07 9 / 2013
James L. Goodwin was a conservationist in Connecticut before the profession really came into vogue with the large scale creation of National Parks and Forests. He graduated from the Yale School of Forestry in 1910. In the years after his graduation, he aimed to make a living from responsible forestry - a hipster’s dream way before hipsters were invented. He bought land in Hampton, and his first sellable crop was Christmas trees. In the years to come, he expanded, experimenting with different species of Christmas tree, timber plants, dairy farming and apple trees, providing extra supplies to the local population during World War II. He also built a dam to flood the Cedar Swamp to the East, and created other small ponds elsewhere on his property to act as water reservoirs for any potential forest fires. A ramshackle farmhouse to the south was made liveable by Goodwin’s brother, and that house is now the Goodwin Forest Conservation Center.
James gifted the whole property; forests, lakes and buildings to the State when he wrapped up his business in 1964, and they have tried to keep alive his interest in forest management and responsible timber. Displays outside show how to manage habitats to increase their suitability for wildlife, and stands of different species of tree can be found dotted around the property. 87% of this large forest is still under active management under a 20 year cutting cycle, though deterioration of infrastructure and changing swamp conditions (including those changing due to local beaver activity) means that this amount is in constant flux. Revenue from timber sales is ploughed back into the park, and is currently being used to fight the establishment of many invasive species including Cork Tree and Japanese Barberry in the woods. There are around 20 miles of maintained hiking trails and forest roads, including a Section of the Air Line State Park and the Blue Blazed Natchaug Trail. The Friends of James L Goodwin State Park also run discovery programs pretty much every week, and can provide a window into the masses of good stuff that goes on there. They also produce an excellent leaflet to accompany the red and blue blazed Interpretive Trail, which introduces visitors to a variety of the habitats present within the park, and maintain a garden of native species.
As the regular reader will know, we’re not big museum types at CT A to Z, and we didn’t make it into the Conservation Center on our visit. Instead we explored about 7 miles of the trail system, visiting some of the more far flung points around the park that looked interesting. We set off taking the trail south of Pine Acres Pond then up along the eastern shore.
Pond lilies were blooming everywhere, and we could see 3 herons from the southern edge of the pond.
Shortly after this we passed around one of the working forest areas, then headed back to the shore. The red white trail along the shoreline is flat, but surprisingly tricky terrain, being rocky and marshy for more of the trail that leads towards Governor’s Island. Governor’s Island was named after John Cleveland, who owned it when he was Governor of CT in the 1840s. Prior to this it housed one of the last settlements of the Nipmuck Indians in Eastern CT, and since then has reforested to a prime example of late successional forest. The Friends of Goodwin Forest built a viewing platform in 2011 on the western shore, to aid the observation of migratory birds that stop off and feed in and around Pine Acres Pond.
True to the principles of Goodwin Forest, the wood used to build the platform is locally grown and processed, and the view the day we were there didn’t reveal many birds, but plenty of marshy ground with huge bulrushes all along the shoreline.
From here we continued north, looping round to Black Spruce Pond, through patches of closely planted pine, open deciduous woods and swampy marshland. It was raining quite a lot by then, so my camera went away. In this area you should watch for unblazed trails which don’t really show up on the black and white map, they caused us a few mild navigational issues. At the south end of the Pond, which suffers from serious active beaver issues, we joined the Natchaug Trail to head back south towards the Nature Center. There’s a long, gentle climb up to the top of Bear Hill, but the trail is well maintained and it’s an easy drag. Past the top of the hill the trails drops more steeply towards the Air Line State Park Trail. It’s pretty quiet down there now, since the State turned it into a multi-use trail, but in 1924 it caused James Goodwin serious problems. A spark from a passing train burned down 43 acres of pine, resulting in a payment of $2336 in damages to James Goodwin. From there it was a short haul back to the Nature Center, where we saw the open area used to establish a habitat for small mammals and hedgerow birds.
During our visit we missed the multitude of deer to be found in the park, which provides something of a safe haven to them thanks to a no hunting clause in Goodwin’s Will. The park is currently reviewing the deer population, as it has been accepted for some years now that regulated hunting is beneficial for both the health of the deer population and the succession of the forest as a whole. While it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to hunt in James L. Goodwin any time soon, there’s so many options for hiking, trail running, canoeing, nature discovery and biking that I highly recommend a visit.
