10 11 / 2013
I should preface this entry by saying that we really didn’t enjoy Larkin State Park Trail today, so we only managed about a third of it. As a result I probably won’t spend much time delving into the history. The DEEP seem to love it, it has one of the longest web site entries I’ve seen them write, but their suggestion that it is perfectly explored by cycling is really not correct. The trail is surfaced appalling in the original energy sapping cinder and sand, alternating with small pointy stones, meaning that cycling is an unpleasant drain on the legs throughout. If you choose to start at the east end you’ll need a mountain bike - we had to drive to the next crossing with Rob’s sturdy hybrid. The trail goes constantly uphill here at least until Towantic Hill Road, which was where we gave up. Looking at google maps terrain, we may actually have done the worst of the climb and surfacing by then.
This uphill struggle was actually a pretty remarkable feat of engineering when the railroad was built in the 1880s. There are long sections of earthen viaduct (as described previously in the Air Line State Park Trail), rock blasts, and the climb is 3 feet in 100 at some spots. It must have been pretty slow going, both to construct and to travel.
The line loops all over the place to avoid the worst gradients, and as a result, business was finished pretty quickly once cars started to grow in popularity in the 1930s. Unusually, it was gifted to the state soon after specifically for the purpose of recreation, instead of lying derelict for a number of years.
There’s not much in the way of views. The woods are pretty scrappy by Connecticut standards, and the most interest comes from peering into people’s gardens. 5 foot statues of Jesus & the Virgin Mary on one side of the road, dog on a zipline on the other. No, I didn’t take photos of crazy things in people’s gardens )and the dog on the zipline was clearly enjoying himself).
If you want a bit of railroad history coupled with a fun bike ride, go to Hop River instead. I highly recommend you visit Larkin on foot (I could run faster than we were cycling on most of the uphill sections) or not at all.
09 11 / 2013
I’ve wanted to climb Lamentation Mountain since I first arrived in Connecticut. Of course, I didn’t realise it was called Lamentation Mountain until last week, but it’s one of those tantalising trap rock ridges that promises great views from the highway every time you drive past, rushing on your way to Hartford. The only lament, from a State Park point of view, is that the State owns a pathetically small piece of the mountain in a very weird place on the western flank, so to really explore the mountain, you have to venture onto non-State lands.
The Forest & Park Association have run a couple of their famous blue trails through the mountain, but the majority of the mountain and the adjacent land of Giuffrida Park is owned by the town of Meriden, through their Open Spaces program. They’ve done a wonderful job of trail blazing, trail making, and signage throughout the area.
From the name, you’d expect Lamentation Mountain to have a chequered, and perhaps dastardly history. In fact, it’s not actually that interesting, but it is old. The mountain was named in 1636 after a member of the Wethersfield Colony got lost up there for three days. He must have had a pretty bad sense of direction, because there’s a great view for miles from the top of the hill!
Since those sorry days, people have failed to find gold, built a reservoir to process silver, and finally used the reservoir to provide the most valuable natural resource of all - clean water. It serves as a back up to the town of Meriden today. The only Lament there has been over the last 20 or so years is the constant battle against development and industry faced by the Mountain. Housing applications, quarries and ATVs have plagued the area, which is not helped by being found on the border of three separate towns. It’s a shame, because once you climb the trails away from Crescent Lake, Lamentation Mountain is truly magical, and feels way further from the beaten track than it actually is.
We started our day in the car park at the south west corner of Crescent Lake. It was a little chilly and so we took the direct route up Chauncey Peak first. This trail, market blue and yellow on the trail map, is super steep and pretty eroded. With the leaves down from the trees, it was pretty difficult even for fit young legs.
Still, the warning signs posted at multiple locations along the trail were a little excessive…
I would probably recommend the blue trail, which zig zags a bit more as it climbs towards the 688 foot summit. The view surpasses all expectations for such a small hill. You can count off East Rock, Sleeping Giant and the Hanging Hills of Meriden as you direct your view north from the Sound. In the final days of a spectacular autumn, there were bright reds, yellows and oranges patchworked across the whole region, with white church spires and the office towers of Hartford poking out in the distance.
The route down takes you down the flatter side of the hill, across a couple of rocky re-entrants…
…and past a large but impressively landscaped Middletown Quarry, and only has a couple of hairy moments where you can’t see where you’re placing your feet.
The woods here are gorgeous, no greenbriar, no rhododendrons, just open forest floors on one side of the trail…
…and incredibly steep rock faces on the other.
