June 8, 2016
The Western New England Greenway (WNEG) is newly designated as U.S. Bicycle Route 7 (USBR 7) and connects western Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont on 380 miles of back roads, old-fashioned New England dirt roads, and existing bike trails. The WNEG serves as an international link between two bicycle route systems in two countries: the East Coast Greenway, a 3,000-mile route from Maine to Florida, and the 3,130-mile network, La Route Verte in Quebec, Canada. It also links two iconic cities by bike: New York City and Montreal.
Designating the WNEG as USBR 7 will provide national exposure and bring this exciting new route to many cyclists who would not otherwise be aware of the biking adventures that await them in this region.
The first organized WNEG ride was in August 2013 and in July 2016, the fourth annual ride will again set off from south to north. Some participants will start in New York City and some will ride all the way to Montreal. In honor of the centennial celebration of the National Park Service, there will be an official kick-off celebration at Weir Farm National Historic Site in Wilton, CT.
My name is Terry Burke. My wife, Raymonde, and I have ridden our tandem on all of the WNEG rides to date. Here are our recollections of the 2015 ride from Norwalk, CT to South Hero Island, VT.
Sunday, July 26, we set off from Norwalk, CT in a light drizzle, though the sky cleared within the hour. This first day had the most traffic that we encountered along the entire route, but we were compensated by stupendous scenery along the Saugatuck Reservoir. We stopped for lunch in Bethel, CT — for watermelon at the Still River Trail — and for a press meeting at New Milford, ending the day at our home in Cornwall, CT. It had been a long day, some 65 miles. See Map 1.
We rode five miles to the iconic covered bridge at West Cornwall, CT and then followed River Road, a scenic road which crosses the little-used railway tracks seven times in four miles. Directly to the west of us we could view the beautiful Housatonic River. Crossing the river, we followed meandering back roads to Sheffield, MA and then to Great Barrington, MA. After lunch, we rode past the Norman Rockwell museum and the famous Tanglewood Music Center to Lenox, MA where we spent the night. See Map 2.
It was not a long ride today, about 37 miles to Williamstown, MA. Riders from Berkshire Bike Path Council joined us as we rode to Pittsfield, MA, passing the house where Herman Melville lived and wrote Moby Dick. As we approached the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail — an 11-mile paved trail — we were joined by more local riders. The Ashuwillticook Rail Trail runs from just north of Pittsfield to the center of Adams, MA. The name “Ashuwillticook” is from the Native American name for the south branch of the Hoosic River and translates as “the pleasant river between the hills,” and so it was for our riding group. The Boston and Maine Railroad was a connecting line to North Adams, but with declining use, the line was abandoned 1990. The Ashuwillticook River Trail Committee was formed and gained local and political support to make the 11-mile-long paved trail a reality.
Williamstown is home to Williams College and the Clark Art Institute, founded by the Singer Sewing Machine heirs. The Clark Art Institute, along with the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MassMoCA) and the Williams College Museum of Art, form a trio of significant art museums in the northern Berkshires. See Map 2 and Map 3.
Leaving Williamstown we crossed into Vermont and met with much steeper hills than we had experienced up to now – Vermont is definitely not flat. We had lunch in Bennington after visiting the Bennington Battle Monument and Robert Frost’s grave. From Bennington, we climbed up beautiful East Road for what seemed an eternity. Our climb was rewarded by a long descent into East Arlington, passing along the way Warm Brook Road and Ice Pond Road. We rode though the covered Chiselville Bridge and down to Manchester where we stayed at the home of Robin and Amy Verner who had been riding with us beginning with day one. The Verners’ sponsored a barbecue dinner where we met with local bicycle advocates — another great night. See Map 3.
We rode through Dorset and Pawlett, then on to Poultney, VT, where Horace Greeley had learned the craft of publishing as a “printer’s devil.” Greeley later moved to New York City and founded The New York Tribune, boasting the largest newspaper circulation in America in the mid-1800s. Our night stop was in Fair Haven at the Marble Mansion Inn on the town green. Each room has a literary theme. Raymonde and I had booked the Kipling room and found several books by Rudyard Kipling arranged on the bedside table. See Map 3 and Map 4.
Today’s ride was mainly off pavement on rolling dirt roads along Sunset Lake with a lunch stop on the village green at Buxton’s General Store in Orwell. That afternoon we saw Lake Champlain for the first time and rode down to the lake to take the ferry to Ticonderoga, NY where we stayed for the evening at the Best Western. The small town is dominated by Fort Ticonderoga, captured from the British in 1775 by Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys. See Map 4.
The next morning, the last day of the ride, we rode back to the ferry, crossed over to Vermont, and followed the eastern shore of Lake Champlain. Our relatively flat riding, relatively flat means something else in Vermont, brought us to Vergennes, where Commodore Macdonough built the fleet that defeated the British on Lake Champlain in the War of 1812. After lunch in Vergennes, we rode to Charlotte, stopping at the Old Brick Store, renowned for sandwiches, and headed to the smallest covered bridge in Vermont and then into Shelburne. We arrived in Burlington, VT, our final destination, late in the afternoon and stopped in at Local Motion Trailside Center, the Vermont bicycle/pedestrian advocacy group. That night we all gathered at Rí Rá, the Irish pub on Church Street, for a celebratory dinner. See Map 4 and Map 5.
It was not over yet! On Sunday morning a group of us rode the Causeway Trail that extends into Lake Champlain and took the bike ferry across to South Hero Island. After a visit at the Champlain Apple Farm, we rode back to Burlington. The adventure had ended. See Map 5.
The Western New England Greenway is a wonderful ride. For me the pleasure came from the great route, the changing scenery and, most of all, the company of good friends to share the adventure.
For maps of the WNEG/USBR 7, please visit the Maps & Route Resources page and click on the USBR 7 link under Connecticut, Massachusetts, or Vermont.
Terry Burke is a member of the bicycle committee of the Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Association in Cornwall, Connecticut. He has led rides along the WNEG every year since 2012. This summer marks 44 years with his wife, Raymonde, and he says, “Whatever direction your relationship is going — a tandem will get you there faster!” He has ridden bicycles his entire life and has commuted by bicycle to work in France, Switzerland, and Kenya as well as taking bike trips in many other countries in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Pacific. Now that he is retired, he cycles seven days per week.
Special thanks to Terry, Dan Bolognani, Tom O’Brien, Pat Hare, and Dan McGuinness, among others, for their efforts to create the Western New England Greenway and designate the route as U.S. Bicycle Route 7.
Photos 1, 2, 4, 5, and 9 by Tom O’Brien | Photos 3, 6, 7, and 8 by Terry Burke.