The state park system began a century ago with a five-acre purchase of shoreline in Westport that would eventually become Sherwood Island State Park. Maybe in another 100 years, someone will be telling the story of how a one-mile path through marsh and oak, cedar and pine woodlands was the start of a trail along the length of Long Island Sound.
The dream of the Shoreline Greenway Trail – a 25-mile continuous off-road path between Hammonasset State Park and New Haven's Lighthouse Point Park – began a decade ago. And now with the recent completion of a one-mile stretch from the entrance of Hammonasset west to Route 1, the all-volunteer group installing the trail has something to show off – and a wave of momentum behind the project.
You may have missed the latest addition to the state's most popular park this summer while heading off to enjoy the two miles of barrier beach or looking for crabs under the rocks of Meigs Point. But just past the entrance to the park visitors can see a bridge over a marsh – the western trailhead of the Shoreline Greenway.
With the summer crowds gone into hibernation, I visited a nearly deserted Hammonasset a few weeks ago. After parking at an empty campground, I walked over to the trail and immediately fell in love with the view. With the colorful leaves of peak foliage on the trees in the background, a small channel cut through the marsh grass making its annual turn from a lush green to brown. A great blue heron walked gingerly through the channel while searching for its next catch.
And I was barely even starting the trail. It's that potential that has members of the greenway excited about its future with more than half the trail either completed or in design phase according to Chip Angle, chairman of the board of directors and a Guilford resident. The all-volunteer group has more than 2,600 members.
"We want to keep it off the road as much as possible," he said. "That's the entire objective. We've been pleasantly surprised at the amount of land we've been able to use for the project. We are building momentum with our fabulous voluteers where we are no longer focusing on the vision, but instead focusing on getting the job done…This is our signature piece."
After crossing the bridge, the trail winds along the western edges of a deserted campground to Route 1 before turning into a wooded and secluded peninsula with views out across the marsh and Toms Creek - a tidal channel out to the shining waters of Long Island Sound. The trail then cuts through a cedar forest with side trails into the woods before coming to an end along Route 1.
In addition to Hammonasset, there are six separate trail sections open in East Haven and Branford. The trail passes through Farm River State Park and along the Stony Creek Trolley Trail, a multiuse path that follows the old Shoreline Trolley bed for a mile through Branford. I've written about both and they are stunning places to visit along a shoreline that has a reputation as the east coast's most developed.
Like olden times when rickety wooden boats connected continents and iron horses linked two oceans, one day this trail will connect the city with the country along the state's picturesque shoreline. And for those who dare to dream – perhaps one day the entire shoreline.
Visit http://wordpress.shorelinegreenwaytrail.org/ for information on the trail. Peter Marteka can be reached at 860-647-5365, at email@example.com or at The Courant, 200 Adams St., Manchester, CT 06040.