18 8 / 2013
Indian Well is another State Park with a split personality. On the one hand, it’s one of the major summertime family hangout spots, with lifeguards, swimming, grills and enormous bathrooms. On the other hand, if you walk less than a minute across the other side of the road, you’ll be in some of the quietest open woodland CT A to Z has seen for a while, away from the screams of delight and pumping tunes from below.
So, let’s get the noisy part out of the way first. The beach at Indian Well is alongside the Paugusset River. I’m presuming the sand is artificial, but it’s clean and there’s a little more space than some of the corners of ponds you find elsewhere. The swimming area is clearly roped, and the lifeguards at the weekends are actually on the case of keeping you inside them. Great for kids to play in, but if you fancy an actual swim I would head out to somewhere a little less policed like Higganum Reservoir. This area also has the only public boat launch onto the Housatonic River.
The recreation area along the banks is huge, so if you don’t fancy the big grill parties and loud noise from the beach area, simply stroll north for 5 minutes until you’re in the pine sheltered picnic area. Despite being a tiny walk upstream, this area feels like another world, and there’s plenty of space for a quieter occasion. It may have been that we just arrived early enough in the morning, but the bathrooms here are wonderfully maintained compared to other parks that serve the same purpose, and all the staff we met were friendly and helpful. I would certainly recommend this location above Hopeville Pond for a family day out.
Of course, Rob and I don’t go to State Parks for picnics, coolers and splashing. We go for the walks and the woodlands, and Indian Well has those too. A steep but short white trail across Indian Well Road leads up to the Blue Blazed Paugusset Trail, which runs along the length of Indian Well. We started our run by heading north to the boundaries of the park. Like certain slopes of Osbornedale State Park across the river, this section of the Paugusset Trail suffered badly from the serial storms of Autumn 2012 and Winter 2013. There are many trees down, and though there’s been enough foot traffic since to wind the trails around, you sometimes need to take care to stay on track.
Some of the blazed trees have also fallen, so keep you wits about you when scramble over things. Unless you have particularly adventurous kids who like scrambling, I wouldn’t recommend it. After reaching the boundary of the park to the north, we turn around and headed south, towards the view points and the Falls, which Indian Well is named after. The forest gets much easier to handle in this direction, though the descent down from what we can only presume was the view point was steep. In the middle of summer, the viewpoint simply doesn’t exist, there’s no glimpses of the river below or the rest of the valley, just the tree canopy. Still, the woods are more open here and there’s a bit more to look at along the way.
Once you get back down to the road, you must cross the bridge and take the big trail to the right, which is unblazed but marked with a large sign asking you not to climb rocks. Five minutes later you pop into a depression where a small stream cuts through two large clumps of granite via a small waterfall. The pool at the bottom was supposedly where a Romeo and Juliet style double suicide took place, but this may be more legend than reality. The pool, which is rather small today, was never actually used as a well. When we got there these fictional lovers were replaced by a group of people who seemed to be on some kind of photoshoot - some poor girl was sat in the only pool of (lovely stagnant and green) water at the base of the falls, while a woman pushed a camera in her face and a man glared at us. So we didn’t hang around that long!
A quick trip back along the road gets you back to the car park, and back to civilisation. Be warned that the disused railway alongside the road is not State property, so officially you’re trespassing on someone’s land if you saunter back along there.
05 8 / 2013
For the first time in writing the blog, I feel a little conflicted in doing so. I want to tell you to avoid Hurd, that it’s dull, lifeless and full of trash. I’m sure the four bikers we bumped into, sat on a rocky ridge would agree. Unfortunately that would be a massive, massive lie, and I’m not really in that business. Hurd State Park lies in the busy cluster of State Parks that congregate around the Connecticut River Valley. It’s north of George Dudley Seymour State Park, which we stomped through in the winter when there was still up to a metre of snow on the ground. It’s also one of the oldest State Parks in the system, acquired almost as soon as the ink had dried on establishing the State Park Commission. It’s named after the Hurd Family, a bunch of early settlers from Scotland who moved to Middle Haddam from Massachusetts.
