As I mentioned Tuesday, this post is a little bit of an exercise for me. I don’t normally work with a lot of photos in one post, and I don’t think I’ve ever tried to describe a “destination” before. I’m not sure that The Windsor Locks Canal is much of a destination; I mean I wouldn’t travel to Connecticut just to see it. But, it is one of my favorite places.
The official website says that construction started on the canal in 1827. It also says that “Charles Dickens was a notable visitor who passed through the canal on February 7, 1842.” It’s probably good that Mr. Dickens rode through after the canal was operational as opposed to as it was being built, as I’m not sure he would have appreciated to conditions under which men labored. But this isn’t a post about labor. It also isn’t a post about futility, which could also be used to characterize the Windsor Locks and other canals built in that era, since the railroads made them obsolete by the late 1840’s But the Windsor Locks Canal survived. Its longevity is the result of a good design which incorporated stone into the design of the locks and as lining of the canal walls.
I am very glad they built this to last.
For as long as I’ve lived in Windsor Locks, the path that the mules once used to pull boats along the 4 ½ mile canal has been “paved” for walkers and cyclists. I put paved in quotes because, back in the early days you had to look pretty hard to find more than a few feet of contiguous pavement. At some point in the 90’s, the State of CT started talking about making the area around the canal into a State Park. They passed some legislation and put up a few signs, but the bulk of the plans were tabled due to our perennial budget crisis. It’s OK; they had enough money to repave the path. That was welcome relief to our family.
Shortly after our daughter started riding a two-wheeler, we started riding the canal path. Most people begin their ride from the north end, in Suffield, CT. There’s a large parking lot there, a porta-potty and one of the best views of and from the canal are at the north locks. We usually begin our ride from the south end, near the abandoned and half-burnt Montgomery manufacturing building.
Starting from the lower end, the path and the sights ease you into the canal experience since there is so much land on the eastern side of the path, that you can’t see the river. This land is home to waterfowl and many small animals. We have stopped to watch as a mother duck nudges her ducklings into the water and we have been made to stop by a mother goose. Geese, in case you aren’t aware, can, be, mean. I guess any mother can be mean if she thinks her children are threatened, but no other animal has ever pecked at my chain as I was riding past. These days, I simply wait at a good distance.
The Connecticut River and the canal get close enough to see together as you approach the railroad bridge that crosses both waterways. We always stop at this bridge. We always take pictures and for the longest time, we paid fun homage to Jenn and Ken who professed their love for each other in a bit of harmless vandalism. Unfortunately, the paint outlasted the love affair and now we have a good laugh as we drive over the updated message. I should mention that the water is usually not as high as it is in the center photo below, but it was the first time my wife rode with me. It was pretty scary and she wasn’t happy.
The canal was built to help barge traffic navigate around the Enfield Rapids. A dam at the north end fed water into the upper locks and provided the necessary depth for further travel upstream. Since the arrival of the railroad, the dam has been allowed to gradually fail. It’s hard to say if the canal will retain a source of water if the dam fails completely but it’s a slow process so I think we have a few bike rides left.
The canal elevation rises only about 15’ along the 4 ½ mile journey so the ride is easy. It’s also an easy walk, so you have to be prepared to deal with walkers, joggers as well as opposing traffic. You also have to watch for photographers as the canal is a rich source of natural beauty.
My favorite spot on the canal is where it crosses Stony Brook. The brook is about to enter the CT River, but it cuts through about 25’ below the level of the canal and its towpath. In what must have been amazing engineering feat in the day, the builders of the canal constructed a viaduct to carry the canal over the stream. I am still impressed with this crossing, even though the original 2-lane wooden viaduct has been replaced by a single-lane concrete version.
My favorite day on the canal was one very hot and still morning. The surface of the canal was as smooth as glass and the rising sun was at the perfect angle to create some amazing reflections. You can see the entire set of these photos on my Flickr site, but this is one of my favorites. In case you haven’t guessed, the masthead photo for this blog is also from the canal. It was taken on that same still day.
I would leave you with an invitation to walk the canal if you are ever in north-central Connecticut, but there’s a catch. The canal path is closed to human traffic from November 1st to April 1st since the area around the canal is a Bald Eagle nesting area. For the past three years the ban has been extended on the lower end of the path until the eaglets have left the nest. It’s disappointing to have to turn around, but it’s for a good cause.