As the blue heads down the hill, there’s a rather incredible car wreck. Looking at the steering column and the tire width, it must have been there for at least 40 years. We have no idea how it made it all the way up there - the little car that could, and then didn’t, ever again.
The blue trails joins an unmarked trail running north from the lake, and if you look to the right, you can see a deep canal cutting from the early 20th century.
From here we took the blue trail to the red, then red to the yellow, which took us up onto the ridge of Lamentation Mountain. These trails on the east side of the ridge are on the shallow side of the ridge, and much easier to handle than the one up Chauncey. We considered a brief foray north to actually visit the State owned portion of the mountain, but decided instead just to take in the view from the blue trail as it ran south along the ridge line. The view from here is not quite as spectacular as from Chauncey, but it’s still a beautiful spot to sit and contemplate something.
We’re still not sure what that pleasantly landscaped pond is down below - the State Park doesn’t begin until after that. As you descend the hill, the woods as you draw closer to Crescent Lake are more recent conifer growth, and frame the western shore with a deep green that contrasts with the oranges and reds everywhere else. The end of this walk is the least exciting bit, where a new trail has been mowed through some pretty nasty undergrowth.
It amazes me that such a place exists hidden away between so much hustle and bustle. Lamentation Mountain feels like a real escape, when actually, it’s being encroached on by modern life from all sides. Long may it Lament, undisturbed.
03 11 / 2013
Lake Waramaug isn’t the biggest State Park in the region. Covering 95 acres on the shores of a lake which is clearly a playground for the rich summer house crowd, (all the beautiful houses we passed were empty on the first weekend in November), the State provides a small number of camping cabins…
…camp spots, a summertime snack bar, swimming, and lots of picnicking tables along a short section of the waterfront.
They’re clearly in the middle of bunch of off season conservation and clearing up right now, as evidenced by a lot of cut down trees all over the place. But all told it looks like a lovely place to while away a couple of summer days, away from the hordes that inhabit some of the lake fronts further south. Noise rules at the campsite are apparently pretty strictly enforced, and motorised traffic on the Lake is extremely well regulated. It’s also a great place to teach your kids to ride a bike off season, and a couple of parents were taking advantage of this despite the freezing cold wind blowing across the Lake today.
To get to actual stuff to do that isn’t water based though, you’ve got to head off into the surrounding hills and woodlands. There’s no trails besides the road through the campsite, and the rest of the Lake shores are extremely private. We highly recommend checking out the Steep Rock Association for some excellent hiking, well blazed trails, wonderful trail maps (with real, readable contours!) and spectacular views nearby.
This photo was taken from the Pinnacle on the Hidden Valley Preserve, not the Pinnacle in the Macricostas Preserve, which has views of Lake Waramaug.
Like today’s rich New Yorkers, Lake Waramaug was the summer time hang out for Chief Waramaug of the Wyantenock Indians. As we found out, the area is pretty chilly by the first weekend in November, and so the tribe headed south for the winter to inhabit the Housatonic Valley down by George C Waldo State Park, where the landscape provided a little more shelter. The lake is natural in origin, but have been landscaped and deepened to raise the water level over the last century. These days the waters are relatively quiet and most people travel them under their own steam, kayaking or paddling while taking in the pretty, but unspectacular views. According to the Lake Waramaug Task Force, the authors of 1000 Places to See Before You Die have it listed there, but that’s stretching it a little. In fact, I’m not sure that’s true, but as you can see below, the Task Force have done so much awesome stuff that I’ll forgive them.
Despite the serene surface of Lake Waramaug, it tells a familiar story of watercourses in the region. Since the 1950s it has experienced eutrophication, where nitrates and phosphates from farmland and garden run off in the watershed cause algal blooms that massively disrupt the lake eco system. They starve native species and cloud the water, reducing visibility, decreasing oxygenation, and allowing for the growth of invasive species that prefer this claustrophobic new environment.
Since the mid 1970s, a Task Force of Scientists and concerned locals has worked on halting the death of the Lake, and has been largely successful. The key moment came in the late 1980s when they trialled a Layer Aeration system, which separated the cold, oxygen deficient yet phosphorus rich layer at the bottom of the Lake from the warmer water above. Water clarity since then has vastly improved, phosphorus levels have reduced, and the algae situation is one of the best in the State. They’ve done a whole bunch of other stuff, from species introduction to preventing farm run off in the area, all of which can be seen here. It’s worth a visit, and quite a success story.