There’s a whole bunch of variety in the 1000 acres of Hurd that speaks to a considerable amount of the State’s history. The park is run through with ridges of granite veined with feldspar. The granite was used to construct many of the imposing buildings in Capitols and Industrial Towns along the East Coast. The Eureka Flint & Spar Company also mined the feldspar, along with flint and mica from within the park. The remains of the mining pits can be seen behind the ball field car park, like these at the start of the white/green trail (See below).
The stone would have been transported down the river to Trenton, New Jersey for China manufacturing, or hewn into shape for direct building. In the days post Industrial Revolution the Civilian Conservation Corps weathered the recession turning the Park in a destination for recreation, building access roads and planting pine trees, and creating a camping area for boaters. Hurd contains one of 3 of the State’s campsites intended purely for the use of those who wish to stay overnight whilst travelling down the River.
So, to our visit. We picked the first weekend in August, and the humidity was starting to wane, while the sun was still shining. Perfect for a wee jog, followed by a little hike. We parked in the ballfield car park, (next to the Youth Campsite on the DEP map), and intended to follow the White Trail to the north, to the off season car park, then take the white west and red down to the river’s edge. The first thing you need to know about Hurd, is that the trail network in this section no longer looks anything like this:
In fact, it looks a lot more like this:
(map from bikerag.com). Mountain bikers have “improved” / destroyed the trail network throughout this section. They have even blazed their trails, which I have never seen before in a CT forest. To add to the confusion, the White trail from the DEP map now seems to be blazed green. We ended up following some circling trails which were great for trail running, but the constant loops and direction changes would have been annoying as hell at walking speed. Bikers, if you have to weave man made paths through ever bit of bumpy public forest, please post a map by the Trailheads depicting what the hell is going on - especially if the blaze colours have changed. Getting lost on these trails could easily ruin the day of someone without much of a sense of direction. And it is a shame, because this patch of forest is beautiful. Mostly clear on the floor, open and undulating, it was a gem.
Once we’d figured out that white was now green and had made it to the off season car park, we headed down the hill on a gravel trail that became increasingly overgrown as we got towards the river. Just as you think it’s petering out, you hit the car park and take the red trail to the right. This trail is lovely, as you turn a corner to the left the land drops away beneath your feet, and you’re hit with patches of deep blue river between the widely spaced trees. At the bottom you pop out into a long Meadow with picnic tables, rocky promontories jutting into the river, and grassy fields to play in.
If we’d have come prepared we’d have easily spent the whole day here. And yet there’s more.
If you take the red then yellow trails towards Split Rock, (ignore the orange you’ll pass on the way, that’s a bike trail) a big lump of mighty granite with a split vein travelling tens of metres up the face, you finally encounter the rock ridges that formed the old industry of the area. It’s like you’re suddenly transported to Scandinavia, and you’re surrounded by bare rock, blueberries, and pine trees. Before Split Rock there’s a massive glacial erratic with some tasteful (?!) graffiti.
You can then descend on the trail to Split Rock, but ascend up the Ridge to the viewing point. Don’t look down the split if you’re afraid of heights - it’s a pretty long way down there!
The yellow trail brings you back to the entry road across a couple of hills of granite, and there, your journey ends.
For such a small park the variation in terrain is pretty astonishing. Coupled with the fact that once you were away from the car park, there was almost no one about, this makes Hurd a pretty special place to be. But sssh, don’t tell anyone!
28 7 / 2013
Humaston Brook pretty much sucks. It’s an undeveloped State Park just up the road from Thomaston, very close to the awesomeness that is Route 8. The instructions to get to the trails on the dreaded “other parks” page of the DEP website say to take Knife Shop Road from route 254 (the second Knife Shop Road exit if you’re coming from the south, first from the north), then turn left on Newton Road. Immediately after this left turn you’ll drive past the corner of the reservoir, and then there’s a dirt track that doesn’t appear on Google to your left. This is White Road, and plays home to the “trail network” at Humaston.
The trail right next to the little turn in where you can park the car goes for about 70 metres to here (which if I’m being fair, did seem to be a good place to sit and watch dragonflies):
So then we went back to the gravel road and followed it to the end, where it turns into a muddy track. We found another dead end trail towards the lake, and then found some ATV tracks that looked pretty established. Problem was, these either petered out in areas of thick vegetation by the brooks, or led to overnight campsites full of trash. This one was a particular highlight:
So then we got fed up, and didn’t make it to the end of the dirt road. There’s a map of the trails we went along here, but I don’t really recommend a visit. The main track bends around to the left, and continues up the hill after the Brook. The Northern dead end is a real dead end on on ATV track.
