This past weekend I was able cross “section hike an entire blue trail” off my to do list! In an earlier post I wrote about my first section hike of the Nipmuck Trail (https://www.joshbeaulieu.com/post/nipmuck-a-connecticut-blue-trail ). After 5 trips out I completed the last of the 35 miles through eastern CT at the trails starting point on the Mass boarder. Completing this series of hikes was a great experience for me, a very modest accomplishment and really great exercise! I hiked the Nipmuck trail in five sections. Since I’ve previously written about my first Nipmuck hike covering the last 14 miles of trail I’ll fill in some details about the other sections to the north. First though I have some observations about hiking right now.
I started pursuing this trail as we in Connecticut were shifting into pandemic mode. Every aspect of daily life has been impacted by this health crisis. For someone who is still going in to work every day, spending time on a quiet trail in the woods offers a welcome retreat. I enjoy the peace. The crisp, damp air provides a pleasant smell and feel that allows for at least a temporary escape from the current daily stressors. Yes, there are regular stories about crowded state parks and “too many people” out on popular trails. I very much support social distancing as a primary means to defeat this virus. I’ll be the first to advocate for encouraging people to get outside more too, however. I think it’s great that families are taking to the trails and enjoying fresh air and sunlight together. There is more than enough room out there for everyone who wants to be outdoors. Ultimately, I truly believe we would be a healthier society, through this crisis and beyond, if more people would get outside. There is little risk in socially distanced hiking through the woods. I believe that any benefit derived from closing busy parking areas to discourage congregating in parks is far outweighed by the damage done in not allowing people easy access to the outdoors and the trails. But I digress. What I have noticed recently is how differently people interact with one another on the trails. Regular hikers tend to pass with a nicety (good morning, have a good hike, etc…) and an effort to allow for courteous distancing as they do so. You can sense their heightened awareness of others, but it seems to be out of caution and not discomfort. I’ve noticed that people who don’t appear to regularly spend time in the woods tend to interact with others on a trail with much more anxiety. The same discomfort often felt in interacting with someone on the street today is being carried into the woods. I’m not implying that this is right or wrong, or good or bad. I agree that we all need to be extra cautious. I’m just pointing out that it’s different. So as to not make people uncomfortable I’ve been in the habit of stepping well off the trail and giving the right of way to anyone coming in my direction to the extent possible. If I don’t get an engaged return to my smile and “good morning” I understand.
I hiked the first section of the Nipmuck trail from Route 74 south and the balance of the trail from south to north. I can certainly make some generalities about the entire route. First, this trail is impeccably blazed and very well maintained. If I wandered off trail at all it was because I was daydreaming and not because the trail wasn’t clearly marked. Most water crossings have bridges or at least logs. Areas that are regularly wet are easy to get through over rocks or logs intentionally placed there, or they could be navigated around without much trouble. The entire trail passes through typical New England old growth forests littered with moss covered boulders and mountain laurel. This time of year the primary color is still brown but the frequent stone walls and plentiful water features along this trail at least make up for the dull early spring landscape.
Different sections of this trail have some very cool features. One of my favorite spots for a break and some pictures was Pixie Falls. As you may derive from the name, this is not a large water feature but nonetheless an enjoyable one to sit by for a few minutes. The small river turns as it splashes over this short series of drops stretching for maybe 20 yards in total. The falls sit at the end of a short connector trail near the intersection of the Natchaug Trail in Ashford. Further north the trail passes through a section where for almost two miles you’re on a bit of a ridge that offers an interesting change of perspective. There’s an initial steep climb up to the ridge before the trail levels out and runs through unique rock formations for quite a distance.
Further north the trail passes through a section of the Yale-Myers forest. The Nipmuck trail is the only public access to the approximately 7,800 acre property owned and managed by Yale University. The forest is the site of regular teaching and research projects for the school. Just before the northern boundary of this forest on Route 171 there is a gathering area with some benches and an information board. The trail passes behind this area and through a section of forest were dozens of small trees and saplings are tagged with metal rings containing numbers. In this area on the last section of my hike last week I ran in to a professor who was giving a lesson that was being video recorded by a teaching assistant. I stopped out of the way so as not to interrupt, just close enough to pick up on a British accent discussing canopy growth in the area. When I continued on past we exchanged a pleasant but guarded hello and I got a quick explanation that this would “have to do” since the class could not meet as a group.
On the other side of Route 171 the trail entered Bigelow Hollow State park. The majority of this final stretch followed along the side of Breakneck Pond. The weather was cool and clear making the pond appear still and inviting. There are several great camping areas along the banks of this pond and several other trails all throughout the state park property. Again, another hidden gem in Connecticut’s outdoor recreation landscape.
While the Nipmuck Trail is about 35 miles in total, it took me closer to 50 miles of hiking to complete it. Due to the need for social distancing there was little car spotting and getting rides. Three of my five section hikes were done as out and back, and one I managed to make into a pseudo-loop hike. The extra miles were all welcome though as hiking isn’t about the destination, it’s about the journey. Time spent in the woods is time well spent in my book.
For anyone near eastern Connecticut I would highly recommend any section of the Nipmuck Trail. From end to end it offers reasonable elevations, a mix of natural and historic scenery, plenty of water and even the occasional wildlife. I look forward to continued Blue Trail hikes this year. I’ll keep you posted.