When looking at the satellite images that show night-time light pollution, there is an almost unbroken chain of light along the Northeast corridor, from Washington, D.C. to Boston. Almost. In eastern Connecticut, the map shows one patch of black in the buzz of light — one patch of dark, sparse quiet.
This patch — dark at night, green in the daytime — is what is known as the “Last Green Valley,” an oasis of rural beauty starting from roughly Norwich in the south and heading north to the area between Southbridge and Webster, Massachusetts. If you’re from the denser parts of Connecticut and tend to go to Vermont or New Hampshire for a bit of peace and quiet, you might be surprised what we have right here in Connecticut. There are, of course, an infinite number of ways to experience the area, so let us explore one.
Start in the south, and take I-95 to 395, or Route 2, to Norwich. Get off the highway, and shut the GPS off. You just need to know the difference between north and south. Most interstates and major arterials built since the Second World War have shadow roads that run alongside, roads where the real life of the place shines through. (The approach is shamelessly stolen from William Least Heat-Moon’s 1982 travelogue Blue Highways.) So in the Last Green Valley, avoid I-395 as you head north, and take its older, more interesting shadow road, Route 12.
In Norwich, you’ll see people walking amid the old mills carrying fishing poles, going to catch dinner out of the Thames, Yantic or Shetucket rivers. Norwich has always been a river town. Follow the Shetucket as it runs north out of Norwich, and then turn east as you follow Route 12 and start to follow the Quinebaug River. Driving at slower speeds along the older roads, you’ll notice things that are invisible from the high speeds of the limited-access highways. Factories in Plainfield. Greasy-spoon diners in Jewett City, excellent doughnuts at Bakers Dozen in Brooklyn and Pomfret.
The motorcycle shops that dot the road should clue you in: this is a major motorcycle destination. And it’s perfect for cruising. In this last island of rural beauty, there are hikes everywhere. The Natchaug State Forest, which stretches across the towns of Eastford, Hampton and Chaplin, has a great network of trails.
If you go: Check out the National Park Service’s website for a list of 100 things to do in the summer. Highlights include the several farms in the area that source the Farmer’s Cow brand line of local dairy products in Thompson, Lebanon, Coventry, Woodstock and Franklin, the Nathan Hale Homestead in Coventry, and gorgeous gourmet food at 85 Main in Putnam. thelastgreenvalley.org