Trail along Willimantic River
Potter Meadow Preserve
This Joshua's Trust preserve encompasses 34 acres of floodplain with an easy mile-long loop trail that follows the Ten Mile River, then the shore of the Willimantic River, then back to the start. Most of the trail is dry, but it can be flooded in high water. Much of the area is overgrown with invasive shrubs, so the best seasons to visit are when the leaves are off the trees and shrubs, and the rivers and historic features are easy to see. The preserve area was formerly used as pasture by the Potter family. When Commerce Drive was created, this land was donated to Joshua's Trust.
From the bridge over the Willimantic River on Route 66 in Columbia, drive west a short distance and turn left onto Cards Mill Road. Immediately turn left onto Commerce Drive and go three-tenth mile to the end. Park along the cul-de-sac or the road.
The yellow-blazed trail begins at the edge of the cul-de-sac. Climb over the guard rail and walk down a short entrance trail to the loop trail. Here you can go right over moist ground with an option of a short walk using a shortcut trail across the loop. Going to the left offers a longer, but drier, trail. The description below is a walk around the entire loop without the shortcut.
The Old Turnpike
Turning right takes you past a vernal pool on the left, where wood frogs make their "quacking" calls in early spring. Where the trail curves left, there is a side trail to the old turnpike, a raised roadway with a stone wall that marks the south boundary of the preserve. This road was the preferred way west from Windham because it avoided crossing the Willimantic River, instead crossing the narrower Ten Mile River. General Rochambeau used this road (known as Middletown Turnpike and Old Willimantic Road) on his travels across Connecticut during the Revolutionary War. In 1853, a turnpike company established the Columbia Turnpike on this road to link Windham Center to East Hampton. A toll house stood at the corner of Bridge Street and Pleasant Street in Willimantic. The turnpike company, like many others, did not survive long. The 1938 Hurricane washed out the bridge over the Ten Mile River, and the road was discontinued, with ownership passing to private landowners. It is not possible to walk this road today, but you can imagine Revolutionary troops, horses and eventually cars, passing by. Now trees are slowly filling in the roadway.
Ten Mile River
Ten Mile River
Return to the loop trail and continue to where it curves left along Ten Mile River. To the right you can see the former turnpike's bridge abutments on the river bank. A former beaver dam still partially blocks the flow here, and the river spills over it with a pleasant sound. Ten Mill River meanders over the level floodplain in wide loops, and there is a mellow mood along this placid water. The trail continues along the river onto drier land. On the left is an red-blazed trail that is the shortcut across the loop. It provides a short walk back to the entrance and passes by a small marsh on the left where spring peepers gather in spring and ducks nest and feed on the shallow water.
Continue along the yellow-blazed loop trail as it follows the Ten Mile River to where it empties into the Willimantic River. A short side trail to the right takes you to this river junction. The main trail curves left to go upstream along the Willimantic River. If you look downstream, you can see the Air Line railroad bridge high above the river. This abandoned bridge will be converted to a pedestrian crossing to link the Air Line State Park Trail with the Charter Oak Greenway and East Coast Greenway across the river in Willimantic. The preserve's trail ambles along the Willimantic River with views of woods across the river and of a small island, which is accessible in low water.
Rounding the Circle
The trail eventually turns left to leave the river and pass through an oak forest on dry, sandy soil. After crossing a small stream, the trail passes a former sand-and-gravel operation on the right. The red-blazed shortcut trail comes in on the left at a short distance before you reach the entrance trail.
Top photo: J. Hill, Bottom photo: V. Wetherell
This Willimantic River Greenway Parks and Trails Guide was produced by the Willimantic River Alliance and WINCOG. Information in this guide reflects conditions and features as of Spring, 2008. Since conditions change over time, the Alliance is not responsible for changes at this site. This guide was funded with support from the The Last Green Valley (formerly known as the Quinebaug-Shetucket Heritage Corridor, Inc.).