WINDSOR LOCKS CANAL STATE PARK TRAIL
It’s the unofficial end of summer – and as a last ‘hoorah’, I took my oldest daughter for a spin on a trail that not only connects to nature – but to history as well.
Tucked behind the ruins of an abandoned factory, The Windsor Locks Canal State Park is a linear trail that traces the area’s farming and industrial roots back to the 1800s. Its paved surface draws a flurry of walkers and bicyclists along its 4.5-mile trek from Windsor Locks to Suffield.
In a change of pace, we tossed our hiking boots into the back of the car and dusted off our bikes. With the drone of the nearby highway as our backdrop, we hopped on for our morning ride.
The heat was on - early on - with a blaring sun bearing down on us. But, the lush foliage helped ease our discomfort. The path is straightforward, bordered on one side by the canal and on the other, the Connecticut River. Along the way, hints of the past bubbled to the surface as we put it into high gear.
Constructed in the 1820s, the canal was built to go around the river’s Enfield rapids. It provided local farms with a way to shuttle barges with freight to the marketplace. In addition, the trail we were on was an actual path for animals used to tow those barges – by rope – up and down the waterway.
With so much to see, we stopped from time to time to check out our surroundings (okay – sometimes we just needed to catch our breath). Benches also appeared periodically along the way prompting us to enjoy the view of the sprawling river or quiet canal.
That being said, when getting back on the bike to ride -- keep little ones centered on the path. Some sections along the trail drop off steeply down to the river’s edge.
However, don’t let that deter you from exploring. The mix of past and present come together nicely here. If you look closely enough, you can see details of the intricate stonework in the canal’s aqueducts and bridges. And, barns seen from a distance reflect a sense of nostalgia from a pastime that is still much alive in Connecticut today.
But, it’s not only the past that seeks shelter here, but local wildlife as well. A pair of eagles call the southern stretch of the trail home and breed here year after year. The seasonal trail – which opens in April – partly closed for the nesting birds through June this year. I really can’t find fault with this, since the extra precautions help produce future generations of these majestic birds.
We also found ‘many-a' chipmunk making a mad dash across our path – clearly distressed by the appearance of our bike tires. And then, there was the great blue heron that we saw standing stoically near the end of the trail. Its gracefulness was memorizing as it stood undisturbed on a stack of deadwood in the canal.
As we drank it all in and prepared to ride back, we also found ourselves in need of shelter. The searing sun soon clouded over and gave way to spats of rain. And, although refreshing, the sudden change in weather sparked our own rush to return home.
But, like all aspects of life, nothing stays the same – not even the canal. The 1840s ushered in the railroads and put an end to water freight here. But the canal system was able to adapt - harnessing the power of water for mills and factories that sprang up along its banks. But, that too, was a means to an end.
And now the canal – forced to change once again -- serves yet a different purpose – one of recreation, record, and reflection.
Directions: Take I-91 N to Exit 42 and Rt. 159 in Windsor Locks. Take Rt. 159 N to Route 140 E (Bridge St.). Turn right, cross the canal bridge and take an immediate left onto the road between the canal and the factory. Parking is at the end of the road and complex.
Trail Difficulty: Easy
Trail Distance: 9 miles (RT)
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