AIRLINE STATE PARK TRAIL NORTH;

WILLIMANTIC-THOMPSON, CONNECTICUT

-BIKE IT OR HIKE IT-

Last Updated:     October 16, 2016

Length:               Willimantic to Putnam; 25.6 miles but only 21.5 miles developed.

                             Thompson Section; 7.2 miles but only 2.6 miles developed.

Difficulty:           Willimantic to Pomfret; Easy. Flat, stone-dust and crushed gravel rail trail with a short paved section in Willimantic and a gravel section in Pomfret.  

                      Thompson Section; Easy to moderate. Short stone-dust section. Hard packed gravel base.

Directions:

To start from Willimantic; Take Route 66 (Main St) through Willimantic to Bridge St. Cross the RR tracks and take an immediate right onto a gravel road that parallels the tracks. On your left you will come to a parking lot and map board. Another parking lot is located further east off Main St at the junction of Jackson & Union Streets.

To start from Pomfret Town Offices; From the junction of Routes 44 & 97 head east on Route 44 for 0.4 miles to the Pomfret Town Offices on your left.

To start from the Pomfret Station: From the junction of Routes 44 & 101 in Pomfret head east on Route 44 to the junction of Routes 44 & 169. Turn left on Routes 44/169 and take your first left on Railroad St. Follow to the old Pomfret RR Station  

To start from the Riverside Drive parking lot Thompson: From I-395 take exit 47 to Route 44 west. Travel 0.5 miles and turn right on Route 12 north. Travel 1.3 miles to the Riverside Drive parking lot on your right.

To Start from the Sand Dam parking area in Thompson; From I-395 take exit 53 to Wilsonville Rd and head east to Route 193. Travel south (right) to the first road on your left (Porter Plain Rd) and follow to Sand Dam Rd. Head right where you'll immediately find the Sand Dam parking area on your right.

This section of the Airline State Park Trail runs northeast from Willimantic to Pomfret. From Pomfret it continues undeveloped to Putnam where it will connect to the Putnam River Trail . In Willimantic 3 trails converge. Heading south across the Willimantic River the Airline State Park Trail South travels to East Hampton. The Hop River State Park Trail also heads east from Part of the EAST COAST GREENWAY .

The Airline State Park Trail follows the rail bed of the former Air Line Railroad which was built to connect Boston and New York City in the shortest distance possible - as if by a "line" drawn through the "air" via the city of New Haven. The railroad climbed from Middletown to East Hampton, and then went over the Lyman Viaduct, a spectacular 1,100 foot long iron trestle over a deep and wide gorge. The railroad then continued on through North Westchester and Amston in the southern part of Hebron. The line passed along the boundary of Lebanon and Columbia before dropping steadily down the Ten Mile River valley to Willimantic. The final portion of this section was completed in 1873. The Air Line is remembered for its fast express trains. There was a succession of these beginning with the New England Limited in 1884. This was succeeded in1891 by the White Train, popularly known as the Ghost Train. It was made up of gleaming white coaches trimmed with gold. The parlor cars' interiors were finished in mahogany and furnished with velvet rugs, silk curtains and upholstered plush chairs. The train's schedule was so well advertised that people came from miles around to wait at stations or crossing to see it go by. The fast express was replaced in 1895 by the Air Line Limited. The decline of the Air Line route came about when passengers and shippers began to prefer the Shore Line route. For more information visit; AIRLINE TRAIL and CT RAIL TRAIL EXPLORER .

While you are in Willimantic, be sure to check out the "Frog Bridge", the Jackson St Bridge that crosses over the Willimantic River. It has large spools of thread for columns with large frogs on top of them. The spools represent the thread that the nearby American Thread Company used to make and the frogs represent the BATTLE OF THE FROGS . Also, be sure to check out the old mill buildings that have been restored, along with the Garden on the Bridge (a restored bridge over the Willimantic River that is now designed for pedestrians, the Windham Textile and History Museum and the nearby park overlooking the river. These are all accessed from the trailhead by going to the Frog Bridge and then turning left down Main St.

