Essex County Trail Association is dedicated to the preservation and maintenance of open trails throughout six towns in Essex County, Massachusetts for the purpose of passive recreation and for the benefit of the public. We work with landowners, conservation organizations, town officials, and trail users to ensure that access to natural places and open spaces remains a part of Essex County’s rich heritage.
Essex County Trail Association was originally created in 1982 as a means of communicating landowners’ wishes to the riding public. Bridle trails on private lands had for generations been used by friends, neighbors and property owners themselves, who knew and respected the land, and understood where to ride. With the increase in horse ownership and equestrian activity in the 1960s and 1970s, more and more riders ventured onto private property, too often invading privacy and sometimes causing damage. Believing that the problem arose from lack of information, founders Susanna Colloredo-Mansfeld and Ann Getchell decided that what was needed was an organization to which owners and trail users would belong, and through which trails could be marked and owners’ wishes could be made known to trail users.
As membership has grown and as ECTA’s range and activities have expanded to include all types of trail users and all passive recreational trails in Essex, Hamilton, Ipswich, Topsfield, Wenham and West Newbury, landowner relations are and always will be, a primary concern. None of our trails would exist without the generosity of the original and current landowners, and their willingness to protect their land and these trails through conservation. The land that is currently Willowdale State Forest and Bradley Palmer State Park was donated to the state by Bradley Palmer in 1937 and 1944. Willowdale State Forest alone has nearly 2500 acres and 40 miles of trails in its entirety. Acts of generosity like these have created a remarkable legacy for current and future generations – Essex County’s extraordinary network of trails.
We at ECTA are equally committed to the many people who are out on this vast network of trails on a daily basis. Our goal is to help provide trail users access to these beautiful landscapes of forests, meadows, and wetlands by performing trail maintenance and repair projects. We hold 30 trail easements on private land that we maintain as needed, and work with local land trusts, our 6 towns and the state to repair and maintain their trails. Altogether, these trails provide a gateway to the thousands of acres of conserved land in our area that are vital for the local ecosystem and our natural resources, and so beneficial to the health and well-being of all who visit.