Connecticut’s trails east of Hartford

We finally got off the Farmington trails and explored the Hop River Trail and Airline Trail South.

airline trail mile markerDay 3 in Connecticut — we finally got off the Farmington trails and headed east of Hartford. There are a series of trails — the Charter Oak Greenway, the Hop River Trail, Airline Trail North and Airline Trail South. All but Airline South are part of the East Coast Greenway “spine” and together take you almost to Rhode Island. (The Airline trails get their name from an old train line that connected Boston and New York as if a line was drawn through the air.)

There’s work being done here too — we saw construction along I-384 for a trail that will connect the Charter Oak and Hop River trails (and eventually include some costly bridges). Barb, one of my ECG buddies and a trail angel, told me another project is tying the northern end of the Hop River Trail in Vernon (where it’s no longer part of the ECG) to the Charter Oak Greenway in Manchester. And it’s all because of this man, a true trails advocate and East Coast Greenway champion. Thank you, Bill O’Neill.

ecg bill oneill plaque

We rode a 39.5-mile loop of trail and road from Bolton Notch State Park to Willimantic, then to Hebron and back to the car. Unlike the Farmington trails, these trails were stone-dust trails and every once in a while a bit bumpy on our road bikes. Still — road bikes with skinny tires!

Willimantic has also had some recent trail construction: a bridge that connects the Hop River Trail and Airline South opened in May. But before we hopped on the bridge and onto a new trail, we took a look at Willimantic.

Willimantic was once a mill town — the American Thread Company once was based here and was one of the state’s big employers. And that’s where its nickname “Thread City” comes from. Note the spools on this bridge. The frogs, however, are another story.

frog bridgeYou could call it a frog massacre, only no one know what killed the frogs, according to the Windham Historical Society. But it was June 1754, and residents were woken in the middle of the night by a clattering roar. Were Indians attacking? The militia headed out and fired away. When daylight came, they found the dead frogs (and no Indians). This story claims the sound was frogs fighting and dying over a scarce bit of water.

We checked out downtown. It’s seen better days, so it could really use a boost from trail tourism, and this town would be a logical base given that three trails come together here. We found a nice cafe, a brewpub and a diner at one end of Main Street (close to the trail bridge; the frog bridge is at the other end, near where you could pick up Airline North). There’s also a Saturday farmers market that claims to be the state’s longest-running farmers market.

But we were off to see Airline South. Donna, my roommate on the 2015 Week-A-Year ride, leads the committee in the first town, Lebanon, that got the trail there done. Wow. This wasn’t government applying for grant money and administering it — this was volunteers. On top of that, she and her husband helped install/repair tables, benches and even a shelter. I bet to most people, all this just “happens” and they have no idea what’s involved in actually making it happen. This took about 15 years, I believe, and she had some interesting behind-the-scenes tales. Awesome job, Donna!

Nice sign, too!

airline trail sign

I also like this one. It’s not as large and fancy as the one above, but it does the job in promoting local food stops and is an easy idea to copy. Isn’t economic development — whether out-of-towners spending money in town or trails luring businesses and housing — one of the benefits?

airline trail food sign

And Hebron is where we got off the trail and took the road back to Bolton Notch. Those hills make you appreciate the easy grade of a rail-trail! Here’s more good trail news: one day you’ll be able to keep riding this trail all the way to Portland on the banks of the Connecticut River.

As for us, we biked about 132 miles over three days — needed training for that 337-mile Week-A-Year fundraising ride in Maine that’s just over a month away. (If you want to support me, here’s how.) The bonus part of the trip: dinner on Sunday night with an old junior high/high school friend!

You can read more about our Connecticut weekend here, here and here.

Author: alliumstozinnias

A gardener (along with the Brit) who has discovered there is more than hybrid tomatoes. And a cyclist.

6 thoughts on “Connecticut’s trails east of Hartford”

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