Crossing Paths

W hy does one old road become a highway over time and another end up a path through the woods? Why does a city grow up around one historic homestead while another becomes a moss-covered wall that almost no one ever sees?

These questions were on my mind as I hiked several Woodbridge Land Trust trails one late-spring afternoon. There are plenty to choose from, but my husband and I picked a short loop whose trailhead we’d often passed but never explored. The blue trail, part of the Old Naugatuck Trail, begins on Fountain Street just under the Route 15 overpass. We parked behind the “Welcome to Woodbridge” sign at a broken fence and began our hike along the bottom of the highway’s berm. A short climb took us to a perch high above the rushing traffic where, to our delight, we found an unusual view. Both West Rock and East Rock were in our sights, the former a clear red wedge, the latter more like a distant mirage.

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The Old Naugatuck Trail is a vestige of a much longer trail that can be seen on a Connecticut Trail System map from the 1930s, when it stretched from the west portion of Naugatuck State Forest across the Naugatuck River, then dropped down to the west side of New Haven. One of the state’s many blue-blazed trails, the Naugatuck is “one of the trail systems most drastically shrunk by post-World War II housing developments,” according to the Wikipedia entry. Other snippets of the original trail are open for hiking in Bethany and Orange.

The portion we traversed turned quickly away from Route 15, sparing us some traffic noise, and meandered through quiet woods, where dappled afternoon sunlight spotted the ground and the canopy of new leaves protected us from a brief patch of rain. Our rustling scared a deer, who demonstrated what it means to “high-tail it.”

One of the Old Naugatuck Trail’s features is a series of glacial erratics (a.k.a. boulders), including one that’s “believed by many to be the largest in Connecticut,” according to the Woodbridge Land Trust brochure. Here we found Michael Brown of New Haven and Brian Bengyak of West Haven practicing their climbing skills up the inner face of the boulder’s overhang. Its holds were smudged with white chalk, indicating that Brown and Bengyak, who’ve been patiently waiting for City Climb to reopen, weren’t the only ones who’d been there to practice.

Not far past the boulder, we turned right on a white-blazed trail, which took us down a steep embankment past an old stone foundation whose walls, though moss-covered and flanked by maple seedlings, were relatively intact. A surviving window was a peephole into the overgrown meadow beyond, where another large boulder stood. Nearby, a lone mountain laurel was dotted with pink buds and a few open blossoms.

The white trail became a carriage road known as Krum Elbow, which passed a couple of homes tucked in the woods before ending at Park Lane, part of a red-blazed trail also known as Old Derby Trail. There was clear signage here and plenty of room to park, where the paved portion of the trail meets a footpath that drops back into the woods. We, of course, took the footpath. On either side, marking the edges of what must once have been a wider road, are the remains of stone walls sinking into the earth. It wasn’t hard to imagine a trek between farm fields en route from Derby to parts north, though neither the fields nor the road still exist. The Woodbridge Land Trust flyer notes this route is also known as the historic Paugussett Indian Trail; some members of the Paugussett Tribe continue to live in the immediate area. “Many arrowheads, spearpoints and artifacts have been found here,” it adds. A burial ground of indigenous peoples is also believed to be somewhere nearby.

We waded boot-deep in dry leaves all the way down a steep hillside to the end of the red trail and found ourselves behind several Amity Road businesses near the intersection with Bradley Road. Then we back-tracked to pick up a yellow-blazed trail that gave us yet another peek into the past. Here we dipped into a hollow where, for a short time, we couldn’t hear any traffic noise at all—just songbirds and the trickle of a nameless stream. Over the years, we’ve often commented on how few Connecticut trails take you entirely, even if briefly, away from the sound of the internal combustion engine. Surprisingly, this civilization-bounded trail was one of them.

In a placid vale, we found the remains of an old mill sitting atop the stream. Water trickled down the side of the abandoned foundation and ran through the old stone-lined sluice, which barely seemed to have been disturbed, although Virginia creeper had overtaken the building’s cellar. We paused here to listen and to imagine this abandoned place and its surroundings in their noisy prime, with waterwheel churning and millstone grinding.

From there, the yellow trail snaked through the woods, crossed a small bog replete with skunk cabbage and reminded us again of human life—this time via a junked car rusting in the undergrowth. We landed back at the blue trail, edged with white-flowering dewberry, and crossed under a power line to meet up with Park Lane again, where we found perhaps the best spot to park for a future hike. The blue trail took us back to the junction where we’d left it and returned us to our car the way we’d come.

There are plenty more Woodbridge Land Trust trails to explore—20 miles’ worth in all. We saw only a small portion of the blue trail, which wanders from one Woodbridge map to the next, forking and linking with Regional Water Authority routes (permit required). In other words, you don’t have to travel far to find a few interesting nooks and vistas. This stay-at-home summer might be just the time to explore some of New Haven’s next-door neighbors.

Written by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Images 1, 4 and 6 photographed by Dan Mims. Images 2, 3 and 5 photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is Daily Nutmeg's associate editor. She's also a fiction writer, writing teacher and book club troubleshooter. Her perfect New Haven day would involve lots of sunshine, a West Rock hike, a concert on the green and a coffee milkshake.

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