Alright, everyone, raise your hands if you’ve ever heard of Winchendon, Massachusetts! Anyone? Anyone? Yeah, neither had I until I rode this strange little shuttle. Who the heck thought that a link from Gardner to Winchendon would actually get a few people?
|The bus coming towards Gardner City Hall.|
We left City Hall and headed down Connors Street. There were buildings and businesses all around, but as we made our way onto West Street, we started to leave downtown Gardner. The surroundings were now mostly dense houses, with the occasional auto shop coming up.
|These were not easy windows to take pictures out of…|
The houses got more spread-out pretty darn quickly, and soon there were large sections of trees between them, Eventually it became just woods, broken only by the Gardner Landfill and a cemetery. Later on there was a preschool and another cemetery, then the houses came back when the street became State Road and we entered Templeton. Bet you haven’t heard of that town, either!
|A section of woods.|
We climbed up a slight hill, and near a church, we arrived at our first timepoint: Otter River. It didn’t feel like anything special, with mostly just more houses all around. After the road curved under a train track and became Central Street, thought, we did come to an important area. This was Baldwinville Village, and it featured some businesses, a town common, and a post office!
|A gas station in Baldwinville Village.|
We turned onto Elm Street, whose houses got less dense as we got further from the village. We crossed over the track from before, then the street became Winchendon Road. After going by a campground, it was just pure middle-of-nowhere woods for a while.
|I’m kinda surprised at how decent this photo turned out to be!|
The trees were unbroken for quite a while, aside from the very occasional house or some telephone wires. At some point along this stretch, we entered Winchendon. We arrived at our next timepoint soon, “Lake Dennison Picnic and Swim Area.” It consisted of a road leading to Lake Dennison and a Chinese restaurant. Woooo…
|What a strange place for a car dealership…|
The street was called Baldwinville State Road from there, and we started to see some relatively consistent houses! Eventually the name changed to Main Street and we curved east, passing an ice cream shop and a strange-looking closed car dealership in the middle of a field. There was even some proper civilization in the form of Waterville Plaza! Yes, it was a terrible tiny place with really boring businesses, but it was something.
The road became River Street as we passed two abandoned factories, then we reentered the woods again for a bit. There were some houses after we crossed over the Millers River and a nice forest view as we paralleled said river. The road started to climb up a hill, going way above the river down below as it flowed into a reservoir, offering an awesome view.
|Too bad I couldn’t really capture it…|
We curved around onto Front Street, then we turned onto Central Street. This was downtown Winchendon, and it wasn’t much, but it was something! We passed a little shopping plaza, then some more traditional “downtown” businesses. Everything was kinda run-down, but I can’t say I was expecting Winchendon to have an actual town center.
|A side street downtown.|
We went by a post office, a YMCA, and a few more businesses, but eventually we more or less left downtown. There were still lots of fairly dense houses along Central Street, though, and they continued as we turned onto Jackson Avenue. That street curved down to become Lincoln Avenue, where there were some industrial buildings.
|Some houses in Winchendon.|
Next, we turned onto Grove Street, which was mostly residential aside from a rather large church. We turned onto Pleasant Street after that, taking us past more houses a block away from the main drag. Finally, outside of a lovely library and park, we reached the final stop on the route…and it actually had a sign!!
|Would ya look at that…a bus in Winchendon, Massachusetts. Who woulda thought?|
MART Route: Winchendon Link
Ridership: Well, first of all, I just want to say how surprised I was to see that this route actually gets anyone, let alone about 35 people per day! Yeah, okay, that’s absolutely terrible for most bus routes, but it was surprising to see here. Our ride on the last trip of the day had four other people heading up to Winchendon, and even one person coming back!
Pros: I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Winchendon actually seems like it might kind of need a bus route. I mean, it had over 10,000 people in the 2010 census, plus you’ve got another 8,000 from Templeton. Yeah, okay, both towns are pretty spread out (although Winchendon’s downtown is dense), but our trip did have four whole people! That’s not bad, right?
Cons: Oh wait, this route costs $31.47 per passenger for MART to run – that’s one of the worst passenger subsidies I’ve ever seen! Also, it seems that the only trips on this route that actually get riders are the rush hour ones…and even if that wasn’t the case, this schedule would still be weeeeeeird. The frequencies range from half an hour to three hours in seemingly random parts of the day! Why are there trips at 11:30 and 12:30, then a three hour gap until 3:30, the last trip of the day? And why doesn’t it run a few hours later to better cater to commuters?
Nearby and Noteworthy: Heck, the ride itself is cool enough to be noteworthy! Downtown Winchendon has a few restaurants and businesses, but there is nothing there that is worth the trek…trust me.
Final Verdict: 4/10
Gosh, I kinda have a soft spot for the ol’ Winchendon Link. Yeah, the route is terrible and it costs so much money to run and the schedule is ridiculous and inefficient…but it’s just such a cool route! Who’s ever heard of Winchendon? I was so excited to ride this thing, and it honestly blew my expectations away with its four other passengers. It goes against my better judgement, but I’m going to give this thing a higher score than it probably deserves…
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