Black Rock just down the road is way more awesome, go there. This is just depressing.
25 7 / 2013
It’s pretty much impossible to separate the next two State Parks, so I’ll be treating them as one. Housatonic Meadows State Park is made up of multiple flattish parcels of land that abut the Housatonic River just north of Cornwall Bridge. There’s a large picnic area, fishing spots, and a campsite amongst the pines which is truly beautiful on an early autumn morning.
Hugging these pockets of friendly, domesticated land is the more rugged Housatonic State Forest, which is composed mostly of a long north south ridge which is also home to part of the Appalachian Trail. The easiest way to explore this part is to take the Blue Blazed Pine Knob Trail. On the day we visited, we fancied a bit more, so we started out from the south end of the park, walked along the road to the Pine Loop Trail, then came back through the woods on the Appalachian Trail.
The Upper Housatonic Valley feels like the wildest area of Connecticut. Rocky ridges, few villages, wide rivers and farmland all provide welcome relief for the city dweller. But in relatively recent history, this area of Connecticut was a hive of real industry. In the mid to late 1800s most of the natural forest was felled to burn to produce charcoal, one of the main fuels for the State’s burgeoning iron industry. The forest we see today therefore is between 60-100 years old, and if you look closely, there’s evidence of past industry all over the trail in the form of charcoal burning platforms, flat, roughly circular areas of a land a couple of meters in diameter. It’ll take you a bit of looking to spot your first one, but once you do, you’ll see them everywhere along this section of the Appalachian Trail. Since the iron industry departed overseas, the Housatonic River continued to be used for power generation, housing multiple dams and generating stations along it’s length. For this reason, those who like their recreation water based should keep this in mind that the river is not quite as clean as it appears. In the 1970s a General Electric Plant in Massachusetts discharged PCBs, industrial coolants that are persistent in the environment into the river, and though multiple clean up attempts have improved the river environment, fish from the river should always be thrown back. You’re probably fine to canoe and things, as long as you’re not there drinking it every day!
So, to our trip. We hiked north along the road for a mile or so, which is not pleasant but there are some areas where you can go behind the crash barrier. I don’t really recommend it, to be honest. We were happy to reach the Pine Knob Car Park, and head up the trails into the forest as the thunder rumbled in the distance. In the end, it rumbled for most of the day, but decided not to actually rain. Rain would have been good, because despite being covered in bug spray, this trail was buggy. There were mosquitos everywhere, and stopping to admire the view was not really possible.
The trail starts to climb pretty quickly, from open pine forests to thicker areas with mountain laurel. You arrive at the first summit surprisingly quickly, and there’s a small overlook over granite slabs down to the south of the valley.
From there you drop into a small, dark, laurel filled col, and then ascend up a series of pretty serious granite slabs to the second summit.
It’s quite a climb for a hot day, and you’ll want to bring plenty of water (and extra bug spray). Once you summited the second hill, you turn and twist through more laurel, before joining the Appalachian Trail in more typical open forest. The AT twists and turns and undulates a lot more than you’d expect for a ridge walk, but as you head slowly downhill, keep your eyes open for the charcoal pits that line the route. There’s a couple of small brooks to cross, but we’re back onto standard CT fayre.
There’s a brief summit as the AT splinters off and you take part of the Mohawk trail back towards the car park.
This final section has some interesting looking building remains right by the road, though it’s difficult to tell what they might have been.
All in all, if you want to sample the area, stick with the Pine Knob Loop. There’s not much extra to see in the AT, and quite a bit of extra walking. Even better, stay at the campsite in the autumn, and walk up there in the early morning as mist hangs over the river. This is quite a magical part of Connecticut, and can be treasured in the Fall when the trails aren’t full of identikit hairy male 20 somethings hiking the AT.
