A stone bridge dating back to Colonial times crosses a small stream near the foundation of a saw mill that once cut up old-growth trees for shipment to England. A huge boulder sits on top of a ledge where it was placed thousands of years ago by the retreating glacier. Swaths of neatly placed rocks stand out in an oak grove, their mysterious origins dating back to the 17th century or even earlier.
Welcome to nature’s classroom at Hartman Park, where both the natural world and human history intersect in the 302-acre preserve in Lyme, East Lyme and Salem. A 3-mile “Heritage Trail” runs through the heart of the park, showcasing everything from historic farm and house ruins to remnants of charcoal kilns and the millrace of an old mill. In total, 10 miles of largely low-intensity trails follow old farm roads, streams and ridges.
The most fascinating of the dozen history stations is the one known as “Three Chimneys.” There are a number of theories that attempt to explain the masses of stone enclosures, stone walls, fireplaces and huge piles of intricately placed flat rocks.
According to the site description, some believe Three Chimneys dates back to 1635 when it was part of Lyonel Gardiner’s nine forts that protected the Saybrook Colony — one of the state’s original settlements. Or maybe not. “The stone structures may be very ancient,” the informational sign notes. “Portions of the ruins resemble pre-contact ceremonial stonework created by Native Americans. … Colonial settlers could easily have adapted these existing structures for their own uses.”
In addition to the Heritage Trail, visitors can explore the northern portion of the park where the Richard H. Goodwin Trail passes through along the border of Salem and Lyme. For the ambitious, the park could be the starting point for the Goodwin Trail which travels 14 miles from an old farm in East Haddam into Salem and Lyme to Darrow Pond in East Lyme. It crosses a road only four times, a rarity for a trail along the shoreline.
The 1.7-mile section is also the park’s “red” trail and runs along Bald Nubble and Razorback Ridge past stunning rock formations like “cave cliff,” “snout rock” (yes, it looks like a giant nose), “turtle rock” and “laughing rock.”
The Heritage Trail: A Walk In Hartman Park by Marianne Pfeiffer is a good read before visiting the park. The booklet points out that the Gungy area of Lyme was settled by a mix of races including white people, Native Americans and people of African descent, including slaves. An old cemetery can be found in the park, with many of the graves marked only with fieldstones. Pfeiffer notes that the cemetery is “the resting place of the less wealthy and probably those of lower social standing such as slaves, paupers and itinerants.”
The red trail located at the park’s main entrance is an easy exploration with the path going along the banks of a very scenic marsh and beaver pond. There are several lodges in the marsh where visitors can sometimes watch the beavers at work. Several large trees have been gnawed in half.
A space called the “school room” includes a picnic area and a large blackboard with a bag of chalk for visitors to write down their name and nature observations, or to draw pictures. The other side of the school-room kiosk includes trail information where visitors can plan their routes.
Finished the trails in the park and want to explore more? Located directly to the south is the 82-acre Young Preserve and the 70-acre Walbridge Woodlands. All three preserves are connected by contiguous trails with Hartman’s “yellow” trail connecting to Walbridge and then to Young’s “red” loop trail. Young Preserve is imposing with huge massings of boulders and rocks and daunting ledges with scenic seasonal overlooks. The overlook paths — marked with blue blazes — include views west across E.A. Whitford Pond and Cedar Lake to Mount Archer and Hamburg Cove. Walbridge is filled with beautiful stripes of stone walls and an old cedar forest.
So come visit a park where class is always in session and learn about local human and natural history as well as hypothesize your own theory about the mystery of the Three Chimneys.
Lyme, East Lyme and Salem
The bottom line: The 300-acre park includes the Heritage Trail, which takes visitors past old foundations and mysterious rock monuments. The trails pass scenic marshes and beaver ponds through the forests to stunning overlooks.
Difficulty level: Easy to moderately difficult with some strenuous climbs, especially along the eastern and northern borders.
Total mileage: 10 miles of trails. Bikes and cross-country skiing are allowed.
Directions: Route 82 to Darling Road across the off ramp of Route 11 south. Take a right on White Birch Road and a left back on Darling Road and right on Gungy Road. The preserve is located several miles down on the left. Visit lymelandtrust.org for a color map and booklet explaining the natural and human history of the park.
Pet friendly? Leashed dogs are allowed and must be cleaned up after.
Things to do nearby
Hadlyme Country Market, 1 Ferry Road, Hadlyme
A turn-back-the-clock country store on the Lyme “Four Corners” where routes 82 and 148 meet. The market offers a deli with signature sandwiches named after its nearby neighbor — Gillette Castle — including the “Sherlock” and “Castle.” There are also bakery items and everything one needs for a picnic lunch.
Devil’s Hopyard State Park, Hopyard Road, East Haddam
The highlight of the 860-acre park is the 60-foot-high Chapman Falls, one of the most scenic waterfalls in the state. The falls are also famous for its potholes, created by small rocks caught in the waterfall’s eddies carving almost perfect circular holes. There are also more than 6 miles of trails with a highlight of Devils Oven, a small cave with an impressive view and a newly renovated covered bridge.
SuperCharged Indoor Karting and Trampoline, 1 Sachatello Industrial Drive, Montville
Visitors can drive electric karts around the “world’s largest” indoor multi-level karting track. The 110,000-square-foot facility includes multi-level tracks with special racing days where race laps approach 2 minutes — four times more than the average track, according to the website.