The historic Farmington Canal Heritage Trail is, for the most part, not a troubling trek through the dense southern New England woods.
Instead, the trail provides miles and miles of paved greenway throughout the region. It's perfect for nature walks, biking, roller blading, running and other non-motorized methods of outdoor recreation.
The pathway also serves as a major artery for the region's hiking trails, connecting to systems that lead out to Bethany, Woodbridge, North Haven, New Haven, Hamden and Cheshire, as well as towns in the Farmington Valley.
The canal path consists of some 84 miles of trail — more than half of which are now paved and well-maintained — that begin in New Haven and travel north straight up through western Massachusetts to Northhampton, MA.
The trail originally was built as a canal and first opened in 1835 after some 10 years of construction on the project.
The brainchild of a group of New Haven businessmen inspired by the Erie Canal in New York State, the expensive canal project was financed in hopes that the system would facilitate trade in the region, as well as to serve as a direct competitor to the traffic flowing up and down the Connecticut River.
Only a decade later, however, the rise of the railroad quickly made waterways like the Farmington Canal obsolete. Much of the original pathway from New Haven to western Massachusetts was replaced with railroad tracks.
The railroad was in active operation from 1848 until 1982.
Then, in 1987, with much of the track being ripped up and removed after flooding damaged the rail lines, the towns of Cheshire and Hamden joined together to petition that the railway's right-of-way be turned into recreational trails.
The effort was a successful one, and after several years of construction during the early 1990s, the first six miles of the new greenway were opened in Hamden and Cheshire 1996.
Since then, portions of the original railway path have been converted into paved greenway farther north in the towns of Avon, Farmington and Simsbury, as well as other areas along the trail.
The trail is open to running, walking, roller blading and cycling. Dogs are allowed along the path on a leash, and animal owners are asked to pick up and remove their pet's waste.
For more information about the trail, visit Farmington Canal Rail to Trail Association's website.
For additional historic background, visit CTVisit.com's page on the canal trail.