Trail of the Month: April 2006
Monroe Housatonic Railbed Trail, Connecticut
Sometimes a rail-trail project boils down to the passion and energy of just one person. Not that a trail can be built by one person alone, but an idea has to start somewhere and such was the case of the Monroe Housatonic Railbed Trail and Sherwood "Woody" Lovejoy, Monroe's former director of public works. The project was born of his passion for his community and is now the foundation of a growing regional trail project that includes the Greater Bridgeport area of southwestern Connecticut.
Lovejoy, who passed away in January 2006, was involved in nearly every major public works project that occurred in Monroe during the last 20 years, including the Housatonic Railbed Trail. He drove the concept and design of Monroe's rail-trail and wrote the original TEA-21 (Transportation Equity Act for the Twenty-first Century) grant that was obtained to fund its building. It is said by more than one of his former colleagues that he knew every step and every stone on the trail.
Originally chartered—mistakenly—as the "Ousatonic" Railroad in 1836, the Housatonic Railroad, named for the Housatonic Valley, was one of the first railroads to be built in the northeast. The trail now follows 4.5 miles of the old railbed and almost completely bisects Monroe from north to south. At its start, approximately a quarter of the trail runs through Wolfe Park, which allows swimming, use of the beach and non-motorized boating in Great Hollow Lake. Town residents describe the trail as a beautiful community asset, which conveniently connects anyone to the town's prized park and lake.
North of the park, the trail turns off the paved road and changes over to a stone dust surface then winds its way through the forest. The ride is smooth and easy along the hard-packed surface. Beautiful foliage abounds and is especially nice during the fall leaf-peeping season. Further along, another quarter of the trail runs parallel to West Branch Pequonnock River. Over the course of your entire trip you will come across several street crossings and at one point a detour around a condominium complex.
It's an especially pleasant treat in mid-summer to enjoy wild blueberries growing at the Newtown/Monroe town line. At this point the official maintenance of the trail ends. The trail does continue but is narrow and rough in places. The original tracks of the Housatonic line can still be seen here.
Plans are in the works to connect Monroe's trail with neighboring Trumbull, which has a three-mile section of trail completed along the railbed. Eventually this recreational trail will extend the full distance from the downtown Bridgeport Transportation Center through Trumbull and Monroe to the Newtown line an approximate 18.5 miles. The completion of the project will extend the great trail benefits that Monroe's citizens enjoy to the entire region. Monroe, Trumbull and Bridgeport have applied for transportation enhancement grants together in order to make this a reality—a fitting continuation of "Woody" Lovejoy's legacy to Monroe.