Shoreline Greenway Trail: A close-up look at Connecticut's beauty

About the series: This part of the state has some of Connecticut's biggest and most popular tourist attractions. But in this occasional series we're going to bring you places worthy of a visit that you might otherwise have never heard of.

Let's get this out of the way so there can be no mistake: The Shoreline Greenway Trail is an incomplete, work-in-progress.

First envisioned by a group of Guilford residents in 2001, the trail ideally will run from Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison to Lighthouse Point Park in New Haven.

For now, just 5.4 miles are complete: 1.3 in Madison, a total of 2.5 in Branford and 1.6 in East Haven.

So, why has progress been seemingly slow?

Judith Miller, chair of the Shoreline Greenway Trail Inc.'s board of directors, said the main reason is it's not a rail-to-trail project. With no existing bed on which to lay a trail, members of the nonprofit, working with town leaders, have had to identify usable public property and earn grants for construction.

"When you go through actual woods like in (the Tabor Trail in Branford), that stretch, somebody quoted us a million dollars a mile," said Miller, who has been involved since 2007. "It can be expensive."

To date, the nonprofit has raised about $4.25 million through fundraisers and grant writing.

Support of local politicians also is crucial, Miller said. The all-volunteer nonprofit is the lead champion of the project, but it doesn't oversee or do any construction.

The first section of the trail — the D.C. Moore section by the former D.C. Moore Elementary School in East Haven — was finished in 2005. The most recent section — the Tabor Trail in Branford — wrapped up within the past year.

"We have to have patience, but it will happen," Miller said of the 25-mile vision. "I'm absolutely convinced."

In the meantime, here's what to know if you tackle the Shoreline Greenway Trail as is.

Miles 1-2: Hammonasset (Madison)

Opened in 2012 and extended three years later, this stone dust section of the trail takes riders past a marsh and through the woods over gentle rolling hills. It starts not far beyond the sizeable Shoreline parking lot off Boston Post Road in Madison. Just be sure to turn right after the double-crosswalks — otherwise you'll head straight into the state park.

Miles 2-12: Route 1 to Route 146

The next 11 miles are 100 percent on the road and include, among other challenges, a steep hill just before Route 146. The trek may not be ideal for beginners — especially not on sizzling summer days.

Miller said the Guilford section of the "trail" might always be on the road. While the town has painted "sharrows," or shared-lane markings for bikes, it largely has pulled out of the Shoreline Greenway Trail project.

Still, the ride along Route 1 and, later, Route 146, is familiar to cyclists and has perks. Downtown Madison, for example, offers coffee, cocktails and books, American, French and Italian cuisine and a town green. Guilford's center has similar options.

The route also runs over rivers and streams, past the Madison Country Club and by Westwoods, a gorgeous Guilford hiking spot.

Mile 13: Trolley Trail (Branford)

Part of the Shoreline Greenway Trail's mission is to incorporate existing trails. Shoreline didn't create this 0.8-mile section — the Branford Land Trust did many years ago.

Once you find the stretch off Thimble Island Road, hop off the bike, look out over the Sound and glimpse some of the Thimble Islands. From there you'll hit a striking iron bridge. Built in 1907, it used to carry trolleys from New Haven to Stony Creek, a historic Branford spot.

Just beyond the bridge is another opportunity for a hike. The Pine Orchard section of the Branford Trail — on your right and marked by white blazes — offers a good view of an osprey nesting platform and, eventually, an even better view of the Thimble Islands.

Back on the greenway, continue through the woods and onto a beautiful but narrow boardwalk, where you can look out onto a salt marsh and see the nesting platforms from afar.

Miles 15-16: Tabor Trail (Branford)

A mile from the end of the Trolley Trail, two large stones off Route 146 mark the entrance to Shoreline Greenway's latest accomplishment.

The 1.7-mile Tabor Trail begins in the woods, where a dirt path that has some substantial tree roots briefly follows Young's Pond. Cyclists may want to walk this part.

A veer to the left leads to a wider dirt path that dwindles into a narrow, wildflower-lined portion buzzing with dragonflies and butterflies. Miller said the town has agreed to maintain this area, as the nonprofit has neither equipment nor resources to do so.

Follow along as the path changes from dirt to gravel, runs alongside the train tracks and crosses a couple roads. About a mile in, you'll find a wide, paved surface that passes a pond on the right before a labyrinth springs up on the left.

Miller, chair of the Shoreline board, said Branford resident Bill Ludwig installed the labyrinth as a form of walking meditation. Like the asphalt section of the trail, the labyrinth also is wheelchair-accessible.

Miles 17-20: Route 142

A series of roads leads cyclists past the popular Stony Creek Brewery (another good chance to take a break), through Branford's Short Beach neighborhood and into East Haven. This stretch is particularly scenic and, with the exception of a couple tight curves, not too harrowing for cyclists.

Miles 21-22: Farm River and D.C. Moore (East Haven)

The Farm River State Park parking lot — past Farview Avenue on the left — is the next landmark to find. Be careful not to miss it.

This 1.3-mile dirt and gravel section of the trail winds through the woods and features a couple footbridges (not for horses, in case you were wondering).

It spills out onto a gravel road (Brown Road) that you can follow left to a hiking path within the park, or right to continue on the greenway. For nature lovers, the park is a worthwhile jaunt with good views of the Farm River and a nearby marina.

The trail continues just beyond Mansfield Grove Road on what's known as the D.C. Moore section, named after the nearby former D.C. Moore Elementary School.

In this 0.3-mile section, a wide, stone dust trail turns to dirt and dead-ends at Bradford Preserve. One day, advocates hope a boardwalk will span the preserve and connect riders to Cosey Beach Avenue on the other side.

Bonus: If the timing works out, you can check out The Shore Line Trolley Museum near the East Haven Town Green. In existence since 1945, the country's oldest operating trolley museum has vintage vehicles, history exhibits and themed rides.

For more detailed directions, check out bikeitorhikeit.org's review of the Shoreline Greenway Trail.

BEYOND THE GREENWAY

Miles 23-31: Food Truck Paradise, Long Wharf Nature Preserve and Savin Rock Trail

A 22-mile bike ride is substantial, especially if one stops to eat or hike along the way and/or has to bike back to the beginning. But for those who want more, it's relatively easy (and rewarding) to continue from East Haven through New Haven to West Haven.

The 10-mile ride is the worst on Route 1 near Interstate 95, where many drivers exceed the posted speed limit by 20 miles per hour or more. After a trip over the Route 1 bridge, however, a barricaded bike and pedestrian lane pops up along Long Wharf Drive, home of Food Truck Paradise.

Those who'd rather get off the road can take the parallel Vision Trail, which runs alongside the water and through Vietnam Veterans Memorial Park.

From there it's easy to hop into the Long Wharf Nature Preserve, which, while it smells a little seafood-y, has sign boards documenting the history of oyster farming in the area and even a swing set.

Follow roads along the water into West Haven, where Beach Street dead-ends into Savin Rock Trail. This 1.9-mile paved, scenic path passes beaches, bocce courts, a restaurant called Jimmies of Savin Rock and the rock for which the trail is named.


This route, though close, is not the exact route used because Google Maps doesn't recognize cyclists can access the Shoreline Greenway Trail from the Hammonasset Connector in Madison or from Route 142 in East Haven (the Farm River section).

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