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New Section of Rail Trail to Be Opened for Winter WIN


By Wiley Wood

One of the groups hosting an event when the town celebrates Winter Weekend in Norfolk on Feb. 24 and 25 is the Norfolk Rails to Trails Committee, which has created a new trail on the north side of Haystack State Park and is inviting the public to come try it out.

The new North Brook Trail, as it is known, follows a section of the railway bed whose meandering path through town once carried passengers from Hartford to Canaan and beyond, stopping at Station Place in the center of Norfolk, proceeding north across Shepard Road, then veering west around the far side of Haystack Mountain and on through a cut in the hillside known as Stoney Lonesome down the Blackberry Valley toward North Canaan.

The vision of Bob Gilchrest, chairman of the Rails to Trails Committee, is to widen and resurface the North Brook Trail, with wheelchair-accessible ramps and a parking lot on either end. This section of trail would then form a connecting link between the existing Norfolk Land Trust trail at Stoney Lonesome, which leads west to the Canaan line, and the trails in Barbour Woods to the east, which lead back toward the center of town. An excellent map is available on the Norfolk Rails to Trails website (norfolkrailtrail.org).

The railroad bed, which was abandoned 80 years ago, opens onto a wetland on the north side of Haystack Mountain.

“It’s a beautiful stretch of trail, through a pristine wetland,” Gilchrest says. “When you’re out there, you feel you might be in the middle of Canada, expecting to see a moose. And it’s so quick to get there from the middle of town.”

On a recent visit, there were no moose, but there were ample signs of turkey, deer and coyote, their trails weaving in and out of the surrounding oaks, birches and pines. A pair of grouse sheltering in a scrubby patch in the lee of the trail took off noisily, and Haystack loomed overhead.

The condition of the railbed, which was built in 1870 and abandoned in 1938, is variable. An extensive beaver dam has led to flooding and erosion along one portion, while other portions look as ready as ever to support a passing train, if the encroaching trees could be pruned back a little.

The Rails to Trails Committee, which meets monthly at Town Hall, applied in 2017 for a grant from the state under the Greenways Trail program to rehabilitate the North Brook Trail, which they estimate could cost $200,000. The application was approved but waits for better economic times to be funded, along with a number of similar projects around the state.

Meanwhile, the committee has received several smaller grants from local foundations to pay for preliminary costs, including signage and engineering studies.

Portions of the old railway bed that lie south of the village green are already used for recreation. They include the long straightaway paralleling Rte. 272 just south of town, accessed via the snake-fence field; and a 1.6 mile stretch managed by the Norfolk Land Trust that runs from a trailhead on Grantville Rd. along Smith Pond and the headwaters of the Mad River to Winchester Rd.

The Winter WIN event at the Northbrook Trail is on Saturday, Feb. 24, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Park at the state road-maintenance facility (190 North Street). Road-crossing guards will be on hand to help visitors across Route 272. Skiers, snowshoers, hikers and the general public are welcome. For those who would like to try snowshoeing but don’t have the equipment, there will be snowshoes available. And lots of hot chocolate, according to the organizers.

Photos by Wiley Wood.

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