Hockanum River Linear Park Trail
The Town of Vernon is a participant in a larger effort to create a continuous river walk along the Hockanum River as it meanders from its headwaters at Shenipsit Lake through Vernon, Ellington Manchester and East Hartford to the Connecticut River.
One significant step forward in completing the trail network came thanks to a team of Vernon volunteers and Vernon Town Engineer David Smith. Smith designed and the volunteers built a suspension bridge that crosses the Hockanum River just north of where the trail crosses Windsorville Road (Route 74).
Here is a video called Bridging the River about how Hockanum River Trail Suspension Bridge came to be.
Map of the Vernon portion of the Hockanum River Trail north of Dart Hill Road.
The Hockanum River Linear Park
Since 1970, the Town of Vernon has been a participant in a larger effort to create a riverside greenway and trail network along the Hockanum River as it meanders from its headwaters at Shenipsit Lake through Vernon, Ellington Manchester and East Hartford to the Connecticut River. An ambitious project that has required time and patience, the planned Hockanum River Linear Park in Vernon is about 90 percent complete. The trails in the riverside park are generally along easy, flat terrain and enable a relaxed outdoor experience alongside a river environment, all within an urban-suburban setting.
To add interest and increase enjoyment of the Hockanum River Linear Park, the trail network has been enhanced with river viewing areas, benches, picnic tables, information kiosks, historic plaques and interpretive panels. The river is also fishable and is stocked by the State of Connecticut at several points.
The Dart Hill Trail
The Dart Hill Trail section of the park is a connected trail of 2.8 miles along the river that incorporates about 60 acres of town-owned land. The trail continues northerly into Ellington for another mile. Two recently-completed structures, the boardwalk at Pleasantview Marsh and the suspended bridge at Windsorville Road, are highlights of this trail network.
Dart Hill Park South is a 17-acre park site located about midway on this trail section. It has a playscape for children, exercise stations, picnic areas and an open play area for impromptu field games. Easy walking and biking, especially for young children, can be enjoyed on the wide stone dust trail that passes through this site and continues south along the river.
Four parking areas provide easy access to the Dart Hill trail and the river: Pleasantview Marsh Boardwalk trail, 33 Pleasantview Drive; Dart Hill Park South, 680 Dart Hill Road; Dart Hill Park North, 775 Dart Hill Road; and Vernon WTP entrance at 100 Windsorville Rd.
The Rockville Parks
In the more urbanized Rockville section of the Hockanum River, three sitting park areas offer enjoyment of the river environment: (1) the new Gene Pitney Memorial Park on Paper Mill Pond, 19 Grove Street; (2) Corner Park, a small sitting park, also on Paper Mill Pond, East Main Street; and (3) Saxony Mill Park, a sitting and fishing area at 66 West Street. There is also a dog park at this site. Sections of the river in Rockville pass underground, below buildings and roads. These areas present future opportunities to expose the river to daylight and allow public access where feasible, as plans for re-purposing the old mills develop through time.
The Suspended Bridge
One significant step forward in completing the Hockanum River trail network came thanks to a team of Vernon volunteers and Vernon Town Engineer David Smith. Smith designed and built a suspended bridge that crosses the river just north of the trail crossing at Windsorville Road (Route 74). This unique and graceful structure has attracted much public attention. It also makes the important connection between the Vernon Hockanum River trail and Ellington’s section of the river trail.
The suspended bridge is a fine example of the remarkable spirit of community volunteerism that exists in Vernon. The bridge was constructed entirely with volunteer labor! Fifty-three people devoted a total of 1,333 hours over a 7-month period to make the project happen. Much of this labor was provided by the Vernon Greenway Volunteers. Volunteers from Ellington also aided in this project.
To see the engaging story of the building of the David Smith Suspended Bridge by volunteers, check out the video called "Bridging the River," which is linked above.
The Pleasantview Marsh Boardwalk and the Stonedust Trail
A short, but pleasant stroll through a marsh environment along the river’s edge can be had on the 0.1 mile Pleasantview Marsh trail. This trail section has a 600-foot boardwalk with a seating bump-out for quiet sitting, reading, or bird watching, The marsh trail ends at a footbridge that crosses the Hockanum River and connects to the 1-mile Stonedust Trail that continues north to Dart Hill Park.
Now occupied by apartment and housing complexes, the lands along the Stonedust Trail were once prime agricultural and dairying meadows. Remains of stone walls that marked field boundaries and kept grazing cows in place can be seen along the way. A small waterfall and the remains of an old mill are also seen in this section of trail. Three historical plaques and sitting areas along the trail here tell this story of how the land was used during the 1800s and early 1900s.
The Hockanum River Linear Park – a Bit of History
River park planning exploded across the country during the late 1960s and 70s, as part of our country’s efforts to clean up its waters and bring people back to their local rivers. And that same thinking is behind the story of the Hockanum River Linear Park in Vernon.
In 1970, the Manchester Conservation Commission spearheaded the concept of a river trail park along the entire length of the river. In August 1970, the Vernon Town Council approved a resolution enabling the Town of Vernon to join the four-town river park planning effort. In Vernon, the Conservation Commission took the lead role, and organized a subcommittee called the Vernon Hockanum River Linear Park Committee.
A river park along the very polluted, sometimes odorous, Hockanum River was a hard sell to local decision-makers. Very little progress was made towards creation of the river park in the four towns until 1988, when the Connecticut State Legislature appropriated $5.0 million to fund “a river park, a ribbon of green, along the entire length of the Hockanum River.” Vernon’s share was $1.05 million.
The Vernon Hockanum River Linear Park Committee was revitalized. With the Director of Parks and Recreation, the Committee began the work of purchasing land along the river as it became available. The landscape architectural firm, Johnson & Richter, was contracted to create a detailed master plan for the river park.
Piecing together a string of properties along the entire length of the Hockanum River has taken time and patience. Today - some 51 years after the Town Council’s 1970 resolution to join the four-town river park plan - we finally have a clean, fishable river and a viable river park with a trail network that is enjoyed daily by Vernon residents. It is now a river whose time has come – again!