Hitting the Manhan

Easthampton’s Manhan Rail Trail offers riders a chance to take in a particularly telling series of tableaux. Ride the trail, and you’ll get a tour of old and new Easthampton.

Bike trails often offer seclusion and a close-in tunnel of greenery that doesn’t reveal much besides nature. The Manhan does have many sections like that, particularly as it nears the environs of the Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary. There you’ll find wide-open fields, even a few farms. As the trail nears the Connecticut River and the Oxbow, you can branch off on foot to take in nature trails, one of which heads down to the riverbank. Time it just right, and you’ll enjoy a stunning sunset view that encompasses the Oxbow and distant hills alike.

Venture toward the center of town on the Manhan, however, and the verdant scenery is broken up. You pass a few neighborhoods, some businesses, even the ruinous (if compelling) remains of an old mill building. The new Easthampton band pavilion and its park show up before long, nestled pleasantly between the old mill pond and yet more mill buildings, these filled with new businesses of many kinds.
The trail then crosses Union Street, right in the middle of Easthampton’s busiest quarter. It’s there you’ll find the most interesting diversions, and the hub of the town’s economic revival. You’ll also find some particularly good eats.

Right off the trail, near an impressive mural and a new park full of cool bench designs, is the Manhan Cafe, which borrows its name from the same river as the bike trail. The Manhan is a no-nonsense coffee shop, offering robust Fair Trade brews, breakfast sandwiches and tasty baked goods. The cafe also hosts musical performances regularly. It’s a great place to fill the tanks before hitting the trail again.
Head a little further off the bike path onto Cottage Street, and two more places offer stellar choices.

On the cool side, you’ll find Mt. Tom Ice Cream, an often-busy spot with a freezer full of excellent choices, all made on the premises. If your timing is on, the specials may include “maple bacon” or “Mexican chocolate.” It’s kid-friendly, and full of candy that offers a fine respite for the discriminating consumer (their website points out that their gummy bears are “the good kind from Europe”). The place also sports an espresso bar, for those who can’t get by on sugar high alone.

A few doors down, you’ll find the Sunrise Pastry Shop. It may not look particularly showy on the outside, but what you’ll find inside is excellent, from a great array of sandwich choices to, well, pastries. It’s a busy lunchtime spot, but well worth the wait on a busy day.

Once you’ve refueled, you can take in the rest of the trail as it heads south. The trail offers great views of the Williston Northampton School, an exclusive boarding school in a lovely spot just out of downtown.

The remainder of the trail is heavily wooded, nice and cool even in the summer, and ends at a residential street. The trail continues, unpaved, toward Southampton from there. Current plans call for the paved portion of the trail to make its way southward as well, though timing is uncertain because of removal of asbestos from the trail bed and other delays.

Author: James Heflin

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