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Grand Trunk Trail is part of a larger trail network, the Titanic Rail Trail, which will stretch more than 60 miles through south-central Massachusetts and the northeastern corner of Connecticut along the approximate route of the never completed Southern New England Railroad. Much of the Titanic Rail Trail approximates the route using parallel trolley and railroad grades.
The trail’s name stems from the Grand Trunk Railroad of Canada, which financed the railroad venture. In 1912, the president of the railway company, Charles M. Hays, died on the famous ill-fated ship, which inspired the trail system’s name.
The Grand Trunk Trail part of the system will run through Palmer, Brimfield, Sturbridge, and Southbridge. It’s currently open in two short disconnected sections.
In Brimfield, the hard-packed gravel pathway winds through a heavily forested area and parallels the Trolley Line Trail. There is also a spur that heads south to Holland.
Farther east, another section winds through wooded land along the Quinebaug River from Ed Calcutt Bridge to the Westville Dam, linking the towns of Sturbridge and Southbridge. The Westville Lake Recreation Area along the way offers a popular spot for picnicking, fishing, and boating.
On the east edge of Southbridge and into Dudley are three pieces of the Quinebaug Valley Rail Trail which is also part of the Titanic system. These follow the abandoned bed of the Southbridge Branch Railroad. Going east, the first is the Sandersdale section of 0.2 paved miles along Route 131 near the junction with Route 169.
The second is the Sandersdale – Dudley section of 4.1 unpaved miles which runs from near the Route 131 intersection with the Dudley River Road in Sandersdale to the Connecticut state line at Quinebaug, CT. The third section is in eastern Dudley and runs for 1.2 miles from the Connecticut state line to an undecked bridge over the French River just east of Route 12. Planning is underway to repair and deck this bridge which will bring the trail into Webster.
East of Southbridge, another piece of the Titanic Rail Trail system runs for 22 miles between Franklin and Douglas and is known as the Southern New England Trunkline Trail. At its west end at the Connecticut border, that trail connects to the Airline State Park Trail, which travels southwest for 53 miles to the town East Hampton.
Brimfield: Two parking lots are available on this section: one on the south side of Route 20 (a half-mile east of downtown Brimfield) and the other on the south side of Five Bridge Road.
Southbridge: Parking is available at Marjorie Lane and in the Westville Lake Recreation Area.
Sturbridge: Parking is available at Wallace Road.
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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