Trail Biking Farmington River Trail

Early Morning on The Farmington, Kenneth Casper, 2012
Early Morning on The Farmington, Kenneth Casper, 2012
The Farmington River Trail is a national treasure. In fact it is registered as a National Scenic Waterway. The trail is a 26 mile loop branching off from the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail which runs from New Haven across the State and into Massachusetts. Tucked along The Farmington River the trail meanders past 19th century mills, dams and waterfalls, rapids and ponds, forests and prairies. Since I moved to Connecticut I've been told by dozens of natives about little towns close to where I live in Fairfield that represent that quality which they call "very New England". Southport,Redding, and Westport look more like inaccessible estate villages hidden behind high walls.

Farmington, Avon, and Collinsville were the first towns in CT that I visited where I was overwhelmed by how "very New England" they were. You really get a sense of place as you make your way along The Farmington River Trail.

Source: via Kenneth on Pinterest

Early Morning on The Farmington, Watson, 1864
Impressionism: Capturing the elusive qualities of light that flirt with the soul, capturing a moment that is timeless but tells time, capturing the essence of place without defining it. As New England became powered by the inventions of The Industrial Revolution, the views of New England provided by artists evolved in flavor and introduced subjective content.

"What does it mean to you?" Such a question has no meaning in the art and life of early America. But, it is the primary question we ask ourselves today as we browse contemporary art or look out upon pastoral scenes on a weekend get-away. That subjectivity and individualism that now guides our actions, decisions, and comprehension of the world - that question which defines our truth - that, which we call American Exceptionalism does not exist but for the foundational works of Impressionists such as Dawson Dawson-Watson. So, it was early in the morning  when Dawson-Watson sat between a railroad and a working river in 1864 and painted a question to himself - Early Morning on The Farmington - "what does it mean to me?" "Can I capture personal meaning in a view of the natural world?"

Turbine Gears, Farmington River, Colinsville CT, Farmington River Trail
Turbine Gears, Farmington River, Colinsville CT
You could say that my experience biking on The Farmington River Trail left an impression on me. So much so that I did the 30 mile loop and returned the next weekend to do it again. It was like leaving the world behind and entering a dreamscape.

I began to see light and reflections as tangible objects. I began to see the rusted abandoned machinery of the industrious past, divorced from an intended purpose, as natural forms painted in laughing colors.

The turbine gears I photographed to the left are solid tangibles of human invention juxtaposed on the intangible reflections of tree and sky. The reflections are Rothko-like color abstractions, appearing to me like wide swaths of oil paint rather than delicate lucid reflections of light off a rare still moment on The Farmington.

Turbine Parts, Farmington, Farmington River Trail
Turbine Parts, Farmington, Farmington River Trail
What do the images mean to me? Nostalgia has a lot to do with it. There are memories encased here which are impossible for me to own. But, they feel like my own.

Maybe I am drawn to these discarded parts because my father was a metal worker who forged tools and parts like the ones before me. The turbine gears stand like monuments - like gravestones telling the short story of a life once lived.

Turbine Parts, Farmington, Farmington River Trail
Turbine Parts, Farmington, Farmington River Trail
I remember a conversation I had with him about investment molds, and the history of forging metals, and die casting. Elisha Root invented die casting here in Collinsville. Some of the shards of parts in these pictures were stamped by dies cast in nearby tool and die shops - descendants of Elisha Root.

Shortly after high school, I worked two summers in a die casting and metal stamping shop. I will always have a nostalgic love for the sweet smell of smoldering machine grease  and the ground shaking thump of the stamping hammers.

When I see these giant gears I can hear their dull metal clanking as though they were reanimated and alive again.

I laid back on the sandy beach beneath a man made waterfall and I began to hear an old America Singing:

 I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear, Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe
and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deck-
hand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing
as he stands,
The woodcutter's song, the ploughboy's on his way in the morn-
ing, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work,
or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young
fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs

I Hear America Singing, Walt Whitman - 1867

Collins Mill, Collinsville Connecticut, Farmington River Trail
Collins Mill, Collinsville Connecticut
Then, there are other memories that these pictures conjure. There is boyhood, growing up along The Milwaukee River the feeds The World's Toolbox. I read a good chunk of The Brothers Karamazov on the banks of The Milwaukee beneath a dam like the ones interspaced here. The Farmington and The Milwuakee have many similar qualities.

