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The overall goal of the Grand Trunk Trail in south-central Massachusetts is to connect the communities of Brimfield, Sturbridge, and Southbridge by trail. Currently, two sections of the trail are completed. Although they do not yet connect, they are both pleasant rides through the Quinebaug River valley and worthy of tying together for a day of adventure and railroad history.
The Grand Trunk Trail is also part of an effort to create a larger 66-mile regional trail known as the Titanic Rail Trail that will run from Palmer to Franklin. The Titanic Rail Trail gets its name from the former president of the Grand Trunk Railway, Charles M. Hays, who lost his life sailing back from England on the RMS Titanic just after securing the necessary funds to complete a second transcontinental railroad. The venture was never completed.
Depart from the western end of the trail on the outskirts of Brimfield and ride southeast for an easy jaunt through wooded lands and cut-stone embankments. You can quickly see how early railroads were competing for land and revenue opportunities.
For most of its route, the trail is actually comprised of two paralleling former railbeds, both usually within viewing sight of one another. One line was owned by the Southern New England Railway, a subsidiary of Grand Trunk Railway of Canada; the other tracks belonged to a trolley line that ran between Southbridge and Springfield. Although most of the trail is along the trolley alignment, this section of the larger gauge Grand Trunk Railway is the trail’s namesake.
The trail effectively ends on the western bank of the Quinebaug River. Though you won’t find a bridge over the river, another 0.5 mile of trail continues on the eastern bank and runs up to East Brimfield Holland Road.
Westville Lake Section
On the west end of Southbridge, you can enjoy a pleasant ride on the rail-trail and a loop around Westville Lake. The best place to begin your adventure is the trailhead parking lot located at the Westville Lake Recreation Area. Heading northeast from here, you will be riding along a mostly tree-covered path dotted with picnic tables for welcome breaks.
The route takes you across the Westville Dam, which you may not really appreciate the size of until you are right up on it. The structure is 78 feet high and 560 feet across. From there, you can continue around the east side of the lake on the Westville Lake Community Trail, which will lead you back to the parking lot.
After the loop, you can continue southwest on the trail, where it will traverse forest and end just beyond the Quinebaug River crossing. The metal bridge across the river provides access to River Road.
Brimfield Section: From I-90 take Exit 8 to MA 32/US 20. Turn right (south) onto MA 32/Thorndike St., and go 0.7 mile. Turn left onto US 20/Park St., and go 9.3 miles. The parking lot will be on your right.
Or from downtown Brimfield, take US 20 E 1.2 miles to the Brimfield trailhead. You will see the parking lot on your right; look for the brown sign labeled Grand Trunk Trail Brimfield Section.
Westville Lake Section: Take I-84 to Exit 2. If coming from the north, turn left onto Old Sturbridge Village Road, and almost immediately take another left onto River Road. If coming from the south, turn right onto River Road. In 1.6 miles turn left onto Mashapaug Road, and go 1.1 miles. Turn left onto Breakneck Road, and the trail parking lot will be on your right in 0.4 mile.
Or from downtown Southbridge, take Main St./MA 131 W out of town. When the road forks, veer left onto South St. Continue 1.1 miles until you see a road split off to your right; though unmarked, this is Off S St. Drive on this street 0.4 mile to a small bridge over the Quinebaug River, where the roadway becomes Breakneck Road. The parking lot will appear immediately on your right after the crossing.
Very clean trail!
In two trips, I covered the western two parts of the Grand Trunk. Both are on Army Corps of Engineers flood control lands. The western end of the western loop begins at a parking area along US Route 20 in the eastern part of Brimfield. In this area there were two rail rights of way running generally west to east. The northern of the two, was the trolley line between Springfield and Worcester. Today it is a nice earth and gravel trail through woodlands. It is what is really meant by the trail in this area. Just to the south, is the paralleling Grand Trunk route. This route was never finished, but sections exist as earth and gravel parallel trail in pieces accessible from the Trolley Trail. Both routes end at a missing bridge over the Quinebaug River.
The eastern section apparently is Grand Trunk right of way and begins at the Ed Calcutt Bridge over the Quinebaug River just east of River Road in Sturbridge. Good bikeway then runs eastward in a loop to the south to the Westville Lake Dam and then across a bridge over the dam's spillway and up to a parking area at the dam's south end. This is also a nice woods ride. There is a parking area near the mid point on Breakneck Road where the trail takes a dip to cross the road.
Recently, I have investigated the Quinebaug Valley Rail Trail portion of this trail in a series of trips. Beginning at Saundersdale Road in Southbridge, the trail is clear and wooded along the river, but the surface is loose gravel requiring fat tires. After two short bridges, the trail enters Dudley and the surface is much easier riding. Good scenery continues. At West Dudley Road, there is parking and picnic tables as well as canoe access to the river. On the far side of the road and river, a side trail bypasses an unsafe railroad bridge and good trail continues to Mill Road where there is parking. In this later section, ties remain in a few places, but these are paralleled by dirt roadways. There are also benches and interpretive markers. Good trail continues beyond Mill Road for 0.3 miles to the state line. Then, there follows 3.4 miles of undeveloped route in Thompson, Connecticut, still railroad owned. When the route reenters Dudley, Massachusetts, cleared trail continues for 3/4 mile to just west of Carpenter Rd., where it becomes overgrown with rails remaining. There is trail access and on road parking at Blue Herron Road. The Carpenter Road bridge is closed and scheduled to be replaced with a ramped fill in 2017. Overgrowth continues for about 1/4 mile to Rte. 12 where cleared trail resumes to the French River Bridge. There is parking at Rte. 12. The French River Bridge is undecked and overgrown trail is on the east side for the short distance to the junction with the French River Greenway. Good progress has been made on the Massachusetts sections. More is pending.
I just discovered this rail trail. Not knowing what to expect I took my fat bike for a spin. I love how you can branch on and off the trail. It is a nice change from and out and back ride. Though being a small trail it is a great senic ride. I will ride this trail again in the near future.
Rode both portions on 9/29/13, a beautiful autumn Sunday afternoon. I started at the parking area just east of Brimfield and rode east to the a point where a bridge is missing over what I think was the Quinebaug River. The main trail was 2.6 mi one way, beautifully maintained hard gravel surface, what I thought was perfect for a family outing - either on bikes or walking. On the way back I diverted off the trail and followed the Holland Connector, shown on the locally available Corp of Engineers map, and found "Curtis Island", a piece of history from King Phillips War. I ended up with about 10 miles on return to the car. This part of the adventure was very fun and scenic, although short for an average dirt road rider. The surface was very accommodating for my cyclocross bike - riders of mountain bikes, kids bikes and even road bikes with fatter tires will have a fine time here. The terrain is dead flat, of course. Incidentally, this area has a fantastic canoe/kayak trail - looks like a huge amount of fun for boaters.
I then proceeded to the Westville Lake Recreation are in Southbridge to ride the eastern portion. This was also a great find - parking in the recreation area lot (along with LOTS of other people) I rode a very pretty 1.2 mile section of the GTT to the west, paralleling the Quinebaug River. Returning to the parking lot, I rode a published loop around the lake, bikes allowed, the first part of which is the eastern most portion of the GTT. Similar surface conditions - great for kids and families, fine for everything including road bikes with fatter tires. On the return from the dam on the southeastern side of the lake - surface was fine, but the trail is a little narrower and hillier, so caution for pedestrians is advised.
Sum total - great easy afternoon, very pretty scenery. Total mileage ended up as 16.3.
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