Hiking the New England Trail
Several years ago, while attending a Project Wet workshop at the CT Forest and Park headquarters, I overheard one of the attendees talking about the New England Trail (NET) system. She described a 215 mile pathway that had been recently designated as a National Scenic Trail by the National Park Service. Its gateway, I learned, was located on the Long Island Sound, in the town of Guilford. From there, it continued north, bisecting the entire states of Connecticut and Massachusetts, and finally coming to an end, just over the border of New Hampshire, atop Mount Monadnock. The Connecticut section, alone, is over 98 miles long, and is comprised of the Metacomet, Mattabesett and the recently established Menunkatuck Trail.
Living in the northwest corner of Connecticut affords me a considerable choice of day hikes to choose from. Several Appalachian trailheads are only minutes from my home, and the nearby Taconic Range Trail system in neighboring New York State is easily accessible for a weekend jaunt. This past summer, however, I found myself seeking new territories to explore, and I decided it was as good a time as any to start a traverse of the Connecticut section of the New England Trail. I texted the following message to my friend, Deb, who I’ve known since grade school: “Would you like to hike the New England Trail with me?” Her response was, “I don’t know what that is, but something tells me I’m in.” Now Deb grew up on a dairy farm, and the one thing I know about real farmers is they know how to work hard, and they know how to play harder. She was going to be the perfect hiking partner.
In early September we met for our first hike. We both had social commitments that particular day, so we only planned an eight mile jaunt from the border of Massachusetts, in the Rising Corner section of Southwick, south into the town of Granby. It was a beautiful, late summer day, with just a hint of fall in the air. We parked one car at the junction of Route 20 and Newgate Road and the other on South Longyard Road. We realized, early on, that finding the designated parking areas was going to be a challenge, as it took us the better part of a half hour to find the northern trailhead.
This particular section is rated as “moderately difficult”, but we found that the climbs were not as arduous as expected, and we were able to maintain a comfortable, yet energetic pace. Suffield Mountain was the first peak we encountered on this section. At 710 feet, we were treated to breathtaking views of western Connecticut and southern Massachusetts, with large expanses of emerald green farmland in the foreground. Heading south, we ascended Peak Mountain, the next pinnacle along the Metacomet Ridge. We took in yet another stunning western view, as well as a glimpse of the Old Newgate Prison directly below us. At Chimney Point, the ubiquitous trap rock, or basalt, found along the ridge, has been sculpted by thousands of years of erosion, into chimney shaped spires. This volcanic rock was formed when lava bubbled up through the rift formed when the African and Eurasian Plates were pulling the North American Plate eastward, before eventually breaking away. (If you picture a candy bar filled with caramel being pulled apart, that’s sort of what Connecticut looked like during this time period.) At approximately seven miles, we began a steep descent to Route 20 and our waiting car. Eight miles down and only 90 more to go!
Photo: View of Old Newgate Prison atop Peak Mountain, photo credit: Nora Hulton
Two weeks later, we tackled the 11 mile section from Route 20 in Granby to Penwood State Forest in Simsbury. The first mile or so skirts around, and is hosted by, the Galasso Quarry Company. At about four miles, we were treated to a stunning view of the Farmington River, where it runs through the charming village of Tarriffville. After a short, half-mile jog through the center of town and over the Farmington River Bridge, we were back in the woods and entering the Penwood State Park. This 800 acre parcel was donated by Curtis Veeder, a Connecticut inventor and conservationist. Check out this link to learn more about his life and contributions: https://www.ctwoodlands.org/sites/default/files/woodlands_2013_fall_vol78_n3.pdf. Veeder and his wife were avid hikers, and they built many of their own trails to explore their land and all of the flora and fauna that inhabited it. When donating the parcel, his only wish was that it, "be kept in a natural state so that those who love nature may enjoy this property as I have enjoyed it." Some of the attractions along this almost six mile section include: an impressive set of stone steps constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps, a newly constructed viewing platform that looks out over Lake Louise, and several scenic outlooks. A rocky descent led us to an old woods road, where we headed south, on weary legs, to the parking lot.
Nineteen down, and 79 to go!
Nora Hulton is a Connecticut Certified Master Conservationist and avid hiker. Stay tuned for the next leg of her adventures on the New England Trail.