Willimantic River Trail
This trail extends along the river for one-and-a-half miles in Willimantic from the entrance to the Connecticut Eastern Railroad Museum to Route 66. The trail follows the riverbank on land that the Town of Windham has leased to the Ct. Eastern Railroad Museum. Parts of the trail are wet, especially in high water. This floodplain area is home to a variety of invasive shrubs that can obscure views, so the best seasons to visit are when the leaves are off the trees and shrubs, and the river scenes are easy to see.
There is a canoe/kayak landing here that is the last place to take out before the river goes over dams in downtown Willimantic. The landing is just upstream of the power lines that cross the river. Do not paddle downstream of the power lines. Check the Canoe and Kayak Map for details about the river's hazards, features and launch sites.
From Bridge Street in Willimantic, turn into the Bridge Street Plaza by the railroad tracks. Drive past the buildings to the end of the parking lot where there is an entrance to the museum's access road. Park by the entrance. (You also can drive a half-mile down the access road to the museum's parking lot, but the Trail Notes begin at this entrance.) The museum's No Trespassing signs do not apply to people walking on the road or the trail. Be safe and stay away from the railroad tracks that are still used by trains. This area is a former freight yard and siding, which used to have dozens of trains a day, and is still an active railroad line.
Although you can walk a mile and a half to Route 66 on the trail, this guide describes a walk that is a mile-long loop from the entrance. Walk along the access road for a tenth-mile to where a path on the left goes down to the river. Go down this path to a bench that offers a nice spot to sit and enjoy the river. Turn right to follow the trail upstream under riverside trees and past a second bench. This part of the river was formerly a mill pond to help provide reliable water flow for the Windham Mills. It was also a pond for pleasure boating in the 1900's, and a boat house was located on the opposite shore. The mill dam has since been breached, so there is no longer a pond in this part of the river.
After the trail crosses an open area under a power line, it enters the woods again. In a short distance, there is a canoe/kayak landing and Willimantic River Greenway sign at the half-mile mark. A trail to the right leads up to the parking area for the railroad museum. If you take out a canoe or kayak at this landing, you can carry your boat up to the parking area. To walk back to your car, you can return along the trail or along the access road.
Beyond the boat landing, the trail continues upriver through a wetland area, which is often wet underfoot. In a half-mile from the landing, the trail comes to the abutment for the Air Line railroad trestle. It is currently planned to be converted to a walking/biking bridge, which will connect the Air Line State Park Trail to the East Coast Greenway. Meanwhile, it is not safe to walk on this trestle. Walk around the abutment, and continue to follow the trail for another half-mile on dry land to Route 66. The trail between the abutment and Route 66 will be improved for biking as part of the East Coast Greenway. Note that currently there is no parking at the Route 66 end of the trail.
Thanks to John Hankins for his assistance.
Top photo: V. Wetherell Bottom photo: P. Vertefeuille
This Willimantic River Greenway Parks and Trails Guide was produced by the Willimantic River Alliance and WINCOG. Information in this guide reflects conditions and features as of Spring, 2008. Since conditions change over time, the Alliance is not responsible for changes at this site. This guide was funded with support from the The Last Green Valley (formerly known as the Quinebaug-Shetucket Heritage Corridor, Inc.).