Admission to State Parks and Forests will be free on May 22nd and 23rd, which is great if you want to be around hundreds of other people taking advantage of a time sensitive offer. Who can be blamed for wanting to visit the beach for free, rather than shell out $14 for parking during the season?
Still, we have many consistently free or low-cost recreation options that do not involve long drives. The Riverfront is one of them.
The paved and unpaved trails along the Connecticut River are among my favorite places to walk and bike because they are typically not crowded, except for days when major events are happening there. The unpaved trails are fine for walking, though my point of comparison is always the trails that I walked on during an adventure course in college. These were places in Eastern Connecticut that barely qualified as trails, were big on root structure (as in, roots leaping out of the ground), and were suddenly intersected by spring flood rivers. I donít remember signing a waiver, though today, Iím quite sure I would have to do so before each and every class. Anyway, the Riverfront trails are cakewalk, or shall I say, Sculpture Walk.
If you take the narrower unpaved trails, youíll notice a small sandy area along the banks of the river. There are also signs demanding that people run. Well, that would be the Amelia Bedelia interpretation, anyway.
The wider, more formal trail eventually turns from dirt to rock. Some cyclists do not care for this kind of surface. To that, I say invest in less wimpy tires.
The section of the path closer to Charter Oak Landing has more incline, but itís not so terrible that one can not simply dismount and push her bike up the hill if necessary. There is also a playground on this end, a boat launch, and entrance to the bike lane/pedestrian lane on the Charter Oak Bridge. The trip also takes you past some of the more interesting graffiti in the area, which is to say, people have done more than just put up tags.
Besides meandering aimlessly on the paths or looking at the sculpture art, there are a number of free events and performances. At the Plaza, there are ballet, salsa, jazz, and Hartford Pops Band performances planned for this summer. There are also several cultural/ethnic celebrations including Celtic, Caribbean, Indian, Asian, and new this year, Puerto Rican. Okay, so the food is not free, but it costs nothing to walk around and enjoy the aromas.
But back to the totally unstructured activities. In the parks, there are picnic tables and grills, along with pits in which to place used coals.
Thereís a beach volleyball area for those inclined to leaping around, as well as lots of shaded areas for those not so much inclined as reclined.
There are any number of entrance points to the Riverfront, if one does not mind leaping over embankments. I would suggest, instead, sticking with one of the four easier access points. Charter Oak Landing and Riverside Park both have parking. Entering via the Riverfront Plaza is probably easiest on foot or bicycle, though you could try to navigate downtown parking. Thereís a hidden entrance on Van Dyke Avenue. Itís marked on Google Maps as a road called Riverside Park. Look for a small road just past the utilities. Itís often gated shut. This would be an entrance for pedestrians or cyclists. If you see this, go left for a smooth trail or right for a steeper, rockier trail. If you bear right here, you with wind up by the hidden entrance/exit.
Reprinted with permission of Kerri Provost, author of the blog RealHartford.
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