Many towns and cities have turned their backs on the Connecticut River since early in the 20th century, so New England's longest waterway often flows unnoticed through our state.
Now you can add Windsor Meadows State Park and the Windsor River Trail to the list of ways to discover the beauty of the Connecticut River.
The Windsor River Trail is the newest addition to Windsor Meadows Park, more than 140 acres that includes a popular boat launch in the shadow of the Captain John Bissell Memorial Bridge.
Although the trail only winds through the floodplain forest along the river for a mile south to the Hartford line, there are plans to link it with the city's Riverside Park. The linkage would eventually connect those living west of the river with the East Coast Greenway – a multiuse trail running from the Florida Keys to Canada.
But even for that short distance, visitors will experience the river as the 10-foot-wide, handicapped-accessible path twists and turns along the high banks. There are several overlooks and picnic spots along the way as the trail crosses Decker's Brook over a nice iron bridge and ends behind several businesses.
It will be easy to figure out where the trail comes to an end — a huge beech tree with its grey bark and grotesque trunk and branches play off the autumn-barren woods behind it. Old initials carved years ago are on its trunk and the old farm fences nearby speak to the beech's former life as a "wolf tree," as it once provided shade for cattle.
After returning to the boat launch parking area, another trail takes visitors underneath the Bissell Bridge. It is a neat view of the bridge, with its huge concrete and granite supports lining up like soldiers carrying I-291 across the river. Some unimproved trails run along the northern portion of the state park.
The 1.8-mile-long, multiuse trail across the bridge gets its start to the west of the parking lot. The description of the bridge walkway from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection describes it as being "separated comfortably" from I-291. Not sure if comfortable would be a word I would describe as cars, trucks and tractor-trailers pass by feet from the walkway. And then there is the "bridge-moving-up-and-down-feeling" visitors will get as side-by-side tractor trailers go roaring past, making the bridge shake.
But the views from the bridge are tremendous, with the Hartford skyline towering over the trees to the south and the river flowing gently around several islands and the confluence with the Farmington River as it makes the final leg of its journey from Canada to Long Island Sound.
The trail eventually ends at Main Street in South Windsor. So during this hike, visitors can walk in Hartford, Windsor and South Windsor in a span of a few miles.
A sign at the entrance to the Windsor River Trail notes: "When flooded, turn around, don't drown." So, yes, there is a river nearby and her name is the Connecticut. Nice to meet you again.
Take I-91 to exit 35B to Route 218. Take a right on Route 159 and left on East Barber Street. Follow to the end.