Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Good Things, Small Packages - Southford Falls State Park

         Southford Falls State Park, Oxford, CT

         State Park site                         Trail Map

There are over a hundred state parks in little Connecticut, and beyond Sleeping Giant, I’ve only been to a few – those with miles of trails on their own or where one of the blue-blazed trails passes through.  At 120 acres, Southford Falls is one of the smaller parks.

But I am a sucker for waterfalls, and when a photo group planned a shoot at Southford Falls, I had to check it out.  The falls are a beautiful photo spot, but don’t stop there.  The state park is a great place to spend some time and wander around. 

The falls run on Eight Mile Brook as it flows from Lake Quassapaug to the Housatonic River.  If you're mapping it out, be careful to avoid wrong turns from the naming convention used out here - this waterway is not to be confused with Seven Mile Brook or Six Mile Brook that both flow into the Eight Mile, or with Five Mile Brook and Four Mile Brook that flow into the Housatonic south of the Eight Mile.  Clear?  OK, let’s move on.

Eight Mile Brook as it rushes down from the falls under the Covered Bridge

The steep drop of the river, coupled with the narrow channel through the rock ledge, made this a good spot for water power in the 1800’s.  Fabric mills, saw mills and grist mills were built along the banks. In 1855, a papermill was built on the falls.  A second mill was built a little farther south, and a raceway from the falls brought steady supply of water there.  Over time, the paper mill was expanded, and a dam was built for power generation – creating what is now Papermill Pond on the north side of the park.  The Diamond Match Company bought the mill, and operated it producing cardboard until it burned around 19251

The Diamond Match Company papermill, with
the falls at the right side of the page.
from History of the Town of Oxford, Connecticut, Litchfield and Hoyt, 1960 

Looking around now, with the park and river and bridle trail, you might describe the area as peaceful, bucolic, serene, pastoral…  But in the early 1900’s the river was heavily polluted, and the noise from the mills must have been deafening.  After the mill burned, the property was sold and eventually given to the state.  Finally, in the 1930’s, workers with the Civilian Conservation Corps removed remains of the mill buildings and cleared the way for the state park as it sits now.

I include that history lesson because (one) I just like history and know our state parks didn’t just appear out of thin air one day, and (two) you can explore around the falls and find remnants of foundations and the raceway, so now you know what the heck they are.  You can get even more detail at the Oxford Historical Society or the town's Municipal History page.

The nearly two-mile long loop trail goes past the falls, across a covered bridge, along the river through a pine forest and over a short boardwalk on the river bank.  And that’s just the first third of a mile. 

Picturesque covered bridge.  It's good they put that sign up,
otherwise we wouldn't know what that red thing was!

Tree latched onto a boulder.  Check the rock formations as you 
pass through the ledge channel.
Rockhounds - look for Collinsville Formation in the outcrop uphill from here 

Boardwalk along the river bank

The trail continues around through the hardwood forest over ledge and marsh, with a spur that heads up to an observation tower. The trees have grown up as tall as the tower, so the view is only open toward the west.  But it's fun to climb and have a look anyway.

Reflecting pool above the falls

If two miles isn’t enough of a hike for you, go around again and see what you missed the first time. Past the wetlands, the trail leads along the bank of Papermill Pond, a stocked and protected trout park.  Next to the pond, there is a large picnic area and pavilion, and a big open grassy area.

With the waterfall and easy trail, trout pond and picnic area, Southford Falls is a great spot to spend half a day.  The Oxford and Southbury area is nice to drive around, too.  Who knows what you’ll stumble on – if I hadn’t driven by this sign, I’d never have known what to do with the deer this hunting season…

1 Norman Litchfield and Sabina Connolly Hoyt PhD, History of the Town of Oxford, Connecticut, Oxford, CT 1960.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Point Me The Way Home


Cairns are simply man-made piles of stone.  Out on a hike, we’ve all seen them used for trail or summit markers.  This one on Brace Mountain not only marks the summit, but acts as a base for the parasailer’s wind sock.

Connecticut High Point on Mt Frissell

Around here, most trails are marked by painted spots on trees.  But on rocky passes, or in places like utility corridors where there are no trees, those piles of stone mark the trail - especially where the path isn’t obvious.  Ducks (cairns with a pointed rock – a beak – on top) may point you in the trail’s direction. 

Blue Trail cairn on the Mattabesett Trail

The rock piles are often about a foot or two high, and whenever I pass I may add a couple of stones to keep the pile neat and pointing the right way. 

But things have gotten out of hand!   Some of the trails are just littered with little piles of rock – 5, 8, 10 stones high.  Hopefully off to the side of the trail, but sometimes smack dab in the middle (at least until someone kicks them down). 