So next time you stare on the calm surface, think of the battle going on below. And perhaps consider passing on the “Super Awesome Lawn Green Solution,” the next time your lawn is looking a bit weedy.
20 10 / 2013
Uh oh. Killingly Pond was another of those ho hum, “other” State Parks that we always dread visiting a little bit. But it was a lovely fall afternoon, and we’d spent an awesome early afternoon at Al Lane’s Racing School at Waterford Speedbowl, so we didn’t have much to lose as we drove towards the State Line.
It’s a bit difficult to even find Killingly Pond. If you go too far along it in fact, you end up in Rhode Island pretty quickly. You can head along Pond Road from Quinn’s Hill Road as Google tells you to, and you’ll find yourself driving along a dirt track with private road signs at every junction. You’ll see some Connecticut State Land signs on the trees, but they’re interspersed with enormous No Parking signs.
There’s a bit of official CT DEP signage just as you pull into Dam Road, so we parked up just there and then had a stroll.
The lakeside right next to the parking spot is also covered with no trespassing signs, so we headed back along the road towards the CT Land signs we had spotted on the way in.
The only map that’s out there is the hunting one, and that shows most of the State property on the south west corner of the pond, between the water and Quinn’s Hill Road. So we had a short wander in there.
There’s a little worn trail next to the Lake, a couple of camps where the local teenagers hang out, a power line, and not much else.
The lake is very tranquil, but as the State doesn’t seem to own any of that, I don’t recommend trying to get in it.
Although the DEP website does recommend fishing, so who knows? From the notices around, people clearly like their privacy here, and we constantly worried about accidentally trespassing. We got back to Pond Road where we finally saw some signs of State Life - blue blazes and a sign for the North South Trail.
Turns out the North South Trail isn’t really a CT endeavour at all, but a 77 mile tour of the western border of Rhode Island. For some inexplicable reason it loops into CT just to go around Killingly Pond, and then high tails it back into Rhode Island. The light was failing and we felt we’s seen all Killingly Pond had to offer, so we jumped back in the CT A to Z mobile, and headed back to New Haven. Via UConn Dairy Bar, of course.
18 10 / 2013
We’ve been spoiled by both fun times and the weather in Connecticut of late. A mid September trip to Yellowstone (just before the shutdown, whew!) was followed by various work related trip shenanigans, and a wonderful Fall Wedding. Due to the wedding, we spent less time than we’d have liked exploring Kettletown State Park, only managing a loop taking in the Crest Trail, and not making it north of the entrance road, where you’ll find a bunch of fine new camping cabins built by the Connecticut Conservation Corps, and a well rated campsite. The New Connecticut Conservation Corps is modeled on my favourite federal program of yore, and allows young people to gain vital practical experience in employment, accredited skills in first aid and construction while engaging in projects creating opportunities for the State and it’s residents. Sounds pretty awesome if you ask me.
Kettletown State Park is a part of Southbury, and borders picturesque Lake Zoar. Lake Zoar is actually a man made Lake, created from damming the Housatonic river just downstream of the State Park. It provides a tranquil spot to spend a day between the more bustling urban areas of New Haven and Danbury, as well as giving access to the water for canoeing and swimming. Like many of the State Parks, it has a rather sad history. The name derives from the solitary kettle that was rumoured to have been bargained by colonists in return for use of the land, which was inhabited by the Pootatuck Indians. As tended to happen, the colonists had taken over the area completely by 1758, including the farms which had made the Pootatucks a prosperous tribe. These farms were pretty much deserted for the open plains further west, and the valley was flooded in 1919 to use as a reservoir for hydroelectric power production, covering the old Native village in the process.
It was a glorious sunny morning when we set off down the longest trail in Kettletown, the Pomperaug, which also just happens to be a CFPA Blue Blazed Trail. The trails here are well blazed and marked, which is a good job as the leaves had just started coming down and obscuring the trails.
They’re also a little even underfoot, so consider that when you choose your footwear. I have to admit, that while the Pomperaug was very quiet and pleasant, there wasn’t a huge amount of super exciting stuff to see. The odd glacial erratic (we’re a bit over them now, unless they’re HUGE)…
The trail winds around until it bumps into the Crest Trail, which after a rather pointless loop to a look out that must only really work in the winter, parallels the Pomperaug back to the centre along the edge of the ridge. On this trail there’s a pretty little overlook to Lake Zoar, but the most exciting thing was an enormous snake, either an Eastern Ratsnake or an Eastern Racer.
