By Rob McWilliams
We are very fortunate to have the Appalachian Trail (AT) on our doorstep. An hour’s drive takes us to the southern end of the Connecticut section in Sherman. From there, 51 miles of wonderfully varied trail run north to Massachusetts. Head southwest, and there are a further 90 miles in New York within reach.
Our good fortune does not lie in the few hundred ever-hungry, bug-bitten hikers who sweat through our state in high summer on their way from Georgia to Maine (though they are welcome). Rather, the AT is our local amenity, a place for day-hikers, weekend-warrior backpackers, and anyone just looking for a simple stroll in beautiful surroundings.
Over the years, this column has covered some of my favorite stretches of the Connecticut AT. South of Bulls Bridge in Kent there is an easy, mile-long walk along the banks of the Housatonic, followed if you wish with a climb to fine views of the river in its hill-bounded valley (from outlooks on the Herrick Trail, an AT side-trail). At the Massachusetts end stands Bear Mountain. Bear is a fun clamber on its north side, reached via the aptly named Paradise Lane trail. On the south side, the AT climbs to Bear’s krummholz-clad summit more gently, although there is no escaping the initial, panting ascent to the plateau on which the summit sits. Views are spectacular, whichever route you choose. All along the Connecticut AT are sights that reward the hiker; big views, of course, but also riverside meadows, pure upland brooks, and rock ledges perfect for a well-earned doze.
The AT is so time-honored and venerable (it was first thru-hiked in 1948 by World War II veteran Earl V. Shaffer to “walk the army out of my system”) that it is easy to consider it a part of the landscape as immutable as the hills and rocks themselves. It isn’t like that, of course. The AT was built by men and women over the course of a century, and without our care could vanish much more quickly, under scrub or under concrete. Our Connecticut AT is maintained by the local chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club, and on Saturday, May 7, the chapter held its annual “Give a Day to the AT” event. I have given a little to the AT over the years – a few dollars, some (highly unskilled) privy-building labor, a day of bushwhacking to uncover the boundary markers of the AT lands. But I have received much, much more; and so, on a rather gray May morning, I headed up Route 7.
Driving north, I could make out where the Trail ran; over boulder-and-timber mountains, down to the five-mile flat beside the Housatonic north of Kent, up again at Silver Hill. It was beautiful even in the gray, and its preservation felt important to me. And to many others, it soon became apparent! By 9 a.m., 70 or 80 volunteers had assembled at Housatonic Meadows, roughly the halfway mark of the AT in Connecticut. Most of us were giving a day; some, clearly, gave much more of their time and energy. Applause, please. The group divided into a number of teams, illustrative of the tasks needed to keep the AT in good order. There was privy work (done that!); garlic mustard pulling; general maintenance (pruning back undergrowth, removing illicit fire sites, cleaning out water bars, etc.); trail patrol training; and rock work. I chose rock work, under the direction of Jim Liptack.
I had done rock work with Jim before. It involved finding boulders of suitable shape and size (think wheelbarrow tray size) and levering and rolling them to the Trail. There – after much digging and scraping, and more levering – they became steps up a steep slope. It had been hard work, but Jim managed to sell it to me again today. He said something about “making rocks fly” and it sounded fun. About a dozen of us went to Skiff Mountain Road in Kent, and began work on a rocky hillside where the AT starts to climb Caleb’s Peak. We mined boulders, and then flew them over the forest floor to where they were needed. This was accomplished with a strong cable strung between stout trees, webbing to wrap the boulder in, a grip hoist, and a fair amount of muscle. It was indeed fun to watch the boulders whizz downhill, bending the saplings in their path.
When you next tread our AT, using its variety and beauty to recreate or walk something out of your system, please give a thought to the dedicated and occasional volunteers who keep it in existence. Oh, and beware of flying boulders!
|CT APPALACHIAN TRAIL – IF YOU GO …|
|RIVER HIKE||MOUNTAIN HIKE|
|PARK||Bulls Bridge Road, between Route 7 and the covered bridge, 2.5mi north of Gaylordsville.||Undermountain Trail, CT Route 41, 3mi north Salisbury.|
|ROUTE||AT south to Ned Anderson Memorial Bridge. For Housatonic overlook continue 1.1 mi to Herrick Trail, then 0.4 miles east on Herrick.||Undermountain Trail – Paradise Lane – AT south– Undermountain again (from Riga Junction).|
|DISTANCE||To bridge and back, 2.2 miles. To overlook and back, 5.2 miles.||6.7 miles.|
|MAPS||Official AT trail map. Herrick Trail map from Naromi Land Trust site. Trails are signposted and blazed (white blazes for the AT).|