Air Line State Park Trail

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Air Line State Park Trail
Connecticut State Park
Pine Acres Lake View Trail intersection with Airline Trail northeast of Black Spruce Pond in Hampton, CT..jpg
Air Line Trail northeast of Black Spruce Pond in Hampton, CT (Pine Acres Lake View Trail intersection near Goodwin Conservation Center)
Country  United States
State  Connecticut
Counties Middlesex, New London, Tolland, Windham
Towns East Hampton, Colchester, Hebron, Columbia, Lebanon, Windham, Chaplin, Hampton, Pomfret, Putnam, Thompson
Area 40 acres (16 ha)
Established 1969
Management Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection
Website: Air Line State Park Trail

The Air Line State Park Trail is a rail trail and linear state park located in Connecticut. The trail is divided into sections designated South (22 miles: East Hampton to Windham), North (21 miles: Windham to Putnam), and the Thompson addition (6.6 miles: Thompson to the Massachusetts state line).[1] An additional 3.6 mile spur to Colchester is sometimes designated as part of the Air Line trail.

The United States Department of the Interior recognized the southern section of the Air Line State Park Trail as a national recreation trail in 2002.[2]


Air Line[edit]

Lyman Viaduct, one of two towering iron trestles constructed for the Air Line

Envisioned as a high speed passenger railroad line from New York to Boston, the New Haven, Middletown and Willimantic Railroad (NHM&W) got its name from the towering iron viaducts constructed to create a level track bed suitable for rapid travel. Opened in 1873 as part of the Boston, Hartford and Erie Railroad (BH&E) system, it ran from New Haven northeast via Middletown to the BH&E at Willimantic. The BH&E went bankrupt that same year, becoming the New York and New England Railroad (NY&NE), but the NHM&W stayed separate, failing in 1875. It was reorganized as the Boston and New York Air-Line Railroad and was operated by the New Haven from 1879, being leased on October 1, 1882. Part of this line (the NY&NE Blackstone division to Franklin via Norwood and Walpole) still survives as the Franklin Branch of the MBTA/MBCR.

In Connecticut, part of the line from New Haven (Air Line Jct) to Middletown and Portland, Connecticut survives as part of the Providence and Worcester Railroad. In Willimantic, the Connecticut Eastern Railroad Museum has reconstructed the original roundhouse and restored the turntable pit (with a replacement for the original turntable), as well as some original NY&NE and NH buildings. In between East Hampton, Connecticut and the Massachusetts state line, most of the abandoned rail corridor has been converted as a rail trail known as the Air Line Trail State Park. Notable features of the line are the Rapallo Viaduct and the Lyman Viaduct in East Hampton and Colchester, Connecticut, which are two of the longest rail viaducts in the U.S.[3]

Trail development[edit]

The abandoned rail corridor between East Hampton and the Massachusetts state line was acquired by the Connecticut State Park System with the section from Route 66 in Windham to US Route 44 in Pomfret opening to the public in 1969 as a bridle trail. In 1976, the trail designation was extended north to Town Farm Road in Putnam. The southern section from East Hampton to Willimantic was opened as a trail in 1986. The Thompson section was opened in 1992.

Air Line State Park Trail is divided into three sections:

  • South section (from Main Street in East Hampton to the Willimantic River)
  • North section (from Tuckie Road in Windham to Town Farm Road in Putnam)
  • Thompson section (from Route 12 in Thompson to the MA state line)

The North section of the trail from Windham to Putnam is part of the East Coast Greenway, which will stretch from Florida to Maine.

The South and North sections are connected by the Veterans Greenway, a short town-owned rail trail on the northeast side of Willimantic, which is partially incorporated into the North section itself. The connection is not complete, as the Willimantic River bridge at the end of the South section is impassable and no trail connection has yet to be made through downtown Willimantic from the bridge to the Veterans Greenway. However a street connection is available joining the two sections by leaving the Southern section at Kingsley Road, continuing 2 miles (3.2 km) east to the Frog Bridge, crossing over the bridge, and accessing the North section via the Veterans Greenway.

Future Southern Extension[edit]

In 2002, the state DEEP acquired an additional 1.5 miles (2.4 km) of railbed in East Hampton, continuing the trail south from the current Main Street terminus to Dept Hill Road. A bridge has been constructed to carry the trail across a brook where the original rail bridge was missing. The bridge was designed and built by cadets of the United States Coast Guard Academy under the supervision of William O'Neill, an adjunct professor of engineering at the academy and former state governor. Due to confusion as to which state agency had ownership of the stretch of land, the bridge was built without the necessary permissions, and almost demolished but allowed to remain due to a lease agreement with the town.[4]

South section[edit]

Trail description[edit]

This section of the trail has been completed. It has a smooth, hard-packed stone dust surface, benches for resting at more scenic locations, and bike racks. Brand new bridges constructed by cadets from the US Coast Guard Academy carry the trail across the Blackledge and Jeremy Rivers and Judd Brook. This section crosses the Rapallo and Lyman Viaducts, massive fills that carried the railroad and now trail across wide valleys. They provide spectacular views, especially in the fall. There is a short (less than 14 mile (400 m)) on-road detour necessary where the Route 2 expressway blocks the railroad bed.

