Rhode Island’s 5-star Washington Secondary Trail: Car-free from near Connecticut to the outskirts of Providence

Cycling the East Coast Greenway: Thumbs up for the Washington Secondary Trail — and take this short detour to the homestead of one of George Washington’s right-hand men.

This is Day 2 of my effort to almost finish biking the 3,000-mile East Coast Greenway from Maine to Florida. The plan had been to bike all of the missing stretch — from Providence to New York City — with friends over the better part of a week in August.

Then COVID. Now the plan is for just two of us to ride just part of it and use a campsite as a base. This day’s goal: Providence, Rhode Island.

We are camping in Oneco, Connecticut, just off the Greenway route and only 1 1/2 miles from the Rhode Island line. For now, that still means several miles on the road before we reach another 19-mile(!) trail, but like our Day 1 trail, work is happening to extend this one.

We got on the Washington Secondary Trail — once part of the Providence, Hartford and Fishkill Railroad — at its current western endpoint, in Summit, RI. The name tipped us off: we had a gentle downhill for several miles from there.

But before we got there, we met another cyclist. He’d seen us coming on the road and was curious if there was more trail. (Not yet.) Turns out he’d started riding his 1980 green Fuji 10-speed in the spring (after rebuilding the rear wheel) to get in shape, he said, not because of COVID. He’d ride with us if we didn’t go too fast, he said — and then he set a fast pace.

He also was quite cynical about plans to extend the trail the final 5 miles to the state line (the segment will be the western part of the Trestle Trail) — they’ve been talking about it for a decade, he said — but a walker said work is being done on the necessary bridges. Still, this budget switcheroo from last year doesn’t sound good. (Lesson: If you want a trail, tell your local politicians. Just a quick email will do. Support your local advocacy group.)

It’s a shame, because the Washington Secondary Trail is lovely and was incredibly well used by locals. It’s paved the entire way, though older sections have bumps caused by tree roots. Plus Connecticut is hard at work upgrading 6 miles of the Moosup Valley Trail on its side of the state line. Imagine 30 miles of trail!

For our ride, we biked about 30 miles each way, turning around at the Providence train station (rode to it from Boston last year).

Actually, it was a pretty easy 60 miles thanks to the trail. And who would have expected to see a fox cross in front of us? Or a hawk swoop in front of us, as if it was leading us .. to Hogwarts?

So what’s the theme of the day? At first I thought bakeries, but the ones I researched were either closed (at least to the public — this one smelled so good) or off the route.

Then I was set on ice cream, but sharing three giant scoops at Sundaes, which backs onto the trail, was more than enough for the day.

But history! This was an unexpected find: the homestead of Nathanael Greene, one of Washington’s other right-hand men. He was living in Coventry when the Revolution began, eventually become the quartermaster, making sure the army was fed … and then paid out of his own pocket after the Battle of Yorktown while the fighting still raged down south.

Yeah, he went broke.

His homestead is about 0.2 miles off the trail. It’s not open during the week except by appointment; had we known, we would have tried for one. So all we could do was walk around the grounds. But if you can, try for a tour.

The homestead

His grave, by the way, is in Savannah — also on the East Coast Greenway. We saw it when we went on the Savannah-to-Titusville ride in 2018.

We also passed the original Bradford Soap Works, which looked like it was built during the Industrial Revolution and is still going strong. A cyclist we met told us organic soap is made there. True? I’d love to go on a tour, but this video will have to do (just really no workers to be seen.)

Author: alliumstozinnias

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

6 thoughts on “Rhode Island’s 5-star Washington Secondary Trail: Car-free from near Connecticut to the outskirts of Providence”

  1. I have enjoyed reading about your experiences and wanted to know if you feel a recumbent trike with e-assist for me would do well on the trails, it seems to have plenty of pullovers for power up if needed.


    1. Sorry for not getting back to you .. on that particular trail, yes. I don’t know about an unpaved trail like the Airline Trail — has some rocker stretches and it can be steep going down to and back up from road crossings.


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