Saturday, April 30, 2011

Nayantaquit Trail - Lyme, CT

Nayantaquit Trail in the Lyme section of the Nehantic State Forest – 4 mile loop trail with two side trails, total hike about 7 miles.

         State Forest Map                                         State Forest Website

The Nehantic State Forest is the first in New London County, with land purchases completed in 1925.  It’s broken into two sections, here in the Lyme block and then the East Lyme block a little farther to the northeast.

The entrance to the state forest is off Route 156 in Lyme – on a small dirt road that’s easy to miss.  If you’re coming up from the south, as I was, and pass Elsie and here friends at Tiffany Farms, you’ve gone too far.  The entrance road, Keeny Road, is a dirt/crushed rock road that winds along the southern end of the forest leading to two small lakes: Norwich Pond and Uncas Pond.  Boat launches for both are off Keeny Road No motors, great place for paddling - and now that fishing season has opened, it’s rumored to be a good place to find bass, perch and lake trout. 

The trailhead parking lot is past the lakes, further up Keeny.  Follow the blue blaze past the park service road gate, and southwest into the woods.  Past boulders, up and down through the open woods and to an open section of forest with this big information sign:

Beech tree leaves hanging on from last fall

The forest is maintained by the DEP, with planned tree harvests to take out older growth and allow room for seedlings to grow.  There’s a section near the main entrance that has undergone planned burns to open up the forest growth. This from the DEP website:

                 Nehantic State Forest Native American Burn Demonstration Area
A 16 acre forest stand has been intentionally burned repeatedly to simulate the structure of the forests of Southern Connecticut just prior to European settlement.  Native Americans often burned much of the forest in order to make the forest more habitable. The burns increased grasses which attracted their game animals, increased berry production, and facilitated the collection of firewood and acorns as well as numerous other benefits.
Nehantic was the name of the Indian tribe in the area, though is may translate to “big rocks in the forest”.  The trail runs through and over boulder fields as you make your way up toward Brown Hill.  The CFPA trail map notes ruins here, remnants of an old home – rock walls, foundations and an old well.  This is also the point where the two side trails come together with the main trail – the Crossover trail heads north and the Uncas Pond Connector heads south toward… well you guessed it – Uncas Pond.

What's left of the well near an old homestead site
Quiet morning on Uncas Pond
 Up and down the hills, and across a stream and forest road, you reach the pond area.  It’s a state maintained picnic area – tables and grills set up, a little play area near the water, and port-a-potties placed discretely here and there – ready for the summer crowds.  I came through the weekend before fishing season opened, and had the place to myself.  And the pond was beautiful – quiet, with the morning fog starting to lift – and empty except for a few geese swimming around.  After a waterside snack, I took off again – feeling relaxed, content, happy with life – probably had something to do with this message on the way through the parking area:

Thanks – you look maaavelous, too.

I was going to head back on the same connector trail that took me down here, but looking at the map found a forest road named “Balanced Rock Road”.  Chances are it was named for something, and sure enough –

another boulder, set a kilter and balancing on its corner.  I gave it a little nudge just to be sure it was safe before mentioning the spot.  

Mourning Coat Butterrfly
sunning on a log
One of the many woods roads
through the forest

This area was farmland and grazing pasture years ago, with woods roads and old stone walls all through the forest.  I took one of these roads back up and around and turned northeast at an orange navigation sign toward the Nayantaquit Trail, meeting it back where the connector trails come together.  The trail continues northwest along one of these old roads, heads back into the forest, and then comes out along a small stream near the intersection of several paths.  There’s got to be some activity here, since there’s no other reason somebody would plant another port-a-potty here in the middle of the forest.  This has to rank high on the list of “most facilities per trail mile” of any of the Connecticut Blue Trails. 

Here the trail heads up hill to the summit of Nickerson Hill.  The maps and guides talk of views to Long Island and Long Island Sound, but even standing on a boulder I could just make out more tree tops.  Maybe on a clearer day… 

The summit does have an amazing rock formation – three big boulders lined neatly up along the trail – a great picnic spot as this is a little more than halfway around the loop.  While there wasn’t much of a long view, three or four turkey vultures were riding the currents up the hill, swooping and spiraling for an air-show while I snacked.

