For those who followed Old Trail Head as he dashed from one park to another to complete the twelve listed walks in the Wilton Go Green sponsored “contest”, you know OTH crossed the finish line just before the deadline with his required walks. He wasn’t the lucky person to win the Cannondale bike in the drawing, but that’s not important. What is important is what did OTH and the the others that participated by visiting the twelve parks/preserves experience and learn? Old Trail Head cannot speak for the others but he’s sure that they, like he, enjoyed the walks and gained a greater appreciation for what a treasure Wilton has in its assortment of open spaces.

So, what are some of the takeaways for OTH from this experience?

  1. There are many parks and preserves in Wilton. The Conservation Commission listed 23 on their web site. OTH added up the acreage (1213) and calculated that about 7% of the total land in Wilton is dedicated to open spaces in one form or another. And OTH knows there are other parcels of accessible open space land that are not included on this web site. At first take the 7% may not seem like a lot, but think about what that real estate might be worth. OTH won’t even hazard a guess. Enough to say that it is sizable in both acreage and value. OTH is appreciative of the many persons over the years that have contributed to this wonderful town asset.
  2. There is quite a variety of experiences to be had out there. Of course there are many miles of trails to walk, though woodlands, wetlands and just about everything in between. Like to ride horses? There are equestrian trails available. Mountain bikes are more your style? OTH saw a lot evidence of trail use by bikers. How about a bag lunch beside a stream or pond? There are working farms to visit, a nature center, and a National Park Service Historic Site. That’s enough to keep you busy for awhile!
  3. Need a trail guide to help with the trails and to know what kind of tree is that (and who doesn’t)? The Wilton Conservation Commission web site has all that waiting for you. OTH’s advice is that a trail guide is always a good thing to have in hand (along with bug spray).

OTH had a great time walking these 12 walks and he knows you will too (click on “Wilton Town Hiking Contest” below). Give them a go.

Now it’s time for Old Trail Head to expand his horizons beyond his home town of Wilton, CT. He will be exploring other great outdoor places in the region. He has several in mind but would like to hear from others about their favorite spots in the outdoors. Send in a comment with yours.


Cherry Lane Park

Number twelve! Just before June ended OTH was able to take the twelfth, and final, walk in the Wilton Walk in the Woods contest. As previously reported he submitted his form for the July 4th raffle drawings by June 30, as required, but sadly there was no raffle prize for Old Trail Head. But not to worry, OTH will stoically soldier on, walking the trails of S.W. Connecticut, and regions beyond, to bring these enjoyable opportunities to the attention of  seniors and anyone else who might read this blog. But OTH digresses, back to the important stuff, a report on Cherry Lane Park.

This park is located on the eastern side of Route 7 in Wilton, on Cherry Lane, which is reached from Sharp Hill Road (Rt. 106). OTH was somewhat surprised at its size of 50+ acres. For some reason he expected a smaller property. He was also pleasantly surprised at what he found. Cherry Lane Park is a delightful walk. Tall hardwoods cover much of the land, but there is a pond ringed with a loop trail and in the southern portion, there is a wetlands area.

The trail system is the familiar loop around the park (orange) with smaller loops around specific features (e.g. pond, wetlands). Overall there are about two miles of trail available, the orange perimeter trail being .84 miles in length. Near the pond OTH came across two benches and a picnic table, all nicely situated to take in the sights and sounds of nature. As he circumnavigated the pond a bullfrog or two were heard croaking away. OTH made a mental note to bring a lunch to this park soon and take advantage of the picnic table.

Pond in Cherry Lane Park

Pond in Cherry Lane Park

The pond is created by a dam on a stream that the blue trail that circles the pond crosses over.

Dam at Cherry Lane Park

Dam at Cherry Lane Park

Having the pond and a wetlands area combined with stands of hardwoods and conifers Cherry Lane Park offers the walker an abundance of wildlife in a eastern woodlands setting. The benches make it very inviting.