It was our second snake of the day, following a common garter snake on the loop of pointlessness, and was pretty cool. From the snake sighting we descended towards the campgrounds, which are surrounded by clear floored pine forest, and then paralleled an old farm wall back to the main car park.
There’s a ton more to do at Kettletown, including another loop trail to the north and a trail along the central brook, which has a cute mini waterfall. There’s a beach for swimming in the summer, a canoe launch, and plenty of space for camping. I feel like the real time to visit though is in about another week, when the foliage is in full final bloom, and the leaves fall serenely from the trees like orange snowflakes. That’s providing we don’t get a surprise last hurrah from a spookily quiet hurricane season!
08 9 / 2013
I don’t know what I can say about Kent Falls that isn’t immediately apparent in the name. Just off Route 7, 5 minutes to the north of Kent Village lies a pretty magical place, one that may make you think you’ve excited time travelled to somewhere like New Hampshire. Kent Falls is a series of waterfalls dropping 250 feet in total, that cascades sharply down the Housatonic Valley hillside. The well paved walkway takes you uphill alongside the falls, which start small and gentle, before ending (well, starting if you’re the water) at the 70 foot high Big Fall.
The walkway has been recently renovated, and though the incline is obviously step (it’s a waterfall, d’oh), the steps will be manageable by most. There are plenty of spots to take a breather on one of the many viewing platforms that line the route. The Falls were formed by water driving through soft areas of limestone (formed back in the days when Connecticut was pretty much a coral reef) and fractures in the rocks, until it reaches harder layers of marble. The small lower falls run over the top of large, almost horizontal marble sheets.
The higher up you get, the more tumultuous the water movement, and you can see large potholes and huge carved areas of rock, where water has shot over and edge and carved a path through softer rock.
The first part of the Falls to be acquired by the State was in 1919, but most development happened in three spurts, the 1930s and 1970s, when large amounts of the trail were reconstructed, and mot recently in 2006, when the viewing platforms were completed and the area mostly fenced off. The Falls are beautiful, but the development makes them feel a little sterile. There’s no clambering over rocks and peering over ledges, the path is well defined and there are penalties to straying from it. Unfortunately, these measures are probably needed. Kent Falls gets a large amount of visitors, sometimes rowdy, and commonly filling the car park in summer and closing the park for the rest of the day. There’s a large playing field at the bottom with grills and picnic tables, a replica covered bridge, and today there was a lady selling ice creams and hot dogs.
There’s no swimming in the park currently, despite the photos and information online that suggest that was the intention in one of the lower pools. A beautiful place to while away the hours, surprisingly spectacular for CT. If you’re hiking, it’ll be a short day, but make sure to take the triangular yellow trail back down the hill. There’s a series of beautifully built cairns lining the trail down there, and the balance displayed by the artists is quite something.
The woodland down this way is nothing remarkable, but these quirky little structures make up for it.
07 9 / 2013
Just who was John A. Minetto? It seems that the internet has forgotten, just as the CT DEEP seems to have forgotten this park. That’s not strictly true - there’s toilet tissue in the bathroom, it has been cleaned in the last ten years, and some of the picnic tables look pretty recent. But on the whole, John A. Minetto Park is slowly being reclaimed by nature. The two bodies of water form the larger portion of the park - the southern one being good for fishing and canoeing, while the smaller northern pond is a quiet spot for reflection.
The old road that goes north through the park is cracked and worn, with overgrowth pushing further onto the trail the further north you go.
At the end of the line it joins Route 272.
There’s some sign of side trails, but most of them peter out very quickly. The inviting looking trail heading north from the main car park circle is only around 50 metres long…
…and the tiny trail going north from the picnic area is also not really a trail. I’m not really sure why you’d come here, if it wasn’t for the water. The first house in Winsted was built here, no idea where! Perhaps if you’re an ecology student? The open fields next to the track, that probably once housed picnic areas and car parks are now thick packed meadows, brimming with insects, flowers, and probably a ton of small animals.
There’s secretive swamps hidden away off the main pools, and it’s clear there’s not many people around.
There was a Mud Run here once, but I guess it was further south, as we didn’t see any traces of it. Travel tips USA tells me there’s a Nature Trail, but we never found it! John A. Minetto is truly the park that time forgot.