Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Naugatuck Trail

The Naugatuck Trail runs through the East Block of the Naugatuck State Forest in Bethany – from Route 42 near Simpson Pond to Route 8 in Beacon Falls. The 5 ½ mile trail is a shadow of its former self, when it covered a much longer route between the Quinnipiac and Paugussett Trails. Since I was hiking out and back - and adding the three side trails - this hike covered about 10 ½ miles.


Note - you can get a better topographic map with route and full trail description from the Connecticut Forest and Park Association - the Walk Book West.  After all, this is who maintains the trail!

There is only space for a couple of cars along the road at the Route 42 trailhead (see map). I parked instead at the Whittemore trailhead just a quarter mile west, and then hiked back to start the Naugie.
Old stone walls and foundation from the previous owner.

Along the road, there are remnants of stone foundations and walls from homesteads prior to the establishment of the state forest. The trail begins downhill from the route 42 parking area, along a woods road, but soon cuts west into the forest as it parallels and crosses a stream. It works its way uphill through hardwood and laurel forest until the turnoff for Beacon Cap. This blue and yellow blazed side trail takes you around to a clearing where hawks and turkey vultures were gliding around. Down a steep embankment and then up a rocky climb again leads to Beacon Cap, the 770’ highpoint around here, with views to the south and east. You can just catch a glimpse of water in the New Naugatuck Reservoir.  Not so new, the Long Hill Dam went up in 1914, but I guess the name stuck.

The trail heads away from the woods road, up and into the forest

Through the laurel canopy

Taking a break at Beacon Cap.  If you're nimble enough,
scramble up on the boulder for the best view.

A glimmer of water - the New Naugatuck Reservoir

Carefully back through the rocks, the Naugatuck heads west through the forest until it leads you down through a ravine. This lowland section crosses an old utility corridor. It gets pretty swampy, past streams and vernal pools. In fact, the trail itself is a vernal pool, with frogs and salamanders between the rocks and stepping stones, until it starts back up hill.




Swamped trail or vernal pool.  Who says it can't be both??
Lichen and moss cover the boulders

As you climb and crest the hill and start coming down through the pines (steeply through the pines), the sounds of civilization creep in again - this time road noise. The trail comes out of the forest, and runs next to the Route 8 highway for a little while until it reaches the north trailhead on Andrasko Road. There is parking for maybe two cars here, but there is a commuter parking lot just off the highway exit only a couple hundred yards from the trailhead.

Here's my exit...  The trail as it parallels Route 8
Just beyond the highway is the Naugatuck River, and unfortunately there is no river access from the trail (unless you want to try and star in a new “why did the chicken cross the road” story). At 40 miles, the Naugatuck is the largest river that both begins and ends in the state, with several major dams in place before it joins the Housatonic River in Derby. This website details the river’s industrial past (hey, Naugahide had to be invented somewhere!) and its current recovery for fishing and recreation. The river is stocked with trout up north above the Thomaston Dam, and here between Naugatuck and Beacon Falls.

The Naugatuck River from the Depot Street Bridge in Beacon Falls


I planned on stopping at the trailhead for lunch before turning around for my return trip, but it’s not the prettiest area. I hiked back into the woods to a more picturesque spot. Egypt Brook runs down along the trail before it empties into the Naugatuck River, and there’s a nice clearing in the pine forest by this waterfall. It’s been used as a campsite, with a fire pit and teepee frame nearby – and no trash to speak of, whoever the last occupant was cleaned up pretty well.



Still life on the trail












Back on the trail, hiking back up the hill, the next side trail breaks off just over a mile from the Andrasko trailhead. The Spruce Knoll Trail is just a tenth of a mile long, leading to an open area “with limited seasonal views” of the Naugatuck Valley. I found the clearing, but even standing on a nearby boulder only had views of more trees.


Spruce Knoll clearing

I wound my way through the forest another 2 ¼ miles to find the junction with the Whittemore Trail. This trail is a shortcut back to Route 42, and can be used to create a 3 mile loop hike here at the east end of the Naugatuck. The trail leads through mountain laurel and forest and over a couple of streams back to the trailhead. The Whittemore wins two awards – best use of rock path to protect the trail from erosion and to allow dry footing through the soggy areas, and most trail art – cairns were built next to the trail at several spots as decoration.

Whittemore Trail junction with the Naugatuck Trail

Rock walk protects the trail

A little trail art to decorate the forest

I noted earlier that the trail is much shorter now that originally laid out. Commercial and residential development cut chunks off the trail, but there are remnants that have been protected by town and land trust groups. One of those is the Bethany Farms trail system, with parts of the Naugatuck in Bethany and Woodbridge. As the land was developed, the town and land trust organization worked to include trail easements and open space in the plan for the best of both worlds – residential development and open recreational trails. What do you think – can that work in your town?

1 comment:

  1. Instead of trying to squeeze into the parking area by the trail, I recommend using Bethany Veteran’s Memorial Park, 270 Beacon Rd. (Rt. 42), Bethany. From Rt. 8 Exit 23, take Rt. 42 East for 4 miles. Park is on the right about ¾ of a mile past the Beacon Falls-Bethany border. Go all the way down the driveway and park by the pond. You can loop through the park and cross directly to the Naugatuck Trail.

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