For OTH, it was a very nice way to wrap up the 12 Walk in the Woods series in Wilton. He plans shortly to post a summary of the whole experience with the hope of enticing others to take advantage of the many  open space opportunities there are in Wilton.

For more information, visit Cherry Lane Park.

Located in north Wilton, these two parcels adjoin for a combined 56+ acres of woodlands to amble through on an extensive trail system. Unlike many other preserves and parks, there is more than a single loop trail with a few cross trails. Here there are many loops that fit together to form almost a matrix. This extended trail system offers many choices for the walker and it would take several hikes to exhaust all the options available. Depending on the trails chosen, a walk can be essentially flat or include some slopes to descend and climb.

The land is mostly woodlands with many tall hardwoods. There is not much in the way of swampy wetlands, but a couple of streams flow through the area, including Comstock Brook. Two very interesting, and unusual, features of the Quarry Head S.P. are the remains of the extensive quarrying operations done here and the foundations of the Degener family summer residence, in use until 1988. The structure has been repaired for protection and the location offers a view of Long Island Sound, on a clear day. A large picnic table has been put in place and, although he hasn’t yet done it, OTH is dying to have a picnic there sometime. Maybe this October, when the leaves have turned, would be an ideal time for this treat.

Quarry Head State Park

Quarry Head State Park, Picnic Bench & Foundation

Quarry Head State Park, Old Fireplace & Chimney

Quarry Head State Park, Old Fireplace & Chimney

Something that always fascinates OTH on his hikes is seeing the evidence of people and their lives from many years ago. Old foundations, abandoned roads, and rusted machinery are typical examples that one can come upon in the middle of the woods. The rock walls that abound throughout New England are also part of this, although they are so common that it’s easy not to really notice them. The foundation and chimney at Quarry Head are in this category as well, albeit they were in use less than 25 years ago. Also there, a short distance from the foundation, is an old tennis court. It is now “serving” as a bed for wild flowers and, unless regularly cleared, will return to the woodlands that surround it.
Quarry Head State Park, "Once Upon a Time" Tennis Court

Quarry Head State Park, "Once Upon a Time" Tennis Court

Over the years OTH has been to these two spaces a number of times and they remain one of his favorite places in Wilton to walk.

For more information, visit Quarry Head State Park and Harrison Smith Preserve.

For those keeping score, Old Trail Head did complete the 12 walks of the Wilton Walk in the Woods contest, but alas, his name was not selected for any of the 13 raffle prizes. Of course that really wasn’t the purpose of the exercise. OTH enjoyed the walks and it got him to many places he hadn’t been in a while and even to a few new ones. He will post the last walk, Cherry Lane Park, shortly.

Located in north Wilton, along Ridgefield Road, these three parcels join to form one large nature preservation area (about 77 acres). Several trails extend into the three areas so it’s easy to travel through all of them on a single visit. As with many areas of this size, there is a basic loop trail (orange and white in this case) with options and cross trails available to add variety and shorten/lengthen any given walk.

OTH entered from Ridgefield Road and parked in the designated area. Flipping a mental coin, he began the loop hike in a counterclockwise direction which took him almost immediately up a small grade and across a ridge. In this elevated terrain, there was little underbrush and the tall timber gave it a real eastern woodlands feel.

Orange Trail Crossing a Bedrock Ridge

Orange Trail Crossing a Bedrock Ridge

Leaving the ridge, the orange trail dropped down into a wetlands area, crossing a wooden bridge over a small steam. As he approached the bridge, OTH saw two large birds high in the trees. They may have been hawks, but he feels they might have been owls. There was too much foliage and the birds were moving too quickly to get a good look. Later OTH will show you a different bird that isn’t so hard to see, or photograph.

The blaze color changed to white after the bridge with a choice of a longer or shorter route. OTH choose the shorter distance because he had another walk to make that afternoon (pressure to complete the 12 hikes in the Town Walk in the Woods contest).   One of the interesting sights along this section was this rock face. Not being a geologist, OTH cannot tell you what kind of rock made up this outcropping. OTH continued the loop and finished the walk back at the Ridgefield Road entrance.

