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.

A Kind of Oasis

Feb. 24, 2013

At Port St. Lucie, Fla.

An anhinga perched along the North Branch of the St. Lucie River. Click to enlarge.

An anhinga perched along the North Branch of the St. Lucie River. Click to enlarge.

Surrounded by the sprawling development of coastal south Florida, the North Branch of the St. Lucie River comes as a surprise. With U. S. 1 just to the east, and Interstate 95 just to the west, this river  - at least the section from White City Park south for 4 miles – has, improbably, a near-wild appearance.

With the exception of a comparatively small number of homes, the banks of the North Branch are thick with oaks, maples and palms, the understory dense with ferns and other vegetation. This section of the river, much of it about 80 to 100 feet wide, makes for a terrific paddle in a canoe or kayak. I spent two hours exploring the North Branch without seeing another boater until I was approaching my take-out spot, the River Park Marina.

Coral bean flowers provide a splash of brilliant color to the oaks, maples and palms that line the river. Click to enlarge.

Coral bean flowers provide a splash of brilliant color to the oaks, maples and palms that line the river. Click to enlarge.

Bird life was abundant; including numerous kingfishers, great-blue herons, and osprey. I brought along a camera with a 300 mm lens, and was glad I did. I came upon an anhinga perched on a fallen tree trunk at water’s edge. I let the kayak drift slowly and managed to get within perhaps 12-15 feet of the bird, snapping more than a dozen photos. The bird then flew to another fallen tree trunk downriver. Approaching that perch I got off another dozen photos, including one I especially like.

Brightening the riverbank were occasional colonies of coral bean, with big, showy bright red flowers.

Don’t Waste This Opportunity

Feb. 20, 2013

There is plenty of snow, the best in many years for snowshoeing.

After all, the whole point of snowshoes is to make it possible to walk in deep snow.

You received snowshoes for Christmas? Or maybe you got them for Christmas last winter, the winter that wasn’t. Now is the time to use them.

If you don’t own snowshoes, by the way, you can rent them by the day. Both REI and Eastern Mountain Sports shops rent them. Sales of snowshoes, of course, are booming since the big storm.

Another option is Winding Trails in Farmington, a sprawling outdoor recreation facility where you can rent snowshoes and tromp along a dedicated snowshoe trail all in one stop. It is a good choice for beginners.

“Nothing is very difficult; it is moderate, rolling terrain,” said Robb Armstrong, outdoor adventure director at Winding Trails. Follow the snowshoe trail then trek along Lake Dunning and you can put together a walk of three miles. “There is a lot of open space here for people,” Armstrong said.

A three-mile hike in snowshoes will be plenty of exercise for most people, especially the first time out for the season. You probably know what it is like to walk in soft, deep beach sand; same idea with snowshoeing. It can be very tiring.

My column on snowshoeing with suggestions on where to trek appears in today’s editions of The Hartford Courant.