Check Your Phone, Then Hit That Trail
FITCHBURG -- The historic Rock Walk Trail on Rollstone Hill will see substantial upgrades including a self-guided smartphone tour thanks to a $100,000 state grant awarded this month.
“Fitchburg’s Rollstone Hill is an underutilized attraction in the city, and it has the potential to attract thousands of people to (Fitchburg),” said Peter Capodagli, who developed the Rollstone Hill Trail Plan with the Fitchburg Greenway Committee.
The Recreational Trails Program grant will be used to create a “basic loop trail” that runs about two miles from the base of Rollstone Hill to the summit and back down the other side, said Greenway Committee Chair Janet Morrison.
Rocky areas will be cleared and granite steps installed to create the loop using existing portions of the Rock Walk Trail, said Capodagli.
Grant money will also be used to install a series of markers at historically significant points along the trail, he said.
Capodagli leads the “Rock Walk” twice each year. During the excursion, participants walk from the Rollstone Boulder at the Upper Common up to the boulder’s original site atop Rollstone Hill.
Along the way, Capodagli points out historic locales like the Norcross House and First Parish Church.
He also discusses the history of the hill itself, which was once home to the six active granite quarries that employed hundreds of the city’s immigrants, he said.
The $100,000 grant means residents and tourists will soon be able to guide themselves through Capodagli’s tour with little other than a smartphone.
“My vision is turn it into a self-guided attraction in Fitchburg with electronic markers that anybody can do on their own,” he said.
Each of the numbered trail markers will house a microchip, he said. When held close to a microchipped trail marker, a smartphone will retrieve images and information about historic locations and events.
Capodagli hopes that digitizing the “Rock Walk” phone will attract tourists to the city.
Hikers will park near the Upper Common to access the trailhead on Shattuck Street and Bruce Street, he said, leading to increased foot traffic downtown.
“It will be a little bit of an economic development tool in Fitchburg,” said Capodagli.
The Rock Walk is included in the Greenway Committee’s recently released trail guide, said Anna Wilkins, executive director of the North County Land Trust.
The land trust owns 174 acres of land with trail systems across the Nashua River from Rollstone Hill.
Efforts to publicize the city’s network of trails aim to show the ease of accessing “natural resources” without traveling far.
“Getting away from the city is easier than you think, and the infrastructure already exists,” she said.
Crews of trail workers are expected to begin work on the Rock Walk Trail this spring, according to Capodagli.
The trail work and interactive makers are the first phase of a multi-step plan to develop the hill into an attraction, he said.
Fitchburg’s Greenway Committee will apply for additional grant funding in hopes of enhancing side trails on Rollstone Hill, developing its scenic vistas and “natural stone amphitheater,” said Capodagli.
“The hill is incredible in what it offers, it simply has never been utilized,” he said.
The matching grant includes an about $46,000 local contribution, according to the state’s Recreational Trails Program.
The city will match that amount with Department of Public Works labor and equipment, and volunteer labor, said Morrison.
Mayor Stephen DiNatale supported development of Rollstone Hill’s natural amenities, Capodagli said.
DiNatale said the city has limited resources, and that maintaining the trail system will entail inexpensive mulching and grass cutting.
“Most importantly,” he said. “It’s in an area that cries out for this kind of attention, because it is that impressive a trail.”