Bienvenue à Woonsocket

As I’ve mentioned previously, it’s nice to have a destination at the end of one’s bike ride. Of the three big bike paths spreading out from Providence, the East Bay Bike Path has the best end-point attractions with its variety of restaurants within a few blocks of the end of the path in Bristol. The Washington Secondary ends rather unceremoniously with the pavement just running out, however, one can always stop at Trader Joe’s on the way home to pick up a few things. As far as scenery goes, The Blackstone Valley Bike Path is my favorite, so although it was a little cool this Veteran’s Day, I decided to take advantage of the day off and enjoy a ride to Woonsocket. It winds along the Blackstone River and the old canal, with no real hills and almost no road crossings. However, it ends at a parking lot and what I call the state’s most useless bike rack:

I took a break here on my ride and found that the rack is actually too small for 700c wheels to properly fit. It doesn’t really matter since there is no reason for anyone to use this rack – it’s at a parking lot. I’ve complained about this rack before, sorry.

Moving on.

I’m a bit map-obsessed: I can stare at google maps for hours, just panning around at the different roads – I think it has something to do with my desire to travel. I’d always noticed that along with the Blackstone Path, Woonsocket apparently has another bike path running through it.

The dark-green road is the Blackstone path coming up from the southeast, but I’d always wondered about the two dark green paths that start just north of the Massachusetts border. First, I would have to get through the town.

Like many former mill towns in New England, Woonsocket has seen better days. Nevertheless, it still has an active main street (with a few empty store fronts), and some great buildings including the train station, once an important stop on the Providence – Worcester Railroad:

Of course, the people train doesn’t stop in Woonsocket anymore, instead  Woonsocketers wait for the RIPTA bus while huddled beneath a nearby railroad bridge. Sometimes I think that bus travel is designed to be as demeaning as possible. Here’s High Street:

It’s hard to see in the distance there, but the building at the end of the street has “Bienvenu à Woonsocket” on the side (is the last ‘e’ unnecessary? I’ll let the French speakers in the audience let me know.) You can see a better picture of the sign at this page on Wikipedia. Woonsocket once claimed to be “the most French city in the US.” The population was 60% French Canadian in 1900, with about 40% claiming French Canadian heritage today.

I had an energy bar with me, but sometimes it’s nice to stop at a local coffee shop for a snack. Yelp coverage is pretty sparse, as it often is outside of the gentri-sphere, so my magic futurephone didn’t have any suggestions for me. Instead, I went the olde fashionede way and biked up and down High Street a couple of times before settling on The Cakery. This simple coffeshop/bakery is not nearly as good as the Bee Hive in Bristol, but I was able to enjoy a cup of coffee and a cookie for less than $2.00. It may not be worth a 17 mile bike trip, but it’s worth an extra 2 miles once you are at the end of the path.

Back to our destination, the mysterious bike path on the other side of the border. I do like the “bicycling” feature on Google Maps, but I don’t quite understand why it hasn’t been integrated into my futurephone’s mapping software. This caused me to wander around for a while in search of the mystery path.

Hmm, what’s that little road heading southeast from Rocco Dr? Did I miss the secret entrance?

Let’s use the CarFreePVD skycam satellite to enhance this image.

hmm. Here’s what that looked like from ground level:

The path marked on the map would theoretically be parallel to the wooden fence there. However, it does not exist, it’s just somebody’s backyard with no indication that there could be a public way. I’m a fairly adventurous cyclist, but I don’t really like riding across somebody’s backyard. However, I will ride down a private road occasionally. And that’s what I did next in order to find this:

A “bike trail” completely unpaved and covered in leaves. Probably not good for a road bike with 700c X 23 tires. As you can see from the map images above, this is the “Southern New England Trunkline Trail” described as a “crushed stone and ballast” trail. It also has a couple of miles of moguls and several unsafe bridges. has a few reviews of the trail by people who drove there to use their mountain bikes.  Off-road cycling just doesn’t appeal to me. It’s definitely not a path that could be used for regular bicycle transportation. Should I alert google maps, or would that just cause it to languish in even more obscurity? It was kind of fun hunting for the trail, but a disappointment to see that I could not ride on it. Oh well, I guess I could always get a cyclocross bike.

So, back to Providence. On my way back through Woonsocket, I took a few more shots:

Is there a name for the genre of painting a picture of a building on the side of another building? I guess it’s kind of a tromper l’oeil, but I wasn’t particularly trompered. Near this building was a lovely (but unnecessary) bike hitching post:

This would have been useful in front of The Cakery, but it was useless here.

A bridge over the Blackstone River...

... with helpful signs

The sign in the median is for the reduntantly named "Hamlet Village"

The George Washington Highway (aka Rt-116) over the Blackstone

Ashton Mill Lofts at sunset

I even saw a couple of deer at the southern end of the bike path (just below the top fence rail).

It was a great way to spend the holiday. Only 45 miles total, but I was sure I would get some more miles in this weekend when I saw that the temperature would be in the 60’s! Unfortunately, I caught a cold and I’ve been sitting inside for the last couple of days while watching cyclists in t-shirts ride up and down Hope Street. Probably the last 60 degree day of the season… grrrr…..


4 responses to “Bienvenue à Woonsocket

  1. “Bienvenu” is, indeed, hilariously wrong. If you and spouse are free for Xmas, I promise to get drunk and insist on explaining why as you both avert your eyes in embarrassment.

    • I thought that maybe the final “e” was obscured by something, but in looking again, it appears that they left it out (or it faded… who knows). I’ll have to take another trip up there to take a closer look and possibly redeem the reputation of the Woonsocketers (Woonsocketois?) By the way, some Rhode Islanders jokingly refer to the city by pronouncing it with the emphasis on the last syllable, that is to say, with a French accent.

      Drunken foreign language pedantry is the best kind!

  2. Interesting what you write about the Trunkline that runs parallel to Rocco Drive !
    I live on Rocco Drive and the photo you posted USED to be a public way !!!! until the people to the right of that tree built that house and claimed the right of way as their lawn !!!!! now even the people on Rocco no longer have access to the Trunkline 😦
    at least not without tromping across their lawn and risking getting bitten by their dog !
    too bad cuz they’ve recently improved the path and put down a thick layer of mulch ! still not really bike-able but an awful nice stroll !

    • Thanks Marita, that’s very interesting. It’s interesting to know that someone could just claim a public right-of-way as their own like that. If no one makes a counter-claim I guess they can get away with it. It is kind of difficult to find the Trunkline without a GPS that shows bike paths – there certainly aren’t any signs. I hope to check it out again someday on a more appropriate bike – it certainly goes on for quite a distance compared to some of the paved bike paths around here.

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