The Day – Hike to the Massachusetts Border on the Shenipsit Trail (Part I)
“OK, I’m going to walk a little slower on the next section,” said Larry Lawrence. His nonchalant tone suggested nothing more dramatic than a squirrel munching on an acorn.
Then he casually added, “That’s where we might encounter rattlesnakes.”
Our group of hikers had approached a series of steep ledges on the Shenipsit Trail in Glastonbury, famous or infamous for being home to the largest known population of timber rattlesnakes in the state.
I had mixed feelings. On the one hand, it would be exciting to see this endangered species for the first time; on the other, while Connecticut has had no fatalities from rattlesnake bites (reclusive reptiles typically retreat rather than strike), they are venomous vipers.
I like the advice WC Fields once gave: “Always carry a flask of whiskey in case of a snakebite – and besides, always have a small snake.”
For better or for worse, we ended up seeing nothing more venomous than a harmless garter snake. Just as well – I’m pretty sure none of us have worn anything stronger than Gatorade.
Over the past few weeks friends and I have hiked the Shenipsit in stages from East Hampton to Stafford and hope to be done soon. We originally didn’t plan on doing the entire 50 mile trail, but changed our route after we had a chance to meet Larry early on.
Our journey began in early May when Maggie Jones, Mary Sommer and I, looking to hike somewhere none of us had been before, chose the Meshomasic State Forest – Connecticut’s first state forest. , established in 1903, and the second oldest in the country. The Shenipsit Trail is the only blue trail with access to the 9,000 acre forest, so we drove to the southern terminus on Gadpouch Road in Cobalt, a borough of East Hampton named after the mineral prized for its blue color brilliant used to decorate pottery.
An abandoned cobalt mine, where workers mined tons of ore in the 18th and 19th centuries to import around the world, is not far from the Shenipsit trailhead.
In less than half a mile, we scaled the steep ridge of Great Hill and veered briefly onto the Lookout Trail for sweeping views of the Connecticut River, about two miles to the west.
“Worth the trip,” noted Mary.
We had planned to continue the hike for four or five miles, turn around, retrace our steps, and then say goodbye to the Shenipsit.
But after two miles, approaching unpaved Woodchopper Road, we noticed a man carrying a hiking pole getting out of a white van that was parked in a small clearing.
Turns out we had bumped into Larry, a Meshomasic hiking club member who has hiked the entire Shenipsit Trail and regularly leads hikes in the forest. He also spends his free time cleaning up litter and fallen branches from the trail, which is part of the Connecticut Forest & Park Association’s blue-marked trail system.
Our group struck up a conversation and Larry agreed to come with us. We couldn’t have asked for a better guide. Larry quickly led us to abandoned feldspar and mica mines and described alluring features farther north: tumbling waterfalls, isolated caves, towering ridges, wildflower meadows… At the end of the day, we invited him to join us for the rest of the way on hikes. approximately every week at a distance of six to 12 miles.
Larry arranged for a friend or his wife, Lorraine, to help him drop off his van at the north end of each hike, so we could walk back with him to our car. Otherwise we would have to travel the Shenipsit back and forth through Portland, East Hampton, Glastonbury, Manchester, Bolton, Vernon, Tolland, Ellington, Somers and Stafford.
The back of Larry’s van has no seat and various tools are strewn across the hard floor which made for a bumpy ride, but the ride was a welcome relief after hours of walking over rough terrain.
On various outings, we were joined by Phil Plouffe, Andy Lynn, Chris Woodside, Steve Kurczy and Steve’s toddler, Manny, happily ensconced in a huge padded baby carrier on his dad’s back.
Steve carried Manny this way to the peaks of New Hampshire’s 48 mountains that rise above 4,000 feet, so he didn’t break a sweat climbing 735-foot Case Mountain in Manchester.
Other highlights of our hike so far have included views from the 893-foot summit of Bald Hill in Glastonbury, secluded serenity at Flat Brook Falls, strolling through verdant corridors lined with ferns, moss and of mountain laurel, as well as along the Hop River Cycle Path near Bolton Notch, which was adorned with dozens of flower slippers.
Maggie also maintained a running commentary on all flora and fauna.
She noted that on our first hike the forest was still mostly brown except for green moss covering rocks and fallen logs, patches of railings, and a few colorful wildflowers, such as columbine, early saxifrage and the trout lily.
“The first waves of Neotropical migratory birds have started to arrive – Louisiana warbler, black-and-white warbler and blue-gray gnats chasing insects along streams and in treetops,” Maggie added.
During subsequent forays we began to see starflowers, trilliums and lady’s slippers, and to hear the calls of scarlet tanagers, veerys, wood thrushes and forked birds – all signifying “the quality of this habitat and the importance of protecting large reserves,” said Maggie.
On a less than scintillating note, we also encountered several dirt bikes, roaring illegally through the state forest, and ended up one day on a three-mile boardwalk that served as a safer alternative to racing on the very 2 road. frequented.
We look forward to other features ahead of us, including the 1,075-foot Soapstone Mountain in Somers and the 523-acre Lake Shenipsit, which locals call “The Snip.” Shenipsit is the Native American word meaning “at the big lake”. I’ll write about the rest of the track next week.
More information about the Shenipsit is available on the Connecticut Forest & Park Association website, ctwoodlands org.
More information about the 400-member Meshomasic Hiking Club, which has donated more than $50,000 to land trusts for open space preservation, is available at meshomasichikingclub.org.