Into the Woods
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On our climb down through the tower, we pause on the lower floors to read the information signs on the building’s history, view artifacts and visit the furnished rooms. The most notable piece is the blue leather chair where Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower was sitting in 1952 when he was informed he would be the GOP candidate for president. Eisenhower was attending one of the Heubleins’ famous outdoor sheep barbecues at the time.
As a fledgling national scenic trail, the NET will likely host a good number of hikers from other parts of the country and even overseas. Quite a bit of work needs to be done to serve them properly.
Eric Hammerling, executive director of CFPA, says trail committees are working on creating camping opportunities and compiling a list of hotels and B&B’s, some of which will offer discounts to hikers. Information kiosks, more signage and brochures are also in the works.
Cain reports that a few hardy long-distance hikers have already completed the NET’s entire 220-mile route, one being well-known hiking personality Ron Strickland. Strickland is no stranger to long-distance hiking but he comes to the outdoors from the creative side, too, as a long-distance trail developer and prolific author.
When the New England National Scenic Trail was designated by Congress in 2009, two others were also added—the Arizona National Scenic Trail and the Pacific Northwest Trail, for which Strickland is responsible. He conceived of this trail 40 years ago and worked on it to its completion. He’s also the author of the guidebook that steers hikers across its 1,200 miles.
Strickland has seen some gorgeous wilderness in the Pacific Northwest, but admits he didn’t expect the level of beauty he found along the NET. The long ridge walks here in Connecticut now rank among his favorites.
“I was surprised to find how terrific a trail it is, especially going through areas of great population density,” he says. “But the scenery is great—there are so many views and the wonderful New England villages with their white church steeples really add to the trail’s charm.”
Strickland found that there was a concentration of hikers around popular and easily accessible spots like the Heublein Tower, but otherwise, he had most of the 220 miles to himself.
The NET fits right into Strickland’s vision of creating a connecting network of long-distance trails in America much like they have in Europe. He would like to see a long trail within a two-hour drive of everyone in the lower 48, and feels the creation of the NET is an inspiring model for that.
After the day’s hike, Don and I indulge our hiker’s appetite at Abigail’s Grille in Simsbury, a historic stage-stop tavern that dates back to 1780. This was the first stop outside of Hartford on the Boston-to-Albany Turnpike. The old road descended Talcott Mountain just as we did today. This was the meeting place where Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys engineered the bloodless capture of Fort Ticonderoga. Our nation’s first two presidents stayed here, as did Harriet Beecher Stowe, but the best story is about the hauntings that continue to beguile visitors to the old tavern.
Manager Markus Lehofer shows us an oil painting of “Abigail,” noting where the canvas had been cut out and then restored. Abigail was supposedly caught as an adulteress in Colonial New England by her husband, who immediately beheaded her. It is claimed by some that her presence has haunted the premises ever since. Besides ghostly entertainment, the restaurant serves up delicious fare, just what two famished hikers need after a day rambling across the hills.
The charming Simsbury 1820 House, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is a Colonial Revival country manor with 34 unique guestrooms that welcomes hikers. Simsbury is also home to Connecticut’s largest tree, the Pinchot Sycamore, and a rare 19th-century iron bridge that blooms with potted plants and is a great pedestrian walk in town. These are the sorts of sights that through-hikers can anticipate finding along the NET.
Day two of exploring the Connecticut portion of the NET finds us back up on the backbone of Talcott Mountain. Multiple vistas pepper our day with plenty of opportunities to sit among the gnarly chestnut oaks and red cedars. We watch turkey vultures, as well as an occasional raptor, soar in the updrafts, as the ridge lies on the Eastern migration flyway. We pass ruins of brick chimneys and old stone walls that once marked the perimeters of farmers’ fields, and wonder about life here long ago. Soon the trail descends into the Tariffville Gorge, where we parallel the beautiful Farmington River, adding yet another dazzling natural feature to our two-day trail sampling.
The miles pass quickly and before we know it, the day is over and we’ve arrived at our final destination. The slogan “Build it and they will come” holds true here on the NET. It is CPFA’s wish that people from all over the country will come to discover this wonderful new national scenic trail; that the communities and landowners will see it as a valuable resource, especially in this peace-and-quiet-starved life that all seem to be living; and that we’ll all work toward caring for it and protecting it for generations to come.
Come on out for a hike this year and spread the word!
For more info, visit newenglandtrail.org.