14 7 / 2013
I didn’t expect much when I pulled into the parking lot at Horse Guard State Park Scenic Reserve this afternoon. I’d already been on a pretty epic trail run through the evil bug infested territory of Nipmuck, and thought I’d tick this one off quickly on the way to Hartford Trader Joe’s. (I know, I know, none of these things are really “on the way” to any others, but no matter). There’s not much on the internet about what there is to do at this park, and why it has the peculiar name. But when arrived at the parking lot off Route 167, just north of the junction with Arch Road, Mr Leonard Tolisano was sitting on the stoop of The Derrin House, and my interesting afternoon began. You’ll recognise the Derrin House by the Avon Historical Society Sign, and it was just my luck that I arrived at the tail end of their opening hours - between 2-4 on Sundays throughout the summer, to a warm greeting from Mr Tolisano. The Derrin House has a dual history. The first is the history of the daily life and the technological advances that improved the lives of the early settlers in the region, from the mid 1700s to the cusp of the Second World War. The second is a rich seam of Connecticut’s military history, home to the oldest Horse Guard Unit in the country. We’ll start with the former.
The deeds date the first part of the Derrin House back to 1747, when the family lived in a single room which is now the stable area to the left. As the family fortunes improved, the house was added to at least three times, and became a decent sized daily residence. The family also owned a barn and two other houses close by in the area. The interior has been lovingly furnished through donations to the Historical Society as a family home, accumulating furniture and decoration through multiple family generations. There are examples of different heating systems, bed styles and woodwork tools scattered throughout the building. One of the beds, a check board of rope for support, holds to the answer to the origin of the popular phrase “sleep tight,” something I realise I had never really pondered until today. The kitchen holds a number of labour saving devices, from the washing machine, which you still had to pump manually, but was probably an improvement on scrubbing boards, and a Hoosier dresser, which held storage, work surfaces and utensils in a compact, handy to use area. As an aside, it seems even the internet hasn’t figured out the origin of the word “Hoosier,” used to describe people and kitchen dressers that originated from Indiana.
The house is no pristine museum, there’s tons of equipment, decoration and furniture from across three centuries inside, but this feel and clutter is part of the charm. The building itself is in variable state. In some rooms the plaster has been stripped away to reveal the underlying structure of the wooden frame, and the evolution towards regular machine cut frames throughout the time the house was being improved upon. In others there’s new plastering and a more polished feel. It’s really quite fascinating, and restorations are in progress. There’s also a cute little cottage garden out front, which had an astonishing number of bees happily buzzing around it.
And so to the second part of the Derrin House history. The Derrin family petered out in the early twentieth century, and the land was bought by a J. Maxon, a sulkie racing (horse carriage racing) enthusiast who exercised his horses on the track across the road from the Derrin House, and kept them in the barn. After World War II in 1954, all this land was sold to the Connecticut Horse Guard. They used the racing grounds and barns for stabling and exercising their horses, and even conducted some training exercises on the rocky ridge behind the Derrin House that now forms the majority of the State Park. The First Company Connecticut Horse Guard has a long, proud history, being the first established Guard in the country, chartered in 1788 and counting many War of Independence Veterans amongst their numbers.
While today they serve a mostly ceremonial function, the unit undergoes full military training and has served in the Civil War and more recently (the early 1900s), to control skirmishes along the Mexican border and on the battlefields of Northern France in the First World War. During the Second World War the Unit was taken under Federal Control, and the members staffed heavy guns along the coastline and to protect the water supply. Though the barn is no longer in use, the small number of horses still in service are kept just around the corner. Mr Tolisano is a former member of the Horse Guard, and has wonderful stories to tell about their history, which I’m not going to ruin here, in case you choose to visit. The land was sold to the State in 1964, but the Derrin House remained in use by the Unit Caretaker for some time after that.
And there’s more! After all this history, I find out that there is a trail through the woodland behind the house, and it has been expertly blazed by local friends and the nearest Scout Troop. Despite the hour getting late, I jogged up to the top of the ridge where there are some excellent views to the south, including the unique outline of the Hanging Hills of Meriden.
The trail is not blazed all the way to the top, but there’s a pretty obvious footpath where people have scrambled up if you turn right at the fire pit. The woodland is standard northern-central CT fayre, but it was excellent to be presented with a well maintained trail when I expected ten minutes of bushwhacking and a lot of mosquito bites.
I severely underestimated this quiet little State Park, and I highly recommended a visit. Just make sure you do it when Len’s around!
