In our travels with our camper, we have found state forests to be a great resource, often providing camp grounds where we had great experiences. Many have trail networks, one state forest we stayed at had a handicapped accessible overlook, and others were simply great spots to stop and enjoy the scenery.
On our way to a rail trail in Connecticut, we stopped by a state forest we spotted along the way and discovered a gem (and access to yet another portion of the same rail trail we had been headed toward). The James L. Goodwin State Forest in Hampton, CT offers multiple options for enjoying the outdoors. The boat ramp allows small craft to enjoy the pond. The Conservation Center, located inside the State Forest, offers education programs. When we looked at Google maps we realized that the Airline Trail passes directly through this same state forest.
A forest ranger passed by and provided some really helpful advice just as we were deciding if the trail was appropriate for our bike. It is. Some sections we rode on between Hampton and Promfret had a finished, packed stone dust surface. Other sectons had rougher surfaces with some soft, sandy spots. We found some rocky surfaces in small portions of the trail. The entire section we rode on, from Hampton to the outer edge of Pomfret, CT, was cleared, with no encroaching greenery–think poison ivy! We saw plenty of poison ivy at the edges of the trail, and this noxious plant seems to thrive around the multiple gates we had to navigate. We managed to come through unscathed, and had a great time out on the trail.
Multiple benches along the way overlook marsh areas. One bench had a puzzling message on it. Evidently a traveler of some sort wanted us to know this important information. How relieved we were to find the bench had dried out since the posting of this warning. Clearly this was a well-equipped person carrying push pins. Not something we keep in our pack!
The area we traveled (about nine miles out, then another nine miles back) crossed multiple ponds and wetlands. We saw loads of turtles, signs of turtle nests, a great blue heron, many red-winged blackbirds, and heard Eastern Towees in the woodland.
Along the way were multiple trails heading off into the woods, accessed from the rail trail. Some were headed to local land trust properties. One led to a town hall. It was difficult to tell if there are other access points to these trails. None of them appeared to be appropriate for bicycles, so we kept on pedaling.
This section of the Airline Trail is quite shady. Sunshine was the exception. The woods were filled with ferns. Bracken, interrupted, and cinnamon ferns grew in great profusion. Hay scented ferns filled the edges of the trail. Sensitive ferns (I think–I’m no expert) grew alongside the trail too.
Lots of spring and summer flowers were on display. Blackberry canes blossomed all along the trail. One field was filled with blackberries, which will be an impassibile mass when the fruit ripens. The birds will have a feast. One clump of mountain laurel showed buds that promise to be open in the next week or two.
We got out and walked around most of the gates at road crossings. This was probably the most difficult part of the ride, because of the large rocks placed to impede passage. We understand the concern about motorized vehicles damaging the trail. Be prepared to get through these gates carefully, and keep an eye out for poison ivy! Altogether we spent about four hours pedaling, stopping to rest, and taking in the views. We will be back, and next time we plan to head south along the trail in the opposite direction from this visit, starting from the same spot at the state forest.
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a writer who loves the outdoors, and is the author of Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, More Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, and Easy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed, and Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are. Her memoir, the backstory of Easy Walks, is My liturgy of Easy Walks: Finding the Sacred in everyday (and some very strange) Places.
She has written for numerous local, regional, and national publications over the past 20+ years, has helped numerous families to save their stories, and has recorded multiple veterans oral histories, now housed at the Library of Congress.