Water Fall

Water Fall

Dry leaves run like packs of children playing tag. Sunlight dazzles off the water, more light than heat. I’m close to Route 34, yet the only sounds aside from my steps are the high-pitched tweets of hidden birds and the wind drawing its breath and blowing.

At the Maltby Lakes recreation area (map), just over the West Haven border and reaching into Orange, nearly five miles of wide, gravel trails loop through a diverse woodland and skirt three Regional Water Authority reservoirs. It’s the perfect spot for a lunchtime stroll. Slippery pine needles, crunching leaves—what’s underfoot keeps changing like the weather. Some trees still flaunt their summerwear. Others already call to mind Shakespeare’s “bare ruin’d choirs” with their gaunt, reaching branches.

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Originally constructed by Caleb Maltby for the Fair Haven Water Company in the 1860s, the Maltby Lakes were always intended to be a “ water supply and public recreation” area, according to an RWA brochure. The lakes were later purchased by the New Haven Water Company, which owned them for more than a century before they were bought by the Regional Water Authority in 1980. They’re no longer active reservoirs, a trail marker says, but they do provide an “outdoor classroom, timber, recreation refuge for numerous wildlife species.”

The longest, white-blazed trail clocks in at nearly three miles, with views of all three lakes. According to the RWA brochure, it boasts “an excellent view of the New Haven skyline,” though I won’t get that far this day. I opt for a shorter loop, combining the white with the yellow for a circuit of about a mile and a half around Maltby Lake No. 2, with a side trip to check out the third lake. In spite of its unromantic name, No. 2 is picture-perfect, with an idyllic view of one of its miniature rocky islands framed by scarlet leaves.

Less scenic is the segment of the trail that passes through an area hit some years ago by an infestation of the southern pine beetle. To prevent the beetles from spreading, the RWA clear-cut more than 30 acres in 2016, according to its newsletter. But there’s plenty of forest left, not to mention the lakes themselves, which are popular locales for fishing and birdwatching. And the RWA makes a pitch for the good things that will come of the cutting, including habitat for “animals that thrive in a more open area” and, therefore, “more diverse wildlife communities.”

No matter which of the seven marked Maltby Lakes trails you want to hike, you need a permit from the RWA; without it, you won’t be able to unlock the parking lot gate. The annual fee for individuals is $25, with discounts for families, seniors, students and people with disabilities, which grants access to nine recreation areas statewide. At Maltby, dogs aren’t allowed, but bicycles are, from April 15 to December 31.

I see no cyclists, but even so, it’s a day to be outside, to witness the transition from green and gold to brown and gray. The oak trees are throwing acorns with abandon. The squirrels, busy at their collection, aren’t taking any chances.

This is the time for us to do the same: to gather up our stores, slow down, settle in. And yet, I remind myself, we don’t have to withdraw from the world outside, even when a cool wind picks up. As the Scandinavian aphorism says, there is no bad weather, only bad clothing. I zip my jacket higher, pull my hat lower and wander on down the trail.

Maltby Lakes
Parking access road: west of Plainfield Ave on the north side of Derby Ave/Rte 34, West Haven (map)
Permits | Trail Map

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. This updated story was originally published on November 16, 2017.

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