Dates of Activity: April 20, 27, May 7, 2010
Condition of Trail: Good
Trail Ambassador Name: Tom Ebersold
Towns: Manchester, Vernon, Bolton, Andover, Columbia, Coventry, Willimantic
Location: Hop River State Rail Trail
Trail Ridden: Hop River State Rail Trail
How did you use the trail: bicycle
What was the time of day: late afternoon
Distance: 23 miles
Encounters and Observations: I rode the Hop River trail in three sections as part of my exploration for a future group ride. I started from the trailhead on Colonial Road in Manchester, off I-84 Exit 63. There is room for 15 to 20 cars at this trailhead. The trail in Manchester is hard-packed dirt for its 0.80-mile length. The section in Vernon, including the 4-mile Rockville spur, is hard packed stone dust. The trail in Bolton also has hard packed stone dust, which extends into Andover. At Burnap Brook Road in Andover, the surface becomes hard packed dirt with some loose rocks that are occasionally rough for riding.
The bridge over Rt. 316 in Andover is missing. If you are marking your mileage from Manchester, it is at mile 12.90. In Andover where the trail is parallel to Rt. 6, turn right onto an informal path to Center St. Take a left onto Center St. and stay with the left fork. Turn left on Rt. 316 at the stop sign, then right onto Monument Lane, then right into the driveway of the Museum of Andover History, and left to resume the trail.
At mile 14, there is a metal tunnel under Rt. 6 that could be dark with non-working lights. Watch for broken glass. In Columbia, there is a 1.2-mile section of stone dust (between Parker Bridge Rd. and the Hop River) that is actually rougher to ride than the hard-packed dirt. Just after the trail passes under Rt. 6 in Columbia, there is a 0.1-mile section of trail that has about 1 inch of water on it. The most navigable part of the trail ends at Kings Rd. in Columbia where there is a jersey barrier blocking access to a bridge across the Hop River. I recommend turning around at this point. The abutments for the bridge are pulling apart, the planks are rotting, and the bridge is tilting to one side, so stay off this bridge!
If you want to continue to the end of the trail, turn left onto Kings Rd., then right onto Flanders Rd. (no street sign) at the T-intersection by the horse farm. After you cross the river, turn left to the bypass, and then go straight until you see the rail trail with the Flanders Rd. tunnel on right: there is an ATV road branching left as you come down the short hill from the by-pass (don't take the ATV road). Turn left onto the rail trail and beware of a nasty patch of loose sand (as the by-pass connects to the rail trail). On the trail, there are large chunks of gravel before you encounter a short portion of the trail that still has the original railroad tracks. At mile 20, the trail essentially ends. There is a railroad bridge that crosses the Willimantic River. You could walk across it, being careful not to step on the rotted timbers, but there's no point as the railroad is active on the other side of the bridge.
I also rode the section between Flanders Rd. and the unsafe bridge near Kings Rd. (0.4 miles long). It was uncomfortable to ride with loose rock and brush (some of which got caught in my chain and spokes), and involves crossing a small bridge that has many rotting planks that someone has "reinforced" with a series of branches. There is little to be gained by riding this section of rail trail.