On to the hike.  The CFPA website has updated the text and trail description for this section of the hike; I guess the trail blazes were a little confusing.  But that seems to have been corrected.  I followed the blazed trail along the ledge, and started to head down hill at another one of the orange markers.  CFPA says these are National Guard orientation markers.  I looked around to make sure I wasn’t in the middle of some training exercise (picturing camo-painted special forces crawling through the forest) and made my way down the hill to another intersection of stream, trail and woods road.  Hiking along a swampy section here, I was reminded this is a birder’s hot spot – especially now, between April and June.  Woodpeckers were having at the trees as a red tail hawk glided over.  I didn’t see much other than a few robins and chickadees flitting around, but I didn’t stop to look either. 

Another quarter mile, and I came to the junction of the last side trail, aptly named the Crossover Trail.  This cuts through the center of the loop, along a fairly flat and open section of the forest.  It heads along more stone walls, and ends up back near the ‘ruins’.  Along the way, there are more glacial boulders scattered around, including one with a twisting top – looked like the top of a soft-serve ice cream cone, but I was getting pretty hungry now and may not have been thinking clearly.

What does it look like to you?
There’s another woods road that runs parallel to the crossover, I took that back to the main trail (most of the way – I lost that trail and ended back on the crossover about two thirds of the way through.)  The last section of the Nayantaquit runs through a field of thicket and back to the signpost that directs you to the parking area or back toward Brown Hill and the lake. 

I have to send kudos to the trail crew – sections like this can get overgrown in just one season, but the entire trail was well maintained, even after the tough winter we had. 

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Zoar Trail - Prydden Brook Trail

Last September I hiked the Zoar Trail in the Paugussett State Forest expecting to have lunch next to the huge waterfall where Prydden Brook empties into Lake Zoar.  Imagine my disappointment to find a bone dry brook and a lot of dry rocks were there was supposed to be a gushing waterfall.

Now with the melted snow and early spring rains, it was worth another trip into the forest to see what the brook and falls were like.  And voila, Prydden Falls:

I started the same route as my last trip – parking at the Great Quarter Road trailhead lot and hiking in along the lake.  To be accurate, Lake Zoar isn’t a lake, but a wide section of the Housatonic River upstream of the Stevenson Dam.  The town of Zoar was flooded in 1919 when the river was dammed for power generation, so they got the ‘lake’ named after them.  The Zoar Trail is a loop route along the river, crossing the Prydden Brook just above the falls, and then coming back around through the Paugussett State Forest finishing with a road walk along Great Quarter Road back to the parking area – about a 6 ½ mile hike. 

Back to the hike - I passed a few people along the trail, and in case it looks like I was alone in the forest, check out this group at the falls, the main attraction.  Backpacks came off; a few tripods out and up – a nature photographer’s dream. 

Instead of continuing on the Blue Trail passed the falls, I hiked west along the south bank of the brook.  The trail isn’t marked – no painted blazes - but it is cleared and easy to follow.  The brook was running fast, and there were small waterfalls all along the way.  In one steep section, the trail crew built a stone stairway to protect the trail from erosion – it would be a waterslide otherwise.

The brook crosses the blue trail again after about a half-mile, and I headed south again through the laurels and forest.  There were spots where the trail was under water.  I passed a couple of hikers bushwhacking to higher ground to avoid this swamped section – their sneakers would get a little soggy.

Watch that first step!  Blue Trail                                                 Swamped section of the Blue Trail - 
Crosses over Pryddon Brook                                                      Waders just might be required!

Along the way here, the Connecticut Walk Book indicates a scenic spot looking back toward the river.  In September, when the leaves were still on the trees, I couldn't see much of anything.  But now, you can peek through the trees for a view to the river below.

My shortcut along the brook cut a couple miles off the hike compared to covering the entire Zoar Trail.  But it was a good way to kill a couple of hours that afternoon, and I got that picnic by the falls!


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