Access points[edit]

The trail crosses the following roads, providing access:

Street Town Coordinates
Main Street East Hampton 41°34′32″N 72°30′01″W / 41.5755°N 72.5004°W / 41.5755; -72.5004
Watrus Street
Smith Street parking area 41°34′42″N 72°29′33″W / 41.5782°N 72.4924°W / 41.5782; -72.4924
Bull Hill Road Colchester parking area 41°33′56″N 72°26′35″W / 41.5655°N 72.4430°W / 41.5655; -72.4430
River Road parking area; railroad bridge 41°34′50″N 72°25′30″W / 41.5805°N 72.4249°W / 41.5805; -72.4249
River Road
Route 149 parking area 41°35′06″N 72°24′00″W / 41.5850°N 72.4000°W / 41.5850; -72.4000
On road: under Route 2 via Route 149 Hebron
Old Hartford Road parking area 41°35′30″N 72°23′29″W / 41.5918°N 72.3914°W / 41.5918; -72.3914
Grayville Road parking area 41°36′53″N 72°21′59″W / 41.6147°N 72.3664°W / 41.6147; -72.3664
Old Colchester Road parking area 41°37′13″N 72°21′35″W / 41.6204°N 72.3598°W / 41.6204; -72.3598
Route 85 parking area 41°37′56″N 72°20′37″W / 41.6322°N 72.3437°W / 41.6322; -72.3437
North Pond Road 41°38′01″N 72°20′35″W / 41.6336°N 72.3430°W / 41.6336; -72.3430
Route 207 parking area 41°38′23″N 72°20′22″W / 41.6397°N 72.3395°W / 41.6397; -72.3395
Leonard Bridge Road Lebanon parking area 41°39′09″N 72°18′12″W / 41.6525°N 72.3032°W / 41.6525; -72.3032
Chesbro Bridge Road parking area 41°39′46″N 72°17′25″W / 41.6629°N 72.2902°W / 41.6629; -72.2902
Route 87 Columbia 41°40′27″N 72°16′05″W / 41.6742°N 72.2681°W / 41.6742; -72.2681
Cook Hill Road Lebanon parking area 41°41′07″N 72°15′54″W / 41.6852°N 72.2651°W / 41.6852; -72.2651
Village Hill Road parking area 41°41′50″N 72°15′04″W / 41.6973°N 72.2511°W / 41.6973; -72.2511
Kingsley Road 41°42′31″N 72°14′30″W / 41.7085°N 72.2418°W / 41.7085; -72.2418
Temp. end of trail. Willimantic R. bridge out

North section[edit]

Trail description[edit]

Though open to the public for its entire length, different segments of the trail are in different stages of development. Some sections are complete and have a finished, stone-dust surface and signage. Other sections have been cleared and had drainage work done, but still have a somewhat rough, unfinished surface that is not suitable for road bikes. Other parts are totally undeveloped and overgrown.

There are no major obstructions of the North section of the trail in the form of missing or unsafe bridges. Though some parts of the trail may be undeveloped, this area does not have the many river crossings of the southern section. The two bridge crossings there are (over Boulevard Road in Windham and across the Quinebaug River in Putnam) have all been repaired and rebuilt for trail use.

The trail continues west of Route 66 as the Veterans Greenway, a town-owned bikeway that leads to downtown Willimantic.

Route 66, Windham to South Brook Road, Hampton: This section has seen many upgrades in recent years. The section's first 14 mile (400 m) was paved as part of the US 6/Route 66 interchange reconstruction project. The state and the towns of Windham and Chaplin cleared, graded, installed signage and put down a smooth stone-dust surface on this section of the trail. This included the construction of a trail bridge over Boulevard Road.

South Brook Road, Hampton to Lewis Road, Hampton: This section was cleared and graded by the National Guard in the mid-1990s. The surface was not finished and is still rough in sections and there are drainage issues in areas that sometimes flood the trail. There has not been much maintenance done on the trail in the last few years, so even the areas that were cleared have become somewhat grown in. Still, the trail is passable for hikers, equestrians and mountain bikers. The town of Hampton and the DEEP have plans to add signage and finish the surface of the trail with stone dust. This work has not yet been started.