But, memories only go so far. The sweeter they are - the more they are bitter. The Farmington River Trail has enough abstract material to generate new memories. Instead of remembering those sunshiny days of the past, of jumping my dirt bike off piles of limestone in Lime Kiln Park, of great volumous books that I lost myself within - I can let those memories recede and do it all over again for the first time.  Maybe 30 years from now I will come back and the memories will be thick and noxious like paint.

Thirty miles on a bike at a leisurely pace will take you about 3 hours. But, why not make a day of it? Take your time and find that special quality - find out what it means to you.

I spent a few hours lounging and reading East of Eden by a little swimming hole while a rope swing swayed from its tree branch over a deep and crystal pond. The first golden leaves of Autumn gently fell to the river and were carried past at the same slow pace that defined my weekend. Time begins to expand, even as the day marches on and the shadows grow deeper.

Downtown Collinsville Connecticut, 2012, Farmington River Trail
Downtown Collinsville Connecticut, 2012

LaSalle Market, Collinsville Connecticut, Farmington River Trail
LaSalle Market, Collinsville Connecticut, Farmington River Trail
I stopped in Collinsville for a cup of coffee at The LaSalle Market and Deli. I ended up lingering over a pulled pork sandwich and sweet potato waffle fries.

If you are biking through Collinsville, be sure to stop and walk around. There are images worth paying homage to that are not immediately adjacent to the trail. There are plenty of antique stores and general stuff shops generally stuffed with knick-knacks and intriguing stuffs.

If you are just out for a walk, start your trip in Collinsville and you will not be sorry with the views. There is also a still millpond and a shop that rents kayaks.  The kayaking here appears safe and popular with families entertaining young children.

The trail itself is paved and wide. You are always within a short throw from the river and its scenery.

There are a few miles of the trail that go along roads. These roads are not pleasant and not for recreational bikers. There are no shoulders, the traffic travels fast, and there are sharp curves and corners. I would recommend riding with a helmet if you are going to do the full loop. Also, the trail markings are spotty at best on the roadways. Take printed out maps of the area. Cell phone coverage is hit and miss in these valleys. So, do not plan on relying on your GPS maps.

In a few years the trail will be fully constructed, and when it is the communities along it will flourish with tourism business. As it is, the parking lots are overflowing with license plates from across New England - from as far away as Maine. Word has gotten out about this trail. You will hear one or two Boston accents along it. If you arrive after 11am don't expect to get a parking spot at the trail head. Be aware that that there are parking lots every two miles. So, if you do find yourself out of luck - just move on to the next one.

The Farmington River Trail, First Day of Fall 2012
The Farmington River Trail, First Day of Fall 2012
But, you should try to arrive early in the morning anyways. There is a special quality of light at 7am in the Autumn that is unique to this place and time. It is well and good that Dawson Dawson-Watson's Impressionist materpiece hangs in The Florence Griswald Museum nearby. For those who can't wake themselves - they can go to the museum and see what The Farmington looks like. But, there is nothing quite like actually being there. Dawson-Watson described what it meant to him in his Early Morning on The Farmington. But, he left a question unanswered: What does it mean to you?


Address for your GPS: 1010 New Britain Avenue, Farmington Ct
|coordinates: N41.731227,W072.863284|
From Bridgeport1 Hour 15 Minutes
From New Haven1 Hour
From Hartford20 minutes
From New London1 hour
From Providence2 Hours
From New York1.5 Hours


Farmington River Trail

Connecticut and American Impressionists

LaSalle Market and Deli

Collinsville CT

Avon CT

Collinsville Canoe, Kayak, & Bike Rental


Farmington River Trail, Collinsville CT
Farmington River Trail, Collinsville CT
Farmington River Trail, Farmington CT
Farmington River Trail, Farmington CT
Farmington River Trail, Farmington CT
Farmington River Trail, Farmington CT
Farmington River Trail, Collinsville CT
Farmington River Trail, Collinsville CT
Turbine House, Collinsville CT
Turbine House, Collinsville CT
Turbine House, Collinsville CT
Turbine House, Collinsville CT
Turbine Control Parts, Farmington CT
Turbine Control Parts, Farmington CT