“Hiking is not escapism; it’s realism. The people who choose to spend time outdoors are not running away from anything; we are returning to where we belong.”
— Jennifer Pharr Davis, Explorer, Author, Speaker
The first day of spring 2021 dawned as a glorious cloudless day with temperatures rising well into the 50s. I was joined by 15 others for a hike at Mashamoquet Brook State Park in Pomfret to kick-off TLGV’s annual Spring Outdoors program. We hiked through deciduous forest of maple, oak, hickory and birch and the sunlit, drab gray of the trees belied the life hidden within. I know soon, as if in the blink of an eye, there will be green everywhere, buds opening and leaves reaching for the life-giving sun. As the earth warms, I’ll be on the lookout for my favorite woodland wildflowers of lady slipper and red trillium and keeping an ear cocked for the notes of the migrating songbirds announcing their return to nesting territories.
The easiest and most accessible way to experience the outdoors is walking and hiking. No special equipment is required, though sturdy footwear is recommended. With more than 500 miles of trails, The Last Green Valley truly has a hiking, walking or strolling experience for everyone.
The towns of Putnam and Killingly (Danielson) have river trails along the Quinebaug River. In Putnam the trail is more than two miles long and includes parks, views of the river and beautiful Cargill Falls, a dog park, farmers’ market pavilion and two launch areas for canoes and kayaks. I live in Putnam and am a frequent visitor to the river trail with our dog.
From Putnam the Quinebaug flows about 10 miles south to Killingly where it is joined by the Five Mile River in the borough of Danielson. Here you’ll find another popular river trail, almost three miles in length that winds along the eastern shore of the Quinebaug. Unlike the Putnam river trail, which is more open and adjacent to a road, the Killingly trail is wooded and outside of the downtown shopping district. It also has a boat launch for canoes and kayaks and a large dog park.
The City of Norwich has six themed walking trails that have become increasingly popular over the past several years. There are brochures for each of them and a website with information at: https://www.walknorwich.org/. The trails include the Uncas Leap Trail, Benedict Arnold Trail, Heritage Trail, Troubadour Trail, Millionaire’s Triangle Trail and the Freedom Trail. Each trail is a wonderful way to learn the history of Norwich and the region while enjoying an outdoor experience. Before heading out to experience the Norwich trails, I suggest you visit the Walk Norwich website and check out the information about each trail and the excellent short films and audio tours for each of the trails.
For a more adventurous forest walk and hike there are a multitude of opportunities within The Last Green Valley with well-maintained state parks and forests and land trust properties. A handy and quick resource for hiking locations is TLGV’s Explore Guide. You can get a printed copy of the guide by contacting TLGV at 860-774-3300 or you can resource the guide through the TLGV website by going to the Explore menu on the homepage. The very first item is the Explore online guide, a searchable listing that allows you to look by town and/or by activity. Click on Hiking/Walking/Strolling Trails and the map of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor will populate with several links for specific locations. Zoom in for each location and by clicking on the leaf motif you’ll access facts about the property as well as other links for maps and other information. I use this online resource on a regular basis, and it can be your go-to tool for helpful information on things to do and places to go within the region.
There are 20 state park and forest locations in The Last Green Valley with literally thousands of acres to explore. There are 18 in our 26 Connecticut towns managed by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, each park has its own webpage with information for location, directions, maps and amenities. I suggest going to the main website location and then the individual park link. It can be found at: https://portal.ct.gov/DEEP/State-Parks/Listing-of-State-Parks For our nine Massachusetts towns we have two parks and forests, and these are managed Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. They include Brimfield State Forest and Wells State Park.
We are also fortunate to have a number land trusts in The Last Green Valley that maintain unique properties for public enjoyment and recreation. Each also has a website providing information on their properties and links to trail maps. You can find those sites easily with a search for the land trust name. Our region’s land trusts include Avalonia Land Conservancy Inc., Dudley Conservation Land Trust, Eastern Connecticut Forest Landowners Association/Wolf Den Land Trust, Groton Open Space Association, Joshua’s Tract Conservation & Historic Trust, New England Forestry Foundation, Opacum Land Trust, The New Roxbury Land Trust, and Wyndham Land Trust.
Many towns and municipalities have trail committees and town-owned properties that open to the public. You may want to check your town website to see what is available and then start looking at adjoining towns. You just may discover a local trail that was unknown to you.
We are fortunate to have several U.S. Army Corps of Engineer properties with thousands of acres and many trails open to the public. TLGV sometimes uses these locations for our programs, including Acorn Adventures, paddles and hikes. Each has their own website for access to information on hiking and boating and trail maps. The locations include Buffumville Lake in Charlton, Hodges Village Dam in Oxford, Mansfield Hollow Lake in Mansfield, West Thompson Lake in Thompson, Westville Lake in Southbridge and Sturbridge and East Brimfield Lake in Brimfield, Sturbridge and Holland.
Proper footwear is a must when hiking or walking on trails, especially in early spring when trails can still be muddy. Protection against tick bites is also very important. One of the best websites about ticks and preventing tick bites is Tick Encounter. It’s maintained by the University of Rhode Island and can be found at; https://tickencounter.org/
This is only the second week of TLGV’s annual Spring Outdoors, so remember to check the website for many hikes, walks, paddles and experiences in the region. The link for the online guide can be found at: https://thelastgreenvalley.org/spring-outdoors-events/. Remember to check back often as this list is updated weekly.
We live in a beautiful place called The Last Green Valley. It’s like having a National Park in your backyard. I hope you’ll join me as we care for, enjoy, and pass it on.
By Bill Reid
Bill Reid is the Chief Ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. He has lived in and explored the region for over 40 years and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org