Lewis Road, Hampton to Wrights Crossing Road, Pomfret: This section is under construction by the DEEP, DOT and town of Pomfret. The stretch from Lewis Road to Covell Road is currently being worked on to improve drainage and finish the surface. The trail is completed between Covell Road and Route 169, with smooth stone-dust surface. The section from Route 169 to Wrights Crossing Road is essentially complete, with some drainage improvements planned.

Wrights Crossing Road, Pomfret to Town Farm Road, Putnam: This section of trail is completely undeveloped. It has not been cleared and is overgrown, with a rough surface, tree falls, and several wet areas with drainage problems. It is necessary to climb embankments to cross some roads where former bridges have been filled in. It is not really passable, and must be done on foot if attempted. The DEEP and the towns of Pomfret and Putnam have plans to clear and improve this section as part of the next phase of trail improvements.

North of Town Farm Road, the rail bed is privately owned, but the town of Putnam has obtained an easement along the right of way and plans to finish the trail from Town Farm Road to the Quinebaug River. This would extend the public trail to Kennedy Drive in Putnam, where a footbridge has already been constructed to carry the trail over the Quinebaug River and connect to Putnam's River Trail.

Access points[edit]

The trail crosses the following roads, providing access:

Street Town Coordinates
Union Street Willimantic Terminus 41°42′40″N 72°12′31″W / 41.7112°N 72.2087°W / 41.7112; -72.2087
Milk Street parking area 41°42′45″N 72°12′23″W / 41.7124°N 72.2064°W / 41.7124; -72.2064
Valley Street 41°42′45″N 72°12′22″W / 41.7125°N 72.2062°W / 41.7125; -72.2062
Route 195 / Ash Street 41°43′08″N 72°11′58″W / 41.7190°N 72.1994°W / 41.7190; -72.1994
On road: Route 66 and Tuckie Road Windham
Route 203 / North Windham Road 41°44′46″N 72°09′22″W / 41.7462°N 72.1560°W / 41.7462; -72.1560
Boulevard Road 41°44′56″N 72°09′07″W / 41.7488°N 72.1520°W / 41.7488; -72.1520
Chewink Road Chaplin parking area 41°45′05″N 72°07′15″W / 41.7515°N 72.1208°W / 41.7515; -72.1208
South Brook Street Hampton 41°45′56″N 72°05′39″W / 41.7656°N 72.0942°W / 41.7656; -72.0942
US Route 6 Overpass - no connection 41°46′09″N 72°05′26″W / 41.7692°N 72.0905°W / 41.7692; -72.0905
Potter Road parking: Goodwin Conservation Center 41°46′40″N 72°05′12″W / 41.7777°N 72.0866°W / 41.7777; -72.0866
Estabrooks Road 41°47′55″N 72°05′27″W / 41.7987°N 72.0908°W / 41.7987; -72.0908
Station Road 41°48′27″N 72°04′12″W / 41.8074°N 72.0701°W / 41.8074; -72.0701
Griffin Road 41°49′11″N 72°03′58″W / 41.8196°N 72.0661°W / 41.8196; -72.0661
Kenyon Road parking area 41°49′21″N 72°03′23″W / 41.8225°N 72.0563°W / 41.8225; -72.0563
Lewis Road 41°49′37″N 72°02′29″W / 41.8270°N 72.0414°W / 41.8270; -72.0414
Route 97 Pomfret 41°50′01″N 72°01′09″W / 41.8336°N 72.0192°W / 41.8336; -72.0192
Brooklyn Road 41°50′03″N 72°00′45″W / 41.8343°N 72.0126°W / 41.8343; -72.0126
US Route 44 41°51′33″N 71°59′59″W / 41.8593°N 71.9998°W / 41.8593; -71.9998
Covell Road 41°51′46″N 71°59′31″W / 41.8628°N 71.9919°W / 41.8628; -71.9919
Babbitt Hill Road 41°51′51″N 71°59′00″W / 41.8641°N 71.9832°W / 41.8641; -71.9832
Route 169 / US Route 44 parking area 41°52′04″N 71°57′40″W / 41.8678°N 71.9611°W / 41.8678; -71.9611
Needles Eye Road 41°52′29″N 71°56′59″W / 41.8746°N 71.9496°W / 41.8746; -71.9496
Wright's Crossing Road 41°52′39″N 71°56′31″W / 41.8776°N 71.9420°W / 41.8776; -71.9420
Holmes Road 41°52′56″N 71°56′04″W / 41.8823°N 71.9344°W / 41.8823; -71.9344
Modock Road Putnam 41°53′09″N 71°55′19″W / 41.8857°N 71.9219°W / 41.8857; -71.9219
River Road 41°53′22″N 71°54′51″W / 41.8895°N 71.9141°W / 41.8895; -71.9141
Town Farm Road 41°53′37″N 71°54′37″W / 41.8936°N 71.9104°W / 41.8936; -71.9104
Unknown Road 41°54′28″N 71°54′29″W / 41.9078°N 71.9080°W / 41.9078; -71.9080
Kennedy Drive Terminus 41°54′30″N 71°54′29″W / 41.9084°N 71.9080°W / 41.9084; -71.9080

