A Winchester Lake Outing

June 22, 2013

At Winchester, Ct.

Ahhh, summer. I drove to Winchester this morning to re-explore Winchester Lake, a lake I paddled many years ago, I think.  If I did in fact paddle Winchester Lake I have no clear memory of the day. So, clearly, it was time to take another look.

Kayakers flock to Winchester Lake, where power boating is limited to 8 mph traffic. Click to enlarge.

Kayakers flock to Winchester Lake, where power boating is limited to 8 mph traffic. Click to enlarge.

What a perfect day. Winchester Lake is very lightly developed. I’d say more than 95 percent of the shoreline is wooded. What is most striking this time of year is the mountain laurel. The shoreline is thick with large colonies of the state flower overhanging the water. Today may have been the peak bloom of these gorgeous cup-shaped white and pink flowers.

Mountain laurel, the Connecticut state flower, is abundant on the shores of Winchester Lake. Look for a sunny day in mid-June to see the showy pink and white blooms at their peak. Click to enlarge.

Mountain laurel, the Connecticut state flower, is abundant on the shores of Winchester Lake. Look for a sunny day in mid-June to see the showy pink and white blooms at their peak. Click to enlarge.

Winchester Lake is man-made, an impoundment fed by 5 brooks that empties into the East Branch of the Naugatuck River.  In reading “A Fisheries Guide to Lakes and Ponds of Connecticut,” a most helpful book written by Robert P. Jacobs and Eileen B. O’Connell and published by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, I learned that trees and shrubs were cut at ice level in the winter after the lake was created, leaving many tree stumps and tree trunks lying  in shallow water. All that wood and a fair amount of boulders in a shallow lake – much of it is only a few feet deep – mean that boaters need to pay attention to the water just ahead. For experienced canoeists and kayakers, that is not a problem. A benefit is that the shallow water and an 8-mph speed limit on the lake keeps power boat traffic to a minimum. Mostly you see anglers with electric motors. Canoes and kayaks greatly outnumbered the power boats yesterday. There is a state boat launch with ample parking at the southern end of the lake.

Water quality seems excellent, and, in addition to the all the laurel, the surrounding forest is a pleasant mix of hemlock and white pine, with plenty of red maple and other hardwoods mixed in. I suspect the fall foliage color is very nice, the red maples providing the red, the laurel, pines and hemlock the deep greens, the hickories and birches some brilliant yellows.

My suggestion: watch for a sunny day in mid-June and paddle the perimeter taking in the gorgeous laurel display. I looped the lake and its coves in 90 minutes, with several stops to take photos and gab with other kayakers. Hug the shoreline and it might be a 4-mile paddle.

100 Years of Connecticut State Parks

May 25, 2013

At Farmington, Ct.

The Connecticut State Park system is 100 years old this year. The celebration begins this summer. Click to enlarge.

The Connecticut State Park system is 100 years old this year. The celebration begins this summer. Click to enlarge.

The Connecticut State Park system is 100 years old this year. It began with the creation of the Connecticut State Park Commission in 1913, a time when prescient political leaders realized that conservation of beautiful natural resources was imperative.

That system today includes 107 state parks that draw 7.8 million visitors a year.

Almost lost in the story of the origins of the Connecticut state parks is Albert  M. Turner. Turner was a visionary, dynamic man who was the first state park employee. He was the man who in the first year of the commission’s existence was assigned – in what perhaps was the greatest state job ever – to explore practically every river, lake, beach and mountaintop in the state, preparing recommendations on which properties might make great state parks.

Albert M. Turner was a key figure in the origins of the Connecticut state park system. Click to enlarge.

Albert M. Turner was a key figure in the beginning of the Connecticut state park system.

A Litchfield native and Yale University graduate, Turner took to his work assiduously. He climbed the mountains, he walked the beaches. He bushwhacked through river valleys. He checked out every lake and pond in the state over 40 acres. He presented the commission with the overall plan. When the commission dawdled, it was Turner who nudged, nudged and nudged commissioners to take bold action in acquiring park lands. He was a pivotal figure in the beginnings of the system.

Now, 100 years later, the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which oversees the park system today, is about to launch a year-long centennial state park celebration. Turner’s role is suddenly in the spotlight, surely for the first time since the early 20th Century.

My story on the Connecticut state park centennial celebration is posted today on the Hartford Courant website, and will appear in print on the front page of The Courant tomorrow, May 26, with historical photos courtesy of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

Were it not for people like Albert Turner, some of the most popular state parks in the state – like Hammonasset Beach in Madison – might not exist today.

The Courant’s on-line presentation includes more than 60 historical photos from the state’s archives. It is worth checking out.

The Trails Are Ready

May 13, 2013

Farmington, Ct.

May and June offer some of the most comfortable hiking conditions of the year, and the hiking opportunities in Connecticut for people of all ages – children through retirees – are abundant. Hundreds of guided hikes are scheduled in coming weeks.

Purple trillium in bloom along the Appalachian Trail, Kent, Ct. Click to enlarge.

Purple trillium in bloom along the Appalachian Trail, Kent, Ct. Click to enlarge.

My Hartford Courant column detailing hiking opportunities for various age groups can be viewed on-line at http://www.courant.com/features/outdoors/hc-hiking-clubs-20130514,0,6338673.story. It appears on the cover of the Courant’s features section tomorrow, May 14, with photos by Michael McAndrews.

WalkCT, a program of the Connecticut Forest & Park Association, the state’s oldest conservation organization, sponsors frequent hikes throughout the state, including Family Rambles ideal for parents and children.

“The point of the Family Rambles is really to get families out who may not have a lot of hiking experience,” said Leslie Lewis, WalkCt director. Hike leaders often bring backpacks with games and field guides intended to enhance the hiking experience for children.

An extensive list of hiking opportunities with information on difficulty, distance and suitability for different age groups is available at WalkCt.org.

Also offering a wide range of guided hiking opportunities is the venerable, Boston-based Appalachian Mountain Club. The AMC’s Connecticut chapter, www.ct-amc.org, sponsors hikes for groups of all ages.

A solitary sandpiper along the Housatonic River, as seen Sunday from the Appalachian Trail in Kent, Ct.

A solitary sandpiper along the Housatonic River, as seen Sunday from the Appalachian Trail in Kent, Ct. Click to enlarge.

In addition to family hikes of varying difficulty, the chapter sponsors hikes and other outdoor activities for hikers in their 20s and 30s.

Another opportunity for hikers is national Trails Day, which in Connecticut actually is a two-day event June 1 and June 2. Connecticut Forest & Park Association coordinates the event in Connecticut. This year it includes 259 outings in 152 of the state’s 169 towns, with hikes that are suitable for many different age groups and fitness levels.

View a detailed listing of Trails Day hikes on the association website, www.ctwoodlands.org.  An explanation of the difficulty, distance and other information for each event is included. Free booklets detailing all the hikes also will be available soon at public libraries, outdoor retailers and Stop & Shop supermarkets throughout the state. All hikes are free.