Large Rock Face on White Trail

Large Rock Face on White Trail

As mentioned above, there are many options available in this combination of three preserves. In addition to the trail options, the hiker will walk through open woods populated by tall hardwoods and pass through wetlands filled with various shrubs and often red maples. There is some up and down walking but nothing too strenuous. There probably is around 2.5 miles of trail available in the three preserves. When you go here, be sure to retrieve both of the available descriptions and trail maps from the Wilton Conservation Commission web site (see below).

Oh yes, the other bird. Actually there were five other birds, turkeys roaming the field near the parking area. They really are BIG birds when you get close to them.

Turkey in Sackett Preserve

Turkey in Sackett Preserve

For more information visit Sackett and Marble/Van Haelewyn-Richards Preserves.

10 down, 2 more to go.

OTH continues his march toward completing the 12 walks in the Wilton “Take a Walk in the Woods” contest. On Sunday, June 26 he visited the Belknap & Gregg Preserves, located in the northeastern part of Wilton. While the preserves are two different parcels of land, they abut and share a path. So one may park at one of the preserves, walk through it, cross over to the other preserve, walk through that one and then return to the parking area. This “two preserves in one” aspect and the size of them (about 110 acres) offer a more extended walking experience. The last few parks that OTH visited offered essentially one loop trail with a few cross trail options. The Belknap/Gregg combination offers a more of varied set of trails, particularly the trail system in the Gregg Preserve. OTH recommends a hiker come with a trail map in hand (actually a good recommendation for almost any hiking or walking experience in the woods).

On this day, OTH parked at the Belknap Preserve entrance on Wampum Road. He took a path diagonally  across the preserve to reach the point of entry into the Gregg Preserve and then walked along the Mayapple Brook for a short stretch. A loop path around a wetlands portion took OTH back to the point of return to the Belknap Preserve. He finished by taking the loop trail back to the parking area, all-in-all about 2 miles, he reckons.

One of the notable features of these preserves, particularly the Gregg Preserve, is Mayapple Brook. Various paths cross and follow the stream as it meanders through the woods. OTH finds the experience of walking along or crossing over brooks and streams such as Mayapple Brook, particulary pleasing, and hopes you do as well.

Mayapple Brook in the Gregg Preserve

Mayapple Brook in the Gregg Preserve

While returning along the blue loop trail in the Belknap Preserve, OTH encountered one of Wilton’s deer. He cannot quite understand his fascination with this kind of experience. Lord knows he has seen deer all over Wilton and cursed the animals as he stood over the bare stalks of hosta, but nevertheless, OTH gets a thrill when he and the deer stare at each other for a few seconds. That and seeing it bound away, gliding effortlessly over fallen trees, white tail held high as it disappears into the trees are high points of any walk where it happens.

Deer in Belknap Preserve

Deer in Belknap Preserve

A couple of tips or thoughts on these two preserves:

  1. The yellow trail in the Belknap Preserve evidently doesn’t get a lot of traffic. Usually in these parks, the trails are discernible paths. Not so with this one, it’s well marked enough with yellow blazes, but you got to be careful to follow them. OTH was strolling along and realized he’d lost sight of blazes and did not have a path to follow. It was easy to retrace his steps a short distance and get back on the trail, so no great damage was done, but just keep the blazes in sight as you walk.
  2. In the Gregg Preserve, OTH noticed that the trail intersections were well marked but, at least on some of the trails he walked, the trail itself was not blazed.  Maybe he missed them, but he did not see any. Not a big problem because, unlike the yellow trail in the Belknap Preserve, the trails were fairly easy to follow. A few blazes though would be handy to confirm you are where you think you are. Again, same message, keep your mind in gear as you walk and know where you are as you go.

So, OTH recommends these two reserves for something more than a short midday nature walk. The extensive trail system in the Gregg Preserve with the addition of the Belknap Preserve provides an opportunity for a hike of several miles. Like most of the open spaces in Wilton, there is a combination of woodlands and wetlands. The ever-present rock walls are there as well.

