The Farmington Canal Heritage Trail

For newbie and nature-loving riders like me, the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail offers a unique adventure, and minimizes automotive encounters. This adaptive reuse of an abandoned railroad line allows access to a bit of urban decay as well as an opportunity to reconnect with nature. During my last year in New Haven, I finally made it onto the trail, and was amazed by the uncommon and unusual things I found there.

A little bit of internet research told an interesting and historical tale of how the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail came to be. In the 1800s, after Jefferson doubled the size of the United States with the Louisiana Purchase, businessmen found large profits in the transportation industry. The success of the Erie Canal prompted the Canal Corporation to design and build a canal from New Haven’s port, through Connecticut, to Massachusetts.

During the groundbreaking ceremony, the shovel broke, an inauspicious start to the construction of the canal. The Canal Corporation was under-capialized and did not receive any funding from the State of Connecticut. Nevertheless, the company continued to build, but was forced to make shortcuts, with disastrous results. Leaks and collapses disrupted the canal’s construction, but in 1835, the canal was completed–stretching 84 miles from New Haven to Northampton.

Apparently, still beset by problems, the canal was never able to turn a profit, so the shareholders of the Farmington Canal Co. petitioned the legislature to build a railroad. In 1848, the New Haven and Northampton Railroad Co. was chartered.

Just as the locomotive replaced the canal boat in the mid 1800s, trucks began to take over transportation services in Central New England in the late 1900s. Rail lines around the country fell into disrepair. In the 1990s, groups of creative initiatives began to explore the idea of converting abandoned rail and canal paths into recreational trails. The “rails-to-trails” movement was born, and is still in motion today. Today, there are still a few small gaps to be filled before the entire 80-mile length of the trail is connected and complete. From sunrise to sunset, this unique trail is shared by walkers, riders, and skaters.

The Canal Line

Rolling through the trail on my bicycle, I ride slow enough to take in all its small historic and picturesque pieces, but fast enough to see it transform. My start of the trail is behind Yale’s Department of Health, and several minutes later, I enter New Haven’s residential area. A few more miles down the trail, I’m greeted by wooded stretches and babbling brooks.

Tracks

If you start out from New Haven on a bicycle, you’ll see remnants of railroad sprinkled on the side of the trail. You will be confronted by passing cars and trucks where the trail intersects with urban streets. The paved road leads you through dark tunnels and long stretches of sky. Wooden bridges roll underneath, while interstate bridges pass overhead. Benches lining the trail offer moments of relief and contemplation.

The Farmington Canal Heritage Trail promises miles of respite from a (sometimes) hectic life in New Haven.

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Volunteering at a Build Site

Today, I picked up a hammer for the first time in years. Somehow, the nails I pounded went into the right places, and we made this nice, sturdy wall.

New Haven HH

Everyone I worked with was so pleasant and patient. I even got to meet a couple of families that were chosen to be Habitat homeowners. The house that we partially built today is the 95th Habitat building project in Greater New Haven, and will be the future home of Mohamed, Kadiatu, and their three children. It was a really rewarding experience to put up a wall with a man, knowing that that wall will be supporting him and his family for years to come. A short article on the family can be found on Habitat for Humanity’s website here.

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Update on fundraising: currently at 52%, but I’ve hit a pretty sizable wall (see above). Please donate any amount you can. The work that Habitat is doing here is so incredibly valuable, and your donation will be supporting an organization that promotes healthy families and communities. Donations can be made at my rider profile! Thank you for your generosity 😀

First Fall

It’s been a long battle, but winter has finally yielded to spring. Look at that sky! Those clouds! I knew I had to take the bike out this afternoon.

Yale University

Can you believe that, just two months ago, I was crashing into snow banks?

Trumbull Courtyard

I hopped onto the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail, leaving unfinished essays and problem sets sitting on my desk. There’s something emancipating about  being bathed in sunshine, wind, and sweat. 10 miles up the trail, I found a nice bench, where I easily convinced myself to take a quick break.

Bench on the Trail

I decided to turn back before I allowed myself to sit there for too long. I could have basked in the sun’s light and my own introspective thoughts until dark.

FHT

I knew it was coming. I just didn’t think it could happen on a perfect day like this. Just when I thought I was finally getting used to my new bike shoes, I came crashing down.

Honestly, it happened so fast that I don’t even remember falling. All I know is that I was speeding down the road when I saw a person come out of nowhere. The next second, I was sprawled on the side of the road with Charley next to me. Luckily, ice skating lessons from my youth and daily struggles with my own clumsiness have taught me how to fall like a rag doll. I stumbled back to my room with a couple of harmless scrapes and scratches.

I’ll spare you the gory details…

Injuries

Many thanks to Charley for the ride, my helmet for protecting my silly head, Mom and Dad for those ice skating lessons way back when, and Emily (my awesome roommate) for patching me up after this first fall.

Emily!

Many more adventures (and misadventures) to come!