As an outdoor attraction in the region, the Greenway already ranks near the top, along with the Farmington River, said Nancy Anstey, executive director of the Farmington Valley Visitors Association. The Avon-based association promotes tourism and economic development.
If the long-range goal of extending the trail south to New Haven and north to Northampton, Mass., is met, she said, it potentially would be an enormous magnet for tourists -- complete with inn-to-inn bike tours like the ones that draw thousands of cyclists to Cape Cod and Vermont each year.
``I think it's going to be extraordinary,'' Anstey said.
Meanwhile, the trail gets markedly busier as each new section is opened. Perhaps the most dramatic example came in June, when the once-rusted, abandoned bridge over the Farmington River in Farmington was finally renovated. Lined by new, black wrought-iron railings, the 50-foot-high, 400-foot-long span provides stunning views of the river valley. Built-in concrete benches extend over the edge of the deck so sightseers can relax while joggers and bikers pass by unimpeded.
``On weekends it's packed; even weekdays it's pretty busy,'' said Farmington Police Chief Michael Whalen, who details some of his bicycle-certified officers to patrol parts of the trail. ``Since the bridge opened,'' he said, ``there are people who go there just to sit.''
A Granby family, Jim and Barb Blanchette and their four children, biked from Simsbury to Farmington on a recent afternoon just to see the new bridge.
``It's a long ride with the kids, but it's really worth it -- this is fabulous,'' Barb Blanchette said after reaching the span.
``You see kids, older people, families. It's great. Now our parking lot down here on Brickyard Road is always full in the late afternoon or on weekends,'' said Farmington Police Officer Troy Williams, riding bike patrol along the trail on a recent Monday afternoon. ``It's definitely not like this isn't being used.''
Williams is not alone in being struck by the extraordinary range of people who use the trail: hard-core exercise types zipping by on road bikes, senior citizens strolling leisurely, toddlers on tricycles pedaling alongside grandparents, young couples holding hands, speed walkers and joggers.
At mid-day during the sunny summertime, the Farmington River and Collinsville bridges are typically the busiest spots. But even on a rainy morning in May or an overcast, drizzly afternoon during a humid stretch of August, the trail is busy almost everywhere.
At lunchtime on a muggy, late-July weekday, a gray-haired bicyclist slowly carries two sacks of groceries through Avon; a young man wheels a unicycle near Unionville; two teenage rollerbladers skate in East Granby; and a group of Simsbury office workers take a lunchtime walk, their company IDs dangling from shirt pockets.
A team of serious runners from Hartford Life in Simsbury hits the trail most days at lunch break, said Kurt Bauer, a worker there who is a member of the running group. Some even used a measuring wheel to mark off quarter-mile spots along the route.
``Some guys use it for pretty hard-core training sessions. They'll do speed-work sessions, say 12 quarter-mile repeats,'' Bauer said.
``In Simsbury, it seems everywhere you go you've got hills. But the trail is flat. That's great for beginning walkers or runners; it's not as demanding as going up a steep hill,'' Bauer said.
Marlo Hitriz of Bristol, a 27-year-old former environmental consultant turned bartender, regularly traverses the stretch of trail above the new bridge in Farmington to Unionville to the south.
``It's beautiful,'' she said. ``I think they did a really good job.''
Like many users of the trail interviewed recently, Hitriz said she would gladly pay a small fee -- in some states, Rails to Trails users are asked to contribute a few dollars each year -- to help cover the costs of maintenance and sweeping.
The easy terrain of the trail is one reason it draws so many rollerbladers and bikers.