Ay! Yo! Wine! Pow!
Camp Aya-Po, Somers
There are four trails at Camp Aya-Po, which is no longer a camp. But it was a camp for a long time – and not even a scout camp, but a YWCA camp.
Camp Aya-Po was founded in 1922 and opened in 1927, and closed after the summer of 2008. There was a period of uncertainly as to what would happen with the land, but the Town of Somers purchased it in 2014 for $825,000 and removed most of the buildings sometime around 2016.
Let’s be honest here… This place is in northern Somers. A mile or so south of the Massachusetts border. What in the world could have been built here? It’s not like there’s a giant sprawling winery and vineyard just through the woods here that hundreds of people flock to every weekend or anything. That would be cra — what’s that? There is a giant sprawling winery and vineyard that Aya-Po Trails will literally take you to if you know where to go?
That’s exciting. Let’s hike!
There’s a large parking lot here and it was full when I arrived. Picnickers, swimmers, kayakers, mountain bikers, and at least one hiker. It always warms my heart to find lots full at somewhat isolated places like this where literally everyone here was going to do something outside. And hats off to Somers for protecting this property.
The pond is the focal point for probably 99% of Aya-Po visitors these days, and while its man-made, it was made so long at (1862) that it appears completely natural. It also allows for the blue-blazed Lakeside Trail to exist.
I started walking down the road for a bit – a necessity here, but this is rural Somers, so road-walking holds a certain charm here that it doesn’t in, say, East Hartford.
Once off-road and into the woods, this is a lovely one mile lakeside trail. It’s rooty and muddy and rocky in places, but if pond views are your thing, this is your place.
Once around the far side of the lake and quite frankly tired of hearing the repetitive squeals from some kids who just wouldn’t stop squealing for 15 minutes, I walked north along they yellow-blazed Lower Trail. This is a more or less straight, rather flat old woods road.
There’s nothing exciting about the Lower Trail, but fear not my friends. For once you reach the northern end of it, you hop on over to the red-blazed Perkins Mountain Trail.
Notice how it has “Mountain” in its name? That’s because after all your lakeside lolligaggling and Lower Trail scoffing, it’s time to climb straight up.
Is Perkins Mountain really a mountain? No. It’s a hill. But hey, the quarter-mile of huffing and puffing up its steep flank might convince you otherwise. Your reward is a cool little ridgewalk… insofar as little hills in Somers have ridgelines. Hey, I enjoyed it.
If you’re so inclined, you can continue on the Perkins Mountain Trail down the far less steep southern side to the parking lot. In fact, the previous two trails all converge there as well, and will take you past some remnants of old Camp Aya-Po buildings. (The town razed most of them when they took over the property.)
I, however, peeled off to the westernmost trail – the Old Shenipsit Trail! Cool, so this little spur used to be part of the mighty Shenipsit back in the day when it used to go to the Massachusetts border. Its northern terminus was moved south several miles but then extended north again to just a mile or so south of Camp Aya-Po.
Perhaps someday CFPA will secure property rights to reconnect this little snippet to the old S’nip trail that continues down to East Hampton.
For now, the Old Shenipsit takes you to the western border of the Camp property… which is also the eastern border of Worthington Vineyard and Winery. I happened to be trudging by on a beautiful weekend afternoon, and could hear the revelry as I hiked.
The winery’s website claims that their property connects via a trail to the Camp’s Trails. I can report that that is technically true, but that “connecting trail” is a 20-foot long herd path that you really have to look for.
(Or you can just bushwhack through to their field – it’s quite easy to do. And you should. I showed up at the bar drenched in sweat in my dirty t-shirt and hiking pants and muddy shoes and they treated me no differently than the bridal shower party.)
Respect. I enjoyed some wine and people watching, walked the Worthington Trails (such as they were), then returned to Aya-Po via the same herd path and completed the Old Shenipsit to the parking lot.
Not many vestiges of the YWCA camp exist, but it was here for 80 years. It’s easy to come here and think back to those black and white days with Wally and The Beav trying to sneak onto the all-girls property…
“Meals were planned according to the youngster’s hunger and play ended only when campers were overtaken with exhaustion,” read a 1948 Hartford Courant article on the camp’s 25th season. “Programs not only provided opportunities for improvement in skills, but rest, relaxation and personal development as well… However, perhaps an even more important development than the skills themselves is the inner satisfaction and self-confidence which can be gained by successfully learning a good dive or by hitting the bull’s eye.”
Simpler times… at least Somers hit the bull’s eye when they purchased this beautiful property and have maintained it well enough to keep the Aya-Po name intact.
Ay! Ya gotta go check this place out!