Riding Canal-side in Simsbury, Connecticut: A Visionary and Rooted Village
After a sleepless night on the train, I slept well the next at a university club. I was out before morning coffee and walked the three blocks to Grand Central Station. A toasted bagel, a cuppa Joe -- commuter rail to New Haven took less than two hours. Mike Gallagher was there with a bike for me. Plenty of gears but no toe clips. On the other hand, the breeze was right away at our backs, the morning cool, not cold.
Cycling the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail
I quivered with anticipation, hummingbird-eager to sip the dream. Right away this Cadillac of paths – the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail -- absorbed me with its stone pylons that introduce each next section, each also marked by car-blocking bollards.
Trailsides flamed in forsythia, dogwood, and pink magnolia of luscious come-hither petals. Fresh beaver dams blocked streams. An historical museum sat closed beside the historic #12 canal lock. Mike told me that only snow stops trail cyclists, though I also learned from a Simsbury planner that snow plows in Stockholm Sweden re-open trails ahead of roads.
The day warmed to the low 80s, while my eyes warmed to kids riding home after school, to moms pushing prams, to old guys taking their time. The trail ran flat, as train-riders assuredly know that rail-trails also do.
I remembered what I’d curiously learned while researching the trip: that the words “train” and “trail” not only look the same but share origins, “train” from the French “to drag, pull, draw along” (as the train of a woman’s gown); “trail” from the Latin trāgula, which gives us ‘pull’, as “somewhere to pull something along,” both words anglicized in the 14th century. Train and trail alike, who knew? The rail-trail movement signified more than it described.
Simsbury: Visionary as well as rooted
Like the trail, Simsbury, founded in 1670, itself runs so narrowly through the valley that it lacks a town green. Instead of squared in the middle, the town stretches long and tight shouldered, the same as yesteryear’s canal and rail bed.
Yet thanks to its residents, Simsbury is visionary as well as rooted. Harriet Beecher Stowe had a home here, and Mark Twain sometimes walked over from Hartford. Town celebrates its listings in the National Register. But Simsbury is also a bedroom community only 25 minutes from Hartford. Many among town’s 24,000 residents choose retirement in their familiar rural canvas. They use the trail. They support local farms. They sell off development rights.
Municipal buildings stay put in town. The Chamber of Commerce has stayed. So have upper-end shops and restaurants. They’re helped by the Simsbury Inn that looks 19th-century but opened only in 1988. The inn scores well with conferences and retreats. Corporate visitors mix with affluent locals at Meadow Asian Cuisine and at Abigail’s. Three independent markets do business here. You find a florist, three hardware stores, a bike shop, jewelers, a music store, wine shop, pubs and a row of car dealerships all owned by the Mitchell Family.
More retailers will follow the next newcomers. Planning for them began when Iron Horse Boulevard paved the old railroad right of way. Waterfront parks line the way, so here at last the town “green” for public events and for launching canoes and kayaks.
So are farmers like Nevin Christensen. He’s fourth generation and far thinking. He farms 38 organic acres; generates most of the farm’s electricity from solar photovoltaic cells, and much of its hot water from a solar thermal system.
Nearby, retired software mogul Joe Patrina has gone back to his first love. He leads the band Little House that plays shows much enjoyed by locals at his red barn that’s outfitted with a state-of-the-art performance and recording studio.
East of the river a high
Many already in town are shaping its future. Jeweler Bill Selig relocated from built-up Avon. He grew up cycling the American West. He now rides the trail and newly tends a vegetable garden that supplies his neighborhood.
If you go Contact the Simsbury Tourism Committee, , 860/658-4000, P.O. Box 1015, Simsbury, CT 06070.
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