Willimantic to Putnam Section:

Starting from the old RR Trestle Bridge over the Willimantic River; This is the junction for the Hop River State Park Trail, Airline State Park Trail South and Airline State Park Trail North.

Note; Heading West is the start of the paved Hop River State Park Trail along the Willimantic River out to Route 66.

Note; Heading South is the start of the stone-dust Airline State Park Trail South.

Heading Northeast the paved Airline State Park Trail North deviates from the rail bed meandering through a flood plain below the CT EASTERN RAILROAD MUSEUM and traveling alongside the Willimantic River. You come to the entrance for the museum and continue right traveling alongside the gravel road and RR tracks. Nice split rail fencing. Just past a canoe/kayak put-in you値l come to the Bridge Street Parking Lot at 0.9 miles. Map board located here. You値l then need to continue on-road along the gravel road out to Bridge St. Cross over Bridge St in front of the RR tracks (Use Caution; No cross-walk) and you値l come to the future WILLIMANTIC WHITEWATER SITE at 1.1 miles. Head left across the tracks and take your first right along Riverside Drive (low traffic). Continue on-road (This is the backside to Main St Willimantic) until you reach Main St. Head right to the Frog Bridge, then left over Main St via a Cross-light and right over Jackson St via a cross-light. Head left along Jackson St crossing Union St and you値l return to the paved trail on your right after 1.7 miles.

From the Jackson & Union Streets parking lot in Willimantic; The paved Airline State Park Trail North heads northeast along the old Airline Railroad Line. After crossing over Milk St, you pass through a residential area until you come to Ash St after 2.4 miles. USE CAUTION; Cross-walk but fast traffic. Just shy of 2.7 miles you cross high above the Natchaug River on a reconstructed railroad trestle. The trail is now more secluded and lined with Pine trees. The trail turns right off the rail bed and out to Route 66 where you値l come to a cross-light. You then head up a small hill alongside the off-ramp to Route 6. After descending the trail on the other side you come to the end of the paved trail at 4.1 miles. This section is stone-dust as it follows the old Airline Railroad bed. There is a large swamp to your right as you pass a gate and travel along the straight rail trail on a berm. Pine trees provide plenty of shade and tranquility through this stretch. There will be many wetlands off your left side as this is part of the Joshua Trust's Windham Atlantic White Cedar Bog. You next have to cross over Route 203 at 5.5 miles. Again, USE CAUTION as there is no cross-light. Pass by a map board. You follow along another berm until you cross an old railroad bridge over Boulevard Rd. Here the trail travels through a small rock cut, then winds through woods and ledge. You'll cross into Chaplin along this section. Pass by an old RR mileage marker on your right at 7.4 miles. You can barely make out the N & B representing the miles to and from Boston & New York. It's hard to make out the miles. Cross Chewink Rd at 7.8 miles. USE CAUTION as there is no crosswalk. To your left is a small parking area with a map board. Travel along more berms and through a long rock cut before a high berm takes you past a marsh along your left. After 9.7 miles you'll cross S Brook Rd where you enter Hampton. 

Note; The next section out to Station Rd was still under construction as of Sept 2016. A base layer is down but still waiting for stone-dust.

You cross S Brook Rd and Parker Rd at an angle and enter a rock cut. Notice the old bridge abutments where Parker Rd used to cross over the trail. Travel underneath Route 6 and Potter Rd cross at 10.7 miles where you enter the JAMES GOODWIN SF . There are informational signs along this section and you'll pass by a map board on your left at 11.6 miles. To your right through the trees lies Pine Acres Lake. Cross Estabrooks Rd at 12.1 miles and travel along a high berm with a scenic swamp below left. You'll soon leave the State Forest behind as you enter a long rock cut followed by a causeway through Fuller Brook Marsh. Cross Station Rd at 13.4 miles. 

Note; The next section out to Brooklyn Road was still under construction as of Sept 2016. A base layer is down but still waiting for stone-dust.

