AIRLINE STATE PARK TRAIL NORTH;

WILLIMANTIC-THOMPSON, CONNECTICUT

-BIKE IT OR HIKE IT-

Last Updated:     January 31, 2024

Length:               Willimantic to Putnam; 25.6 miles (4 miles undeveloped).

                             Thompson Section; 7.3 miles (2.3 miles undeveloped).

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. Stone-dust section. Hard packed gravel section.

Directions:

To start from Willimantic [Southwest End]; 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 [Center]; 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 [Center]: 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 in Thompson [Northeast End]: 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 [Northeast End]; 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 Putnam. In Putnam, it will connect to the Putnam River Trail . A gap exists between Putnam & Thompson where, the trail has mostly been developed to the MA line, where it continues as the SNETT (Southern New England Trunkline Trail). In Willimantic 2 Trails converge. Heading South across the Willimantic River the Airline State Park Trail South travels Southwest towards Portland, while the Hop River State Park Trail heads Northwest to Manchester

The Airline State Park Trail is part of the EAST COAST GREENWAY , a planned biking & hiking route stretching 3,000 miles from Maine to Florida. When complete it will traverse 15 states with a mostly off-road path.

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. Today, the portion of the Air Line from New Haven to Portland is still in use by a shortline railroad, the Providence & Worcester Railroad. For more information visit; AIRLINE TRAIL , CT RAIL TRAIL EXPLORER & THE AIR LINE .

While you are in Willimantic, be sure to check out the "Frog Bridge", the Jackson Street 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 in Willimantic [Southwest End]; This is the junction for the Hop River State Park Trail, Airline State Park Trail South & Airline State Park Trail North.

Note; Heading Northwest is the start of the paved Hop River State Park Trail along the Willimantic River to Manchester.

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

Heading East 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 WILLIMANTIC WHITEWATER SITE at 1.1 miles. Head left across the tracks and take your first right, East, on-road along Riverside Drive (low traffic/BIKE LANE Westbound). This is the backside to Main St in Willimantic. Continue on-road through parking lots, traveling underneath the Willimantic Footbridge out to Main St. Head right, crossing in front of the Frog Bridge, then left over Main St and up Jackson St. Cross Union St and you値l return to the paved trail on your right after 1.7 miles. Willimantic Veterans Memorial located here. Across Jackson St is Jillson Square which contains the Shaboo Stage. The paved Airline State Park Trail North continues Northeast along the old rail bed. 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 rail 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 in North Windham. 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 Hampton section has received funding in 2024 to resurface the stone-dust trail. Not sure when construction will start.

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. After 13.9 miles the trail reverts to 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. 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. *A bridge takes you across Route 169. 

*Note; The next section has constructed seven road crossings,  including bridges over Route 169 and Needles Eye Rd. Culverts under Holmes Rd, Modock Rd and River Rd. Wrights Crossing Rd, and Town Farm Rd will have at-grade crossing improvements. New stone-dust has not yet been put down as of 2023. Plans also include adding a restroom, shelter and observation deck at Pomfret Station.

This section consists of hard packed dirt, grass & gravel. A high berm takes you over Wappoquia Brook, followed by a bridge across Needles Eye Rd at 22.3 miles. Cross Wrights Crossing Rd before a tunnel takes you underneath Holmes Rd at 23.3 miles. Cross a dirt road passing by an old RR Semaphore before heading through a deep cut. Another tunnel under Modock Rd where you enter Putnam at 23.8 miles. This is as far as I've traveled. Another tunnel under River Rd before you cross 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 .

A gap exists North, as of 2024, to the next section in Thompson.

Thompson Section:

Starting from the Riverside Drive parking lot in Thompson; (Re-zeroing Mileage) Map Board located here. Head past the gate down to the old rail bed. 

Note; The old rail bed used to cross Route 12 West of here, where it followed alongside the active RR tracks South to Putnam. The wide, stone-dust Airline State Park Trail North, travels Northeast 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 before crossing another bridge over a small brook. Trail briefly parallels the highway. Pass by an old brownstone abutment before traveling underneath Route 200 at 2.2 miles. Lots of stone walls along this deep wooded section. Travel over an old "Cattle Culvert" at 2.5 miles (Built by the RR to allow farmers/cattle access across the RR). Pass by marshes and over/along Sunset Hill Brook. Cross Sunset Hill Rd after 3 miles. Come to Lowell Davis Road at 3.7 miles where you'll find a Map Board and parking for a couple of cars. 

Note; From Lowell Davis Rd, North to Sand Dam Rd, the trail still needs to be developed, as of 2023. 

The trail consists of cinder and gravel and can be rough in spots. Mt bike recommended. Travel underneath I-395 at 4 miles. Travel past a large marsh (Janson Brook) and through a tunnel underneath Route 193 where you'll start to encounter trap rock. Cross another "Cattle Culvert" at 4.7 miles. Travel past more marshes before encountering more trap rock. Head up to the Sand Dam Road parking area at 6 miles. Travel past the yellow gate down to the stone-dust rail trail. Cross a wide causeway between the Five Mile River. You'll come the site of the old East Thompson Train Station, RR Armstrong Turntable, 1891 Great East Thompson 4 Train Wreak and where two RR lines crossed. Lots of informational signs located here. Town did a great job on informational signs. Come to a Map Board and Porto-Potty at the East Thompson Road parking area. Cross E Thompson Rd  and head up past a yellow gate at 6.7 miles. At 6.9 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. Pass by the Tri-State Marker Trail on your right. This is also where you'll find a CT/MA Boundary Marker.

 Note; A 0.3 mile rocky hiking trail take you to a granite Boundary Marker where CT/MA/RI all meet. See; TRI-STATE MARKER MAP .

Come to a brown gate at 7.3 miles where the trail crosses into Massachusetts along the Southern New England Trunkline Trail. The SNETT here has a less developed base of gravel, some soft sand and cinder. Mt Bike recommended.

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