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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.
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