05 7 / 2013
Hopeville Pond was the final stop on our marathon tour of the Eastern Connecticut H’s, and it left me feeling a little conflicted. Having just googled up some information on the place, I now feel even worse, as it seems a teenager drowned there earlier on that same day. Hopeville Pond is situated just off I395, within half an hour from some decent sized towns. It houses a small trail to the north, has some little pockets of hiking between car parks and camp sites, and there’s apparently remnants of old mills but we didn’t see any of that. The real draw for most visitors is the beach and campsite, which was jam packed with sunburned families, grills, pumping music and mosquitoes even by the time we arrived later in the evening.
In fact, it was pretty grim. Hopeville Pond is clearly a lovely spot off season. The sandy surrounding woods are beautiful as part of the greater Pachaug Forest (we’ll be back), very little vegetation on the forest floor and Rhode Island style pine trees all with the back drop of the pond. But the bathrooms were utterly filthy, there was rubbish everywhere, and absolutely no chance of finding a tranquil spot to chill out without access to some kind of boat.
I’m torn, because as far as I’m concerned these natural spots should be open to everyone. Those who can’t afford to buy their own piece of ridiculously inflated water front should be able to drive themselves to a spot to cool off for free (I think this Park charges on the weekends). But cramming so many people into such a small space completely ruined the atmosphere, and there has to be ecological damage. I guess I’m more mad at the way that access to these places is so restricted in this part of the country, forcing people to congregate in a small number of spots that really don’t have the resources for them. I took a quick swim and the area they had ringed off was so small, so crowded, and the water so full of weeds, that I’m surprised there are no lifeguards present. We left Hopeville pretty quickly. I am greatly saddened by the news I just found, and I find it hard to believe that the party there went on normally afterwards.
05 7 / 2013
I feel kind of bad for writing anything about Hopemead State Park, as it’s clearly a bit of a local secret. A teeny 60 acre State Park clawing desperately onto the edge of Lake Gardner, it’s another of those water front properties that the State has managed to cling on to in the face of it being prime real estate territory. And being a teeny, undeveloped State Park, it harbours this waterfroont secret remarkably well. While the google map of the area distinctly shows a band of non State land between the park and the water’s edge, in reality you can follow the vehicle track from the car park on Cottage Road…
…all the way to the water’s edge, where there’s a couple of tiny gaps in the trees that you can get into the water from. When I say tiny, I mean tiny.
All of the three spots were fully occupied by families when we strolled down to the water’s edge at around 5pm, and it looked like they’re been holed up there all day. If you fancy a quiet dip into Gardner Lake therefore, it’s probably best to get in early, unless you want to fight sun tanning Poles and ladies trying to rig inflatable dummies into speed boats.
The rest of the area is pretty unremarkable, flat marshy forest, and a strange bunker like building that was full of rubbish, with no hint of a function.
A small trail goes along the water’s edge, and heads back along the southern park boundary. Good for a small stroll with kids, not much adventure for a big person.
04 7 / 2013
What better way to celebrate the 4th of July (and an actual midweek afternoon off for both of us!) than a letter H East Connecticut State Park Marathon?! Who needs beers and grills when you’ve got bikes and ice cream? After a light lunch we threw the bikes into the car and drove the 45 minutes to Vernon, to explore the Hop River State Park Trail. Another converted Railway Line, this one runs from Manchester in the West to Willimantic in the East, and can be joined up with the Airline State Park if you want a really mega ride. As we were out for a gentle afternoon, we left from the car park on Church Street (an old rail yard) in Vernon, and turned around at the 7-Eleven in Andover (highly recommended for an ice cream stop). This route is about ten miles each way, but there’s plenty of diversity in surroundings in this short distance. If you have a whole day, extending to Willimantic is definitely not much extra hard work.
