It’s hard to picture the imaginary lines that make up the borders between towns and cities. So back in the day, town leaders were required to occasionally perambulate the borders of the town to make sure everything matched up on the map and in the record books.
There are places across Connecticut where visitors can see exactly where the town borders meet — the most famous being the “Tri-State Marker” in Thompson denoting where Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island come together. In some towns are locations known as “selectmen’s stones,” small rocks etched with initials and dates that mark a place where town borders meet and when perambulations took place.
But Canfield-Meadow Woods Nature Preserve is home to the rare selectmen’s boulder marking where the northern portion of Essex meets Deep River. The formation is known as the “Town Line Boulder” and several dates can clearly be seen etched into the boulder, including 1820. The 300-acre preserve in Deep River and Essex is a fun romp past some other neat rock formations — Eagle Rock, Cleft Rock, Castle Rock, Split Rock — that will have you both nodding your head in agreement and scratching your head as you ponder the genesis of their names.
There are myriad trails at the preserve, so it will take some planning before you start the visit. The main entrance along Route 154 has a map kiosk as well as paper maps. There are also maps and “you are here” signs placed strategically around the preserve with trails well marked and blazed.
The beauty of Canfield-Meadow Woods is it swallows you up into the natural world quickly and holds on with few signs of civilization interrupting your wilderness trek. The woods are full of stone walls, huge trees and daunting rock formations. At times it’s hard to believe the preserve is only 300 acres.
The main entrance includes a trip across the Valley Railroad which once took passengers and freight along the Connecticut River from State and Commerce streets in Hartford to the Fenwick section of Old Saybrook between 1871 and 1968. The Essex Steam Train runs along a portion of these tracks, so look both ways before crossing the tracks and entering the preserve.
From here, the preserve envelops the visitor in the natural world. According to the trail map, the purpose of the preserve is to “keep intact our natural heritage ... by ensuring diversity and by protecting native plants and animals.”
I took the main trail marked with yellow blazes to the blue “overlook” trail to the “primitive” trail to “long” trail and the overlook on top of Book Hill. The overlook is 315 feet high and one of the highest points in Essex. A wooden platform will take visitors even higher for a better view. A sign asks hikers to imagine the view when the area was all pasture and farmland.
Another must-see attraction is a giant tulip tree — one of the biggest in the state — located along the Canfield Trail. The massive arbor is well over a century old and once provided shade for the former farmland. The tree has seen better days, but it remains an imposing figure along the trail.
The Town Line Boulder is located farther to the north of the tree. Visitors can climb to the top of the boulder and search for the years “1820” and “1849” as well as initials chiseled into it. And then one can hop off and land in either Essex or Deep River; it’s one of those hike bragging moments where you can say it only took seconds to hike between Essex and Deep River.
Visitors should also be on the lookout for “The Gap” and “Split Rock,” a pair of other striking stone features which will leave no doubt about how they were named. The trails are fun for families, as they can turn their hike into a 300-acre scavenger hunt.
“The preserve is open to the public for walking,” the brochure notes. “It is not a playground, hunting area, bike path or campground. This is a place where humans may enjoy native plants and animals without altering or disturbing their habitat. It is basically a wilderness, a natural and unspoiled patch of earth that will, with your help, remain alive and intact.”
And it’s a wilderness that will swallow you up for your entire journey.
Canfield-Meadow Woods Nature Preserve
Essex and Deep River
The bottom line: There are more than a dozen trails with a total distance of more than 7 miles within the 300-acre preserve, including Long Trail with an amazing overlook of the Connecticut River, North Cove and Essex Harbor. Trails pass numerous rock formations and ribbons of stone walls.
Difficulty level: Easy to moderate with some steep climbs. The terrain can be rocky with tree roots.
Total mileage: The main loop is approximately 4 miles long. But visitors can create their own hikes of shorter or longer durations.
Directions: There are four entrances to the preserve. The main entrance is on Route 154 in Deep River near the Essex/Deep River line. Take Exit 4 off Route 9 and travel north on Route 154. The parking area is about a half-mile on the right. There are also entrances in Essex on Eagle Ridge Drive and Dennison and Book Hill Woods roads. For a map, go to essexct.gov and click on “Departments” and “Park and Recreation.”
Pet friendly?: Leashed dogs are allowed and must be cleaned up after.
Things to do Nearby
Little House Brewing Co.
Located in an 1836 house, the brewery wants visitors to “think of us as the ‘Cheers’ of Chester; a return to the origin of the tavern, a small taproom where locals and visitors alike can feel at home.” The list of offerings includes IPAs “My Fake Money Isn’t Worth Anything,” “Everything Is Upside Down Now,” “Perfectly Splendid” and “Belly Mist,” and “Love Shouldn’t Hurt” cider. Nearby River Tavern has a special menu for the brewery and will deliver it to your table. 16 Main St., Chester, littlehousebrewing.com
The restaurant bills itself as having an American regional cuisine prepared from scratch with fresh ingredients and showcasing local craft beers. Special events include taco Wednesdays, fried chicken Fridays and burger blowout Saturdays. Menu items include “mean beans” fried green beans with chipotle sauce, blackened mahi tacos, brick-pressed chicken, Cajun chicken pasta, and mac and cheese with jalapeño bacon. 158 Main St., Deep River, 860-526-2600, redhousect.com
Essex Indoor Golf Center
Golfing year-round at some of the more than 70 world-famous golf courses is the draw at this facility. Visitors can play 3D golf matching their skills at courses including Pebble Beach, St. Andrews and Myrtle Beach. The facility also includes mini-golf courses like Galactic Greens, Lost Lagoon and Mystery Reef. 23 Saybrook Road (Suite 5), Essex, 959-265-8979, essexindoorgolf.com