The Best Bike Trails: Farmington Canal Heritage Trail
This 84-mile multi-use trail starts at New Haven, Connecticut and stretches all the way to Northampton, Massachusetts. It is made up of three sections: the southern section between New Haven and Plainville, the middle section between Farmington and Suffield, and the northern section between Southwick and Northampton.
The development of the trail is not yet finished. Only 72% of the parts in Connecticut are done and 47% in Massachusetts.
The trail used to be a canal. It was constructed in 1825 when a group of businessmen from New Haven decided to push for a project similar to New York’s newly opened Erie Canal. It took a decade to complete and was in operation for twelve years. A rail bed was eventually laid out along its path in response to the growing popularity of railroads as a cost-efficient mode of transportation. The railroad operated for over a century. Unfortunately, it was destroyed by floods during the 1980s. It was never restored partly because of the increasing popularity of trucks and other vehicles as alternative means of transportation at the time.
In response to the dramatic decline in railroad use, people began exploring the idea of transforming old railroads and canal towpaths into multi-use trails. This eventually led to the formation of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy in 1984.
In 1987, a group of Hamden and Chershire residents successfully convinced the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) stop the sale of the old canal to private developers and instead rebuild it as a multi-use trail. This group of volunteers later on formed the Farmington Canal Rail-to-Trail Association (FCRTTA), which, to this day, is still actively pushing for the continued development and maintenance of the trail.
The trail’s first six miles officially opened in 1996, with parts of the old canal left intact. In Chershire, only a single canal lock was restored, but it was later on made part of the Lock 12 Historical Park. The park features a museum, several carpenter and blacksmith shops, a picnic area and a lockkeeper’s house.
The Farmington Valley Trails Council (FVTC) was established in 1992. Its main objective is to increase public awareness and support of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy projects and facilitate the completion of these projects by coordinating with respective town governments.
The trail today
Thousands of bikers, hikers, runners and skaters visit the completed sections of the trail each day. The picturesque and historic views it provides are among the most loved in the entire New England area.