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.
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.
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.