For more in formation visit Belknap Preserve and Gregg Preserve.

9 down and 3 more to go!

Bradley Park

OTH was off visiting his granddaughters so there hasn’t been a post for a few days, but just before he left town, OTH walked Bradley Park in Wilton as part of his efforts to complete the Town’s “Walk in the Woods” contest. Here’s his take on that park.

First of all, Bradley Park is 82 acres, located in the center of Wilton so it’s easy to reach from just about anywhere in town. The hiking opportunity is essentially a loop trail (1.16 miles) with a number of cross trails to provide variety and different length walks. One of its features is a boardwalk into the middle of a red maple swamp.   The loop trail traverses a ridge to provide a mix of wetlands and dry uplands walking. A tip for the wise: wetlands walking can get pretty buggy and Bradley Park is no different. Be prepared.

Red Maple Swamp

Boardwalk in the Red Maple Swamp

Wilton acquired the land in the late 1960’s and after acquisition, plans were drawn up for the property’s use. We know now that the land was left as is as a nature preserve with hiking trails, but from the Town web site description we see that wasn’t always the intention.

Previous plans for the area included a golf course, skating pond and ski slope. For both economical and aesthetic reasons, these plans were not implemented. Today the park remains in a natural state with hiking trails and a short section of an equestrian trail.

Think about that! A ski area in the middle of Wilton! A bit hard to imagine but fascinating to contemplate.

Similar to Schenck’s Island, Bradley Park provides an opportunity for a short nature walk right in the middle of Wilton.

For more information visit the Wilton Conservation Commission.

Eight down, four to go!

Ambler Farm

Continuing his pursuit of Wilton’s “Take a Walk in the Woods” contest, OTH visited Ambler Farm earlier this week. Actually the full name for the property is Raymond-Ambler Farm, the Raymond family being the original settlers to own and farm the land. Most people refer to it as Ambler Farm, as does their own web site. Visiting Ambler Farm is quite different than, say, walking in the Town Forest. “Hiking” Ambler Farm is like a walk around a 22 acre farm. In fact, it is a walk around a 22 acre farm, complete with barns, crops and livestock.

Red Barn on Ambler Farm

Red Barn on Ambler Farm

The Farm has several buildings and several extensive vegetable gardens. When the Town of Wilton purchased the property in 1999, the buildings were in serious disrepair. Various organizations and volunteers have restored a number of the buildings, and the work continues. The structures include two homes, two barns, an ice house, a corn crib, an open structure that serves as a “sugaring shack” in early spring. Students in Middlebrook School (middle school) collect sap from the many maple trees around the school and have a big “sugaring off” day at Ambler Farm to make the syrup.

There are a number of gardens established and cared for on the Farm. Not being much of a farmer, OTH is not going to try to recount what he saw growing, but it was clearly a wide variety of vegetables. During the season, the Farm opens its “Farm Stand” on Saturdays. Check their web site for more information on times and available produce.

Vegetable Garden at Ambler Farm

Vegetable Garden at Ambler Farm

As far as the livestock goes, OTH saw sheep, goat(s) and bunnies. He also saw bee hives but he didn’t investigate them! Every spring the Farm holds a sheep shearing day when the two sheep get a haircut. Several craftspeople from the Wilton Historical Society join the program to demonstrate the process of turning the shorn wool into woven cloth.

Sheep at Ambler Farm

Sheep at Ambler Farm

Wilton purchased Ambler Farm to keep alive the town’s agrarian history.

Ambler Farm Mission Statement
The mission of Friends of Ambler Farm is to celebrate our community’s agrarian roots through active learning programs, sustainable agriculture, responsible land stewardship, and historic preservation.

OTH would say that the Farm, through its many  programs and activities, is fulfilling its mission, and then some.

Toy Tractor & Barn

Toy Tractor & Barn

For more information on Ambler Farm visit their web site.
For more information on Wilton Open Space visit the Conservation Commission web page.

Seven down, five more to go!