This section follows a wooded corridor. Travel along a high berm before crossing Old Griffin Rd. Travel along a causeway through a scenic marsh, followed by a rock cut before crossing Kenyon Rd at 14.9 miles. After crossing Lewis Rd you'll enter Pomfret and cross over Route 97, followed by Brooklyn Rd at 17.4 miles. Here the trail consists of a crushed gravel surface. Pass by some wetlands followed by a short rock cut before crossing another causeway through a marsh. Travel underneath Route 44 at 19.3 miles where the trail becomes stone-dust. A spur trail on your right leads up to the Pomfret Town Offices parking lot. Cross Covell Rd at 19.9 miles. Travel along a high berm over Mashamoquet Brook before crossing Babbitt Rd where the trail turns to gravel. A bit bumpy. Travel along a medium berm over Sap Tree Run. Just after crossing over a culvert and before a gate across the trail look left to spot an old RR semaphore (railway signal of some type. Siding?). Past the gate you'll come to the Pomfret Station parking lot after 21.5 miles. This was the site of the old Pomfret RR Station and now contains a picnic pavilion with a map board and information about the old train station. The trail then travels down to Routes 44 & 169 where you'll find a crosswalk but not curb cut. USE CAUTION; high speed traffic. Head back up the embankment where the undeveloped rail trail continues. A high berm takes you over Wappoquia Brook then down to Needles Eye Rd at 22.3 miles. Check out the old stone abutment. Head up the embankment and along the rail bed. Some sections with drainage issues. Cross Wrights Crossing Rd and encounter more drainage issues that require a by-pass along a narrow path. Cross Holmes Rd at 23.3 miles. This next section is in even worse shape. You'll need to head right to pick up a narrow dirt path that travels above the rail bed before re-joining it. Rough. Cross a dirt road passing by an old RR Semaphore before heading into a deep cut which is almost impassable. A narrow path will take you up to Modock Rd where you enter Putnam at 23.8 miles. This is as far as I've traveled. I didn't even try to see if I could continue as it was more below grade, mucky travel. Cross River Rd followed by Town Farm Rd at 24.7 miles. The last section ends above Quinebaug Ave and the Quinebaug River after 25.6 miles. The pedestrian bridge below is built where the old Airline RR trestle used to cross the river before being wiped out by the Flood of 55. You can still see the stone abutments and the pedestrian bridge utilizes the old center pier. The pedestrian bridge is the start of the Putnam River Trail .  

Thompson Section:

Starting from the Riverside Drive parking lot; Map board located here. Head past the gate along the wide stone-dust rail trail. You travel through a wooded corridor paralleling Route 12. Look left to spot Acme Pond and right for a marsh off of Quinnatisset Brook as you follow a high berm. Head down to cross Route 193 at 0.7 miles (Caution no crosswalk). Pass through a small rock cut and across an old RR bridge over the on/off ramps for I-395 at 1.3 miles. Here the trail currently ends as of October 2016. Missing a bridge.

Note; A 4.6 mile gap currently exists between the missing bridge and Sand Dam Rd further north.

Starting from the Sand Dam Road parking area; Travel past the yellow gate down to the gravel base (Scheduled for stone-dust in the near future) rail trail. Cross a wide causeway between the Five mile River. Come to a map board and the East Thompson Road parking area where you'll cross the road (Caution no crosswalk) past a yellow gate at 0.7 miles. At 0.9 miles you travel underneath an old wooden bridge (thought to have transported cattle over the RR).

 Note; Also nearby is the Hermit Cave. See; HERMIT CAVE for more information.

Continuing along the rail trail a high berm takes you across Rocky Brook. Just before the MA border you'll pass by the Tri-State Marker Trail on your right.

 Note; A 0.3 mile rocky hiking trail take you to a granite marker where CT/MA/RI all meet. Just off the rail trail you'll find a separate granite marker where CT & MA meet.

Come to a brown gate at 1.3 miles where the trail crosses into MA along the SNETT (Southern New England Trunkline Trail). The SNETT has a less developed base of gravel, some soft sand and cinder.

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CLICK HERE FOR WINDHAM/CHAPLIN MAP

CLICK HERE FOR HAMPTON MAP

CLICK HERE FOR POMFRET MAP

CLICK HERE FOR THOMPSON MAP

 

BEFORE YOU SET OUT BE SURE TO READ THE

WAIVER OF RESPONSIBILITY AND DISCLAIMER

 

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