The railroad that first made its way along this route was completed in 1849 as part of the line between Hartford and Providence, Rhode Island, and was used for passengers and freight . The journey from Hartford to Willimantic in 1855 took 65 minutes, not actually a huge amount longer than it would take you on a fast bike along the remaining trail! As with the other railways in Connecticut, prosperity was short lived thanks to the beginnings of the car industry in the early 1900s, and the lines were plundered for their supplies of steel during the two World Wars. The line was finally abandoned after suffering severe flood damage in the 1955 flood. With help from the Rails to Trails Conservation Agency, the various towns lining the route in tandem with CT DEEP have put in differing amounts of effort towards upgrading the trail for cycling and pedestrian use, while uniting users with information from the past. The most successful of these measures, and also the most spectacular show of workmanship from the old line that you see, comes in Vernon at the very start. The original concept and development was mostly the idea of Bruce Dinnie, Vernon’s Director of Parks and Recreation, and the first two miles were completed in 1995. Vernon has a longstanding history of achieving State wide Grants and providing local volunteers for an excellent trail system. There’s also a spur that travels north from this same car park towards Rockville. The line here mostly runs on a large earth viaduct, built up to provide a straight and flattish line through the undulating countryside. Cycling along this ridge is a real pleasure, and the drop to either side can be quite awe inspiring when you think about the feats of engineering required to make these features properly weight bearing.
As you pass from Vernon towards Bolton, things get rockier as you rise towards the crest of the hill and Bolton Notch State Park. There are deep cuttings through thick rock here, and a project to revitalise the brook that runs underneath and alongside the trail. This section is exceptionally pretty, but the light does not lend itself to photos, especially those taken on an iPhone whilst cycling! The enormous bridge at the Notch under I84 provides welcome relief from the heat, and then you start heading downhill towards Andover.
At this point the quality of the trail starts to deteriorate - the friendly signs stop and the surface becomes bumpier, with quite a bit of small loose rock. It’s no problem at all on a mountain bike or a sturdy hybrid, but you’d do some damage to a road bike by trying to take it down here. The woods get thicker and greener here, until you hear the sounds of Route 6 and it appears off to the left. We stopped and turned just before the infamous Covered Bridge (had we known it was infamous before heading out, we’d at least have had a closer look!) over Route 316, which took ten years of nightmare law suits and payment disagreements to get built. It looked great from a distance today! On the return route things looked pretty similar, but we did espy a lovely river cascading underneath the earthen viaduct just south of the Bailey Road crossing. You can’t even tell you’re riding on a manmade ridge quite often, till you notice a feature like that. Pretty much the entire length of the trail is under tree cover, so it provides a welcome respite from the sun on days like today. A visit is highly recommended, and would only be improved by the presence of a proper ice cream shop. Enjoy!
24 6 / 2013
Summer has finally arrived at CT A to Z. After weeks of rather unseasonal temperatures and mega rainfalls, the sun has come out and the temperatures are starting to bake. Our poor English constitutions always suffer at the first onslaught of high temperatures, and so we were rather glad that today’s State Park was a quite sedate prospect. It’s been a while since we visited one of the undeveloped State Parks, and this one certainly fits the bill. There’s a very small boat launch (think kayak rather than designed yacht) at the south end, where Dish Mill Road turns into a dirt track, and the aforementioned dirt track, that turns into a trail. And that’s pretty much it. The trail joins Hull road from the north, and there’s a small cark park at that point too. Use of the area for “hiking” is a rather ambitious description for the DEP website, “strolling” would definitely be a more appropriate term. There’s a few side trails, but they generally come back to the main trail a lot quicker than you expect them to. There’s obvious signs of mountain bikers, but you’d ride every trail twice within an hour so I certainly wouldn’t travel here.
Perhaps appropriately for a town who’s heritage relies on the waterways surrounding it (the name derives from the Higganumpus Indian term for “Great Bend In River”), the biggest attraction here is the water. The river was first dammed in 1868 by a pair of brothers who ran a farm machinery business, the Clarks. It’s a factory powering reservoir rather than a water storing one, and as such is now a popular swimming spot with the locals.
The factory burned down in the early 1900s, but the dam wall was recently restored and can be viewed from the State car park on the north east side of the water. Parking at the south end of Hull Avenue on the West side is where you want to be to get into the water. The south end of the reservoir is more marshy, and when we arrived there was a grey heron taking a nice stroll through the lily pads on the far side.
It’s an idyllic spot to hang out, but there’s definitely no need for anything involving adrenaline or strenuous activity at Higganum. Come with a book, cool off with a dip, and stroll through leafy woodlands for a nice relaxing day. Even better, combine it with a visit to Simon’s Marketplace in nearby Chester, which I’m pretty sure is the best lunch spot in CT.