A Delightful Ramble

“From the Sound to the Summits” is the tag line for the New England Trail, a 215-mile trek that begins in Guilford at the Long Island Sound and stitches together four major trails to form a continuous foot route all the way to Mount Grace State Forest and Royalston Falls at the Massachusetts-New Hampshire border. Walking the NET would be a big commitment, but you can hike any small chunk of it, too, which is what a friend and I set out to do one recent morning along part of the Menunkatuck Trail.

A roomy parking lot on the north side of Route 80 at Guilford’s Maple Hill Road was our starting point for a short hike through the Cockaponset State Forest, pieces of which are spread across 11 towns. We headed in on a trail padded with layers of wet leaves and lit golden by the morning sun. Knowing we might find the going slippery, I had chosen this simple, rolling trail instead of a climb or a ridge walk. With no goal or endpoint in mind—no towers or vistas or cliffs to reach—we focused more on the journey itself. The trail was well worn and wide enough for two, and it took us on a delightful ramble, rising and falling, turning and twisting, with little surprises around each bend.

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The Foote School

A “small cave” on the map turned out to be a giant boulder with a blackened overhang alluding to earlier campfires. The back of this boulder was split open, forming a narrow corridor to nowhere. Smaller boulders, some veined with quartz, had come to rest alongside it, becoming beds for brilliant green moss, lichen and a lone tuft of ferns. Just past the boulders, a makeshift log bridge traversed a little bog, where the water in one pool had just begun to freeze into delicate stripes of ice. At the trail’s high point, a stand of mountain laurel pressed close around us, leaves vivid green against the monochromatic landscape. Then the path took a turn and opened again, giving us a wintry view far into the bristly forest.

As morning turned to noon and clouds signaled a change in weather, the light turned white and cold. We hiked through to Hart Road, which the trail follows for a short distance before heading back into the woods on what appears to be an old roadway lined with stone walls sinking into the earth. Here we also found the entrance to the Guilford Sportsmen’s Association. A printed sign at the trailhead had warned us of hunting in the state forest; a handwritten note added that the season ended December 31, but an online search indicates that small game hunting may still be occurring. Still, you’re more likely to hear the GSA’s shooting range on their own property.

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The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven

At Hart Road, we turned around and headed back to our car—about a 3-mile round trip. But our NET adventure wasn’t quite over yet. Heading south, the Menunkatuck Trail crosses Route 80 and passes through the 600-acre Timberland Preserve and the 583-acre East River Preserve before emerging onto local roads. Deciding to find its southern terminus, we drove this part of the NET, which takes hikers past old barns and homesteads and several Guilford landmarks including the Griswold Museum and the Henry Whitfield State Museum. A short spur passes the Guilford Green, where we stopped for coffee and snacks at The Marketplace at Guilford Food Center. All along the route, blue blazes—mostly on telephone poles—clearly marked the way, even as the trail passed directly through the town’s train station.

The Menunkatuck Trail and the NET both originate at Chittenden Park. Here, we found a spongy green lawn edged with marsh grass and a little curved boardwalk leading to the water’s edge. Wavelets made a run at the beach, where undisturbed shells ornamented the tide line. Walkers who make it here all the way from Royalston Falls must be awed by the seascape before them after so many miles inland. They can walk no farther, but there’s plenty more to see.

Menunkatuck Trail
Route 80 near Maple Hill Rd, Guilford
www.ctwoodlands.org/…

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is a writer and communications pro whose perfect New Haven day would involve lots of sunshine, a West Rock hike, a concert on the Green and a coffee milkshake. She posts somewhat-weekly content on her YouTube channel, Better Book Clubs.

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