Thompson section[edit]

Trail description[edit]

Entire Section: Major work is underway to upgrade this section of trail[when?]. The rails and ties have been removed, and the surface of the trail is being graded and having drainage improved. Surface of the trail when complete will be hard packed dirt and gravel. The trail is generally clear of major obstructions, save for one missing bridge over a creek[where?] that requires a short detour on a parallel single track trail. New parking areas with signage and information kiosks have been constructed where the trail crosses East Thompson Road, Sand Dam Road, Lowell Davis Road, and the trail terminus at Route 12. Work[clarification needed] still underway includes improvements of the Route 193 crossing[when?].

Access points[edit]

The trail crosses the following roads, providing access:

Street Town Coordinates
Route 193 / Thompson Road Thompson Terminus (south of Thompson center) 41°56′51″N 71°53′06″W / 41.9475°N 71.8851°W / 41.9475; -71.8851
Exit 98 ramps Bridge over ramps - no connection 41°57′17″N 71°52′51″W / 41.9547°N 71.8809°W / 41.9547; -71.8809
Route 200 / Thompson Hill Road Overpass - no connection 41°58′01″N 71°52′26″W / 41.9669°N 71.8740°W / 41.9669; -71.8740
Sunset Hill Road 41°58′35″N 71°51′57″W / 41.9764°N 71.8658°W / 41.9764; -71.8658
Lowell Davis Road 41°59′05″N 71°51′24″W / 41.9846°N 71.8566°W / 41.9846; -71.8566
Interstate 395 Overpass - no connection 41°59′14″N 71°51′11″W / 41.9873°N 71.8531°W / 41.9873; -71.8531
Route 193 / Thompson Road Overpass - no connection (north of Thompson center) 41°59′34″N 71°50′38″W / 41.9929°N 71.8438°W / 41.9929; -71.8438
Sand Dam Road 42°00′16″N 71°49′12″W / 42.0045°N 71.8201°W / 42.0045; -71.8201
East Thompson Road Connection with Southern New England Trunkline Trail 42°00′32″N 71°48′33″W / 42.0089°N 71.8091°W / 42.0089; -71.8091

The trail continues east and north into Massachusetts, at Douglas as the Southern New England Trunkline Trail, part of the Massachusetts State Park System. Massachusetts has improved access at trailheads and road crossings, but many bridges are absent and the trail is not continuous. Sections of the trail continue to Franklin, Massachusetts.

Colchester Spur[edit]

Trail description[edit]

The 3.6-mile (5.8 km) spur to Colchester consists of the same hard-packed gravel as the rest of the South section. The Route 85 crossing is at a marked crosswalk, while the two other crossings are unmarked over minor local roads. The trail terminates just east of downtown Colchester at the former depot and freight house.[5]

Access points[edit]

The trail crosses the following roads, providing access:

Street Town Coordinates
Route 85 Hebron 41°37′11″N 72°20′39″W / 41.6196°N 72.3441°W / 41.6196; -72.3441
Crouch Road 41°36′50″N 72°20′34″W / 41.6139°N 72.3428°W / 41.6139; -72.3428
Old Amston Road Colchester 41°35′41″N 72°20′01″W / 41.5947°N 72.3335°W / 41.5947; -72.3335
Route 16 Terminus 41°34′46″N 72°19′38″W / 41.5795°N 72.3273°W / 41.5795; -72.3273


  1. ^ "Air Line State Park Trail". State Parks and Forests. Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Retrieved 2013-02-05. 
  2. ^ Associated Press (June 11, 2002). "New Recreation Trails Designated in 16 States". The Cincinnati Post (Cincinnati, OH). Retrieved 29 July 2014. 
  3. ^ Dale Karr, Ronald (1989). Lost Railroads of New England. Branch Line Press. ISBN 0-942147-04-9. 
  4. ^ Byron, Ken, Courant Staff Writer. (May 13, 1999). Plan Expected to Save Trail Bridge. The Hartford Courant, pg. B1.
  5. ^ "Colchester Spur Trail". Bike It or Hike It. April 2008. Retrieved 23 June 2013. 

External links[edit]