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Airline State Park Trail (South)

Northeastern Region, Connecticut

Historic / Covered Bridge
Wildlife / Family Friendly / Romantic

Trail Description

Location: East Hampton to North Windham. Hartford, Middlesex, New London, Windham Counties.

Directions: Parking is available at the following locations along the trail, starting at the southern trailhead in East Hampton:
East Hampton-Smith St. (north on Smith Street from Rt 16), Colchester-Bull Hill Rd., River Road or Old Hartford Rd.,

Rt 2 (exit 16) Commuter Parking Lot,  Hebron-Grayville Rd., Old Colchester Rd., Rt 85, Rt 207 or Rt 87, North Windham-Tuckie Rd.

Trail Length:
East Hampton to Windham: 22 miles

Trail Surface: Crushed stone, gravel, ballast

Trail Difficulty: Easy

Trail Use: Bicycling, mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding, cross-country skiing.

Caution: Multi-use trail. Be careful at crossings with streets and rivers as well as when crossing the viaducts.

 

 

Airline State Park Trail South Trail Map

Note: This trail map is a graphical representation designed for general reference purposes only. Read Full Disclaimer.

Trail Description:

The Airline State Park Trail, located in eastern Connecticut, follows the old railbed of the New York & New England Air Line Railroad, so named because it followed a straight line route, as if drawn through the air, between New York and Boston. Stretching for more than 50 miles, it is divided into three sections: South , North and Thompson.

The Airline Rail Trail provides a key link in the National Eastcoast Greenway System. The Airline Rails-To-Trails South spans 22 miles from the southern terminus in East Hampton to the Willimantic River and links the towns of East Hampton, Colchester, Hebron and Lebanon. Dramatic highlights include the Rapallo and Lyman Viaducts. There are also beautiful views from the new bridges over the Blackledge and Jeremy Rivers. This section of the trail also provides access to nearby Salmon River State Forest, Grayville Falls Park, Raymond Brook Marsh and Comstock Covered Bridge.

You can also opt to try the partially developed, 3.6 mile long Colchester Spur which leads to Colchester from Amston.

Smith Street, East Hampton to Route 207, Hebron:

This is the most developed section of the Airline State Park Trail (South), allowing for hybrid bikes and wheelchair access on a smooth, hard-packed stone dust surface in East Hampton, Colchester and Hebron. Beginning near the Cranberry Meadow Bog in East Hampton, the first stretch of the trail travels through quiet residential areas, woodlands and the "Bishops Cut", a 35 foot rock-walled passageway cut through the hills during railway construction. The dramatic Lyman and Rapallo viaducts are the most impressive features along this stretch of the rail-trail providing panoramic views of the surrounding hills and valleys.

Picnic tables and benches along the trail provide places to relax and enjoy the views, spring wildflowers and a snack. It is perfect for a scenic romantic, historical or wildlife viewing cycling adventure. It is beautiful, especially during the fall, when the leaves are in full color.

Note: You will encounter a 1/4 mile on-road detour where the Route 2 expressway blocks the railroad bed.

 

Route 207, Hebron to Kingsley Road, Lebanon: Most of the 7.5 miles of trail travelling through Lebanon is best suited for mountain bikes as the surface is mostly mostly dirt, gravel and ballast. Although the surface has been cleared, trail access from some of the street intersections along this stretch require climbing embankments.

The first two miles of the trail in Lebanon, from Route 207 to Leonard Bridge Road has been widened, graded and paved with stone dust. This lovely 2 mile stretch travels through forests and passes Williams Pond.

 

Kingsley Road,Lebanon to the Willimantic River: Currently the bridge across the river is impassable, has no deck and is fenced off. Connections from this point to downtown Willimantic and the connection with the Hop River Trail are currently being reviewed.

 

For more Connecticut Rail Trails: You may also be interested in mountain biking the Airline Rail Trail North.

 

Historical Notes:

The Rapallo & Lyman Viaducts
The Rapallo Viaduct (1873), was originally a railroad bridge spanning 1,380 feet, 60 feet above Flat Brook and accommodated two tracks. The Lyman Viaduct (1873), an 1108 ft. span towering 137 ft. above Dickinson’s Brook, is one of the most spectacular highlights of the trail. Both are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The views of the surrounding countryside and 6,000-acre Salmon River State Forest, from atop the Viaducts are especially fantastic during the fall foliage season.

Turnerville Station
Unfortunately, most of the Airline train stations and depots are no more. But a few still stand, including Turnerville Station (now private property). It is located at the intersection of the trail with Rt 85 (Amston) and Colchester Station and freight depot (now used for storage) at the end of the Colchester Spur Trail. Colchester has an historic district and town green.

The Comstock Covered Bridge
The Comstock Covered Bridge, one of 3 remaining historic bridges in Connecticut, was built in 1791 and rebuilt in 1860. Spanning the Salmon River near Route 16 in East Hampton, it linked the towns of East Hampton and Colchester. It is located only 1 1/4 miles south of the intersection of Bull Hill Road and the Airline Trail. It is open to pedestrians only and has a picnic area where you can relax and enjoy a picture postcard setting.

 

Wildlife Note:

Raymond Brook Marsh
The trail travels for about a mile through the heart of Raymond Brook Marsh where you can view heron, deer, beaver and turtles. This diverse wildlife habitat is one of the largest inland wetland complexes in eastern Connecticut.

 

Side Spurs:

Salmon River State Forest

The Salmon River, which joins the Connecticut River near East Haddam, is well-known for its trout fishing and other water recreation activities such as kayaking (best in the Spring). The 6,115 acre forest also offers a network of scenic trails for hikers, mountain bikers and snowmobilers. Just beyond the viaducts in Colchester / East Hampton, the trail spur leading from the main rail trail to the Salmon River Access Road, is popular with local mountain bikers (intermediate).

Grayville Falls Park

This Hebron Town Park connects with Salmon River State Forest. Open from sunrise until sundown for picnics, hiking and Airline Rail travelers looking for a scenic spot to take a break. A spur trail leads from the main trail to the falls.

 

Airline Rail Trail History:

The dream of various railroad investors and engineers was to build a railroad on "the straight line" to connect Boston and New York City, which were two of the most important cities in the United States in the mid-1800s. Railroads had already been built along the New England shoreline to connect the two cities, but frequent stops for draw bridges or to discharge passengers and freight in order to cross rivers on ferryboats and re-board trains on the other side was time consuming. A straight line would be faster.

The railroad was completed in 1872, twenty-four years later, overcoming many obstacles, costing many times the original estimates, and following a path significantly different from the first design. The dream had finally been met.

For 86 years, from 1872 to 1959, the Air Line provided a high-speed passenger rail connection between these prominent northeast cities. In 1975, the Air Line rail corridor was deeded to the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)

 

For more information:

Department Of Environmental Protection
209 Hebron Rd.
Marlborough, CT 06447

Phone: (860) 295-9523
TTY: 711 (AT&T Relay Services)

 

 

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