Farmington Canal Bike Trail Connects 12 CT Communities
July 10, 2019
By CCM staff
In Connecticut, if you were asked to name something that benefited towns and cities, people’s health and well-being, and spanned pretty much the entire state, the one logical conclusion is the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail (FCHT).
On this week’s episode of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities’ podcast, the Municipal Voice, produced in partnership with WNHHLP 103.5 FM and the New Haven Independent, we brought on Barbara Collins, the President of the Farmington Valley Trails Council and Lisa Fernandez, the President of the Farmington Canal Rail to Trail Association.
For those not familiar with this hidden gem, the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail sits on the remains of a canal route that extends from New Haven at the coast up through Northampton, Massachusetts. Eventually that canal became a railway, and as the railway fell into disuse around thirty, forty years ago, advocates began turning these railways into trails birthing the Rails-To-Trails movement.
Lisa Fernandez said it’s like the Appalachian Trail, but instead of connecting mountain, “it connects communities,” and that is true in more ways than one.
From New Haven to the Mass border, each town is essentially responsible for their section of the trail. Because of this, the FCHT represents one of the largest examples of regionalization in the state. Municipalities cooperate to connect the route for one seamless rail system.
As it stands right now, the largest gap is in the Plainville/Southington area, which has run into issues because trains still actively run on their section of the trail, forcing study and planning to figure out the best ways to connect the trail.
Varied uses back to top
Each section can be used distinctly, with our guests both citing dog walkers and joggers as primary examples, but increasingly the Trail has become a destination quite like the Appalachian Trail, where cyclists will start in New Haven and make their way up to Northampton. There are plans to extend the trail even further into Mass., but Connecticut had already laid the groundwork for the trail, which is why it is increasingly inching towards completion.
But the work is never over, both organizations are run entirely on volunteer time, and according to Collins, some of the primary functions include fundraising, being on boards and committees like the Department of Transportation committee, looking for grants, maintaining the trails, education and advocating.
Collins’ group, which primarily advocates for the northern section, offers coupons for bike helmets to make sure that cyclists are safe, while Fernandez’s group offers bike bells for a small donation (or free if you couldn’t afford it).
The FCHT does not stay entirely on the trail, or comes into intersections with active and busy streets, so safety is a must for cyclists and pedestrians.
The Trail, since it is a trail connecting cities, is increasingly been a boon for businesses along the way. Cyclists and pedestrians are making a day of it, so to speak, and might stop and get lunch off the trail.
As the popularity grows, more people are seeing the utilitarian uses of the FCHT, with plans to connect the trail to the Airline trail, to move the trail into Hartford, extend it to Long Wharf, and create branches to universities across the state.
The ecological benefit of the trail is manifold as CT residents get their cars off the road and put their feet and bikes on the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail. For Fernandez, it’s a return to Connecticut’s roots before roads, hence Heritage in the name. For Collins, its utility extends far beyond the physical, “it’s a peaceful way to enjoy life.”