossiere said the town plans to hold workshops to attract more Fall River residents, teaching them how to safely enjoy the beauty of their forest. They were also partners of the AMC, which organized at least one and sometimes two group hikes in the Bioreserve each month since 2021. Their hikes are freesuitable for most skill levels, including newcomers, and guided by multiple leaders so you don’t get lost.

“What we’re hoping for is to start bringing more families here,” Simms said.

Plans to build a discovery center for the biological reserve are close to fruition, Labossiere said, which would be a visitor center with maps, information and more.

“That’s when it’s really going to grow,” said Sarah Labossiere of Mass in Motion. “And the more we can get people to use it responsibly, the more protected it will stay.

“For the people of the city to understand, it’s for them – it’s important.”

Dan Medeiros can be reached at dmedeiros@heraldnews.com. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Herald News today.

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