Trail of the Month: May 2003
Air Line South State Park Trail, Connecticut
Eastern Connecticut's Air Line State Park Trail follows the right-of-way of the former Air Line Railroad, which was built to connect Boston and New York City in the latter half of the 19th century. The corridor was known as the Air Line because it traced the most direct route possible—as if by a line drawn through the air—and for 86 years, from 1873 to 1959, the Air Line provided a high-speed passenger rail connection between these prominent northeast cities.
In 1975, the Air Line rail corridor was deeded to the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and in 1996 the DEP proposed rehabilitating the rail bed as a linear state park. Today, the long abandoned rail right-of-way is being developed as a multi-use rail-trail in two segments: the Air Line South and the Air Line North State Park Trails. With the reuse of this corridor for hikers, bikers, cross-country skiers, equestrians and the disabled, residents and visitors to the area can now experience the panoramic views of the surrounding Connecticut hills and valleys directly from the old rail bed.
In the north, the Air Line Trail spans 27 miles from Putnam, in the northeast corner of the state, and passes through Pomfret, Hampton and Chaplin before reaching Windham, a quaint New England town first settled in 1686. The southern section of the Air Line runs from Windham to the southwest, passing through Lebanon, Hebron and Colchester before ending in East Hampton. When completed, the Air Line Trail will be one of eight trail segments in Connecticut that will be part of the East Coast Greenway, a 2,500-mile trail network being developed to link cities, suburbs and towns from the Canadian border to Key West, Florida.
Currently the southern section, from East Hampton to Hebron, has been developed more fully than any of the northern segments of the Air Line Trail. In East Hampton, Hebron and Colchester the trail has a stone dust surface, making it suitable for skinny-wheeled bikes while also providing a handicap accessible surface for wheelchair users, walkers and runners. Through the town of Lebanon, the Lebanon Rails to Trails Committee has been hard at work clearing trees, brush and debris from the old rail bed. As of January 2003, the full length of the Air Line Trail in Lebanon had been cleared and widened. While grading of the ballast that now covers the trail must still be done, the trail can be accessed at street crossings and is an enjoyable place for a walk.
The trail's most dramatic features are its two viaducts, including the Lyman Viaduct, a spectacular 1,100-foot iron trestle that passes over a deep and wide gorge. There are also new bridges that cross over the Blackledge and Jeremy Rivers, offering hikers and bikers with the opportunity to gaze at the expansive views of the rugged, natural scene playing out far below the trail. Trail users can also experience natural scenery in a variety of other locations as the trail passes through or nearby Goodwin State Forest, Beaver Brook State Park, the Hampton reservoir, the Salmon River State Forest and Grayville Falls Park.
In addition to the support provided to the trail's development by the volunteers from the Lebanon Rails to Trails Committee and surrounding communities, members of the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut and the Connecticut National Guard have been busy helping out, having recently constructed the bridge over Salmon River near the Salmon River State Forest.