While walking the most recent extension of the Charter Oak Greenway in Manchester, I didn't really see the clear Birch Mountain Brook as it tumbled through a ravine filled with hemlocks. I didn't look at the couple enjoying lunch on a picnic table near the end of the extension. I didn't grab my binoculars and watch the red-tailed hawk silently watching his surroundings from high on the limb of a dead tree.
All I really saw was potential.
The potential of a 10-foot-wide path snaking through a swatch of forest along I-384 where foot power and pedal power thumb their noses at those racing by on the highway, missing out on the simpler pleasures. The potential of the just-under-a-mile multiuse trail extension connecting Gardner Street to Spring Street. I was not only walking a new path, I was part of the more-reality-than-dream that is the East Coast Greenway – a 3,000-mile path snaking from Maine to Florida for "travelers from the local walker to the long-distance cyclist."
"Slow but sure – Canada to Key West or bust," Connecticut Greenways Council member William D. O'Neill said in a recent email that included photos of the newest section of the Charter Oak Greenway – a 10-mile path that runs through Manchester and East Hartford. The last time I had been out there was for a press conference a year ago. All I saw then was muddy ruts, root balls and stream crossings with erosion control structures and no bridges.
But on a recent sparkling autumn day, where I once saw mud there was a ribbon of pavement snaking peacefully over the hills and valleys traversed by Birch Mountain Brook. One portion of the trail resembled San Francisco's Lombard Street - otherwise known as "America's crookedest street" – as the path twisted and turned up a large hill on its way to Highland Street. Sturdy iron bridges spanned the nearly-forgotten beauty of Birch Mountain Brook. The trail continued its journey through a quaint neighborhood as it snaked along Highland Street to Highland Park Market.
Long known as a dreaded "gap" in the state's 196-mile portion of the greenway, the Charter Oak continues its march toward gap-free status as it nears Bolton Notch and the Hop River Linear Trail. As visitors reach the eastern terminus of the trail, more of that gap-filling potential can be seen. Earth-moving equipment is already busy on the next segment, which will bring the path to Porter Street, where a parking area will be located.
Sure, these trail extensions are short, but there is potential and now momentum building for a plan to continue the trail another few miles east and connect it to the Hop River Linear Trail that runs west to Vernon and east to Willimantic. Potential and momentum are two of the best words to hear when a gap is being filled.
Slow but sure progress is being made as a dream becomes a reality.
Parking for the trail is located at Charter Oak Park at the intersection of Route 83 and Charter Oak Street. Peter Marteka can be reached at 860-647-5365, at firstname.lastname@example.org or at The Courant, 200 Adams St., Manchester, CT 06040.
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