Sleeping Giant White Trail in Hamden

Zoar Trail in Sandy Hook
Whenever I pass, all these questions jump to mind - Are these gnome markers?  Are they the beginning of a public art exhibition – like modern art decorating shopping centers or sculpture walks through city parks?  Are they the work of worn out walkers, looking for any excuse to take a break – “just give me a minute, statue’s almost done…”

Whittemore Trail in Beacon Falls

I've never come across a cairn in progress, I've never spotted someone (or something) actually building one of these.  They are just there.  In fact, I've found these little decorative heaps hiking out and back trails – nothing there on the first pass, but an hour later – poof, a little pile dropped carefully from the heavens. 

Never, that is, until now.  The riddle was finally answered when I caught this forest pixie adding to a little garden of trail sculptures, rock piles and cairns

She's tall for a gnome.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Quinnipiac Trail - West Woods detour

Fall in New England, it's a really nice time to hike - cool days, colorful leaves...   and the Quinnipiac Trail through Hamden is a great trail - woods, hills, views, rivers etc etc.  But for the last couple of years, there have been trail interruptions for road and bridge construction and a little logging.  The projects are near done, and pretty soon I think the trail will be remapped and remarked.  Until then, it's a little tricky through this section, and the CFPA recommends an alternate route around the mess.

The original and detour routes make a loop hike I've done a lot - this time I took pictures.

The trail leaves Sleeping Giant State Park along the Mill River, and runs right smack into bridge construction on Mt Carmel Ave, and the road realignment project at the corner of Whitney Ave, Mt Carmel Ave and West Woods Rd.  Once the construction is completed, the blue trail will go over the new bridge and back into the woods along old walls and foundations of an 1800's axel shop.  Until then, just follow Mt Carmel up the road and cross onto West Woods Rd.

Here's where the original trail and the detour come together.  The Quinnipiac follows West Woods Road west (straight ahead in this photo), and then turns onto Kimberly Street.  The detour turns left here and heads south along the Farmington Canal Trail - a barge canal then railroad that's been turned into a hike and bike path.

I still like the hike through the woods, so I'll start there.  Description of the detour path is a little farther down the page...

This section of West Woods Rd was moved recently and the project is just about done.  There are no blazes painted yet on the new poles, but the trail continues along the road, and then turns left, south, onto Kimberly Street.  Halfway up the hill on Kimberly, you'll find the first blazes.  This road continues up to Quinnipiac University's York Hill campus, but the trail turns right into the woods at the gate in the center of this photo.

Hike along an old woods road, and then turn onto the smaller blue blazed path.

The trail continues up and along the ridge behind Quinnipiac's campus, and follows it through what was once a collection of summer cottages.  In fact, the trail goes right through the living room of  one of them - past a stone oven and chimney.  There are a few foundation blocks scattered around the woods.

This walk through the woods continues for about 3/4 mile, and then the trail breaks out into the open.

You can see York Mountain to the west, and nothing but scrub brush in front of you.  This lot was clear cut a few years ago, and the trail through the woods obliterated.  But a path has been cut and blazed, and then left alone - so it's overgrown with shrubs and thorn bushes.  Just pick one of the semi-cleared paths and head south between the tree line to the east, and the ridge to the west.  The path opens up into a grassy lane, then hits the woods again.  Follow the blazes down the hill and turn left at the bottom, out onto Rocky Top Road.

The Quinnipiac Trail continues west on Rocky Top, across Shepard and up onto York Mountain.

If you don't want to be bothered with bushwacking through the shrubbery, that detour along the road is your ticket through.

Once you get out of Sleeping Giant park, and cross Whitney Ave, the paved Farmington Canal trail cuts across West Woods Road heading north and south.  Turn south and walk behind the little plaza of shops.  Stop for pizza or a sandwich if you're looking for a snack break!

Continue along the trail, watching for bikers and roller bladers - be ready to take cover when you hear the screech of brakes behind you with someone yelling "on your left" - the bike path gets pretty busy, especially on weekends.  As it's an old rail line, there are still a few brick station buildings that have been turned into offices or stores.

Keep going on the trail until it comes out along Sherman Avenue across from the entrance to the Quinnipiac campus.  You have to get off the trail here, and walk along Sherman, and then take a right onto Rocky Top Road.  Rocky Top is a narrow, windy road - so watch for cars coming around the bend.  I guarantee - you'll see them before they see you!  Hike along Rocky Top for a half mile until you go over the hill and come around the bend meeting up with the blue blazed Quinnipiac Trail.

Rocky Top trail head

Together, the trail and detour route make a 3 1/4 mile loop hike.  All the construction should be finished in the next couple of months.  But there may be additional rerouting of the blue trail near Rocky Top.  In the meantime, I'll do what I can to keep the brush tamped down.

Approximate Trail Route


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