Rock Around the Dundee
Culver Pond Nature Preserve, Stafford
As a general rule of thumb, if you’re driving to a trailhead on a dirt road in Connecticut, that trail is going to be worth your effort. I’ll admit that Culver Pond challenged this “rule” that I just made up, but in the end, it held fast. I really enjoyed this hike, and I hope the Northern Connecticut Land Trust keeps up the trail maintenance.
Which, I imagine, isn’t easy. This place is very near the Massachusetts border in northeastern Stafford as far from interstates 91 and 84 as possible. The 1.5 car-width wide Gilbert Road is rocky and rutted in places – though residential. Staffordites are a hardy lot. The small hiker’s lot is near Rocky Dundee Road in Stafford, Rock-A-Dundee Road in Massachusetts, and the trail took me across Rockadundee Brook.
All of which reminded me of the hollows in Tennessee or western Virginia, not Connecticut.
Come to think of it, the wilds of Stafford kind of remind me more of Tennessee or western Virginia than Connecticut. Let’s learn how this place came to be what it is today:
On June 30, 2016 the Northern CT Land Trust completed the purchase of a 118 acre property abutting Culver Pond in Stafford, CT. The property was the home of Culver Modisette, former president of the NCLT. Because it was Culver’s wish that the property be preserved and to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest, his heirs agreed to a bargain sale.
The house on the north end of the pond has been sold separately and several buildings by the dam have been retained by the Modisette family and are not in the land trust purchase. The property acquired by the land trust will be named the Culver Pond Nature Preserve. It consists of upland forest, a section of shoreline on Culver Pond, a network of forest paths, a marsh teeming with wildlife, and a section of Rockadundee Brook.
Hm. I just learned that Rockadundee Brook is headwaters to the Scantic River. That’s how it was written. Is that grammatically correct? It sounds and looks weird, but it might be proper. I don’t feel like checking.
I also just read Matt Woodward’s Explore Connecticut description of his experience and it mirrors my own:
Before exploring Culver Pond I was skeptical that trails would be boring old logging roads and likely not very scenic and basically just hoped for a nice view of 10-acre pond. Pulling up the to trailhead I maintained my skepticism, greeted by a small dirt pull off surrounded by overgrowth.
I’ll stop cheating here, but will note that a few paragraphs from now – where I miss the 100-degree right hand turn? He did that too. But he kept going much further than I did. I’ll chalk that up to the nearly two decades of experience I have on Matt.
I wound up loving this place. I’m not exactly sure why, other that it is so remote. But perhaps it’s more than that. I liked that I was very leery about it at outset, just like Matt. The first 20 feet of trail is overgrown and held zero promise. Then I noticed some fairly fresh blazes and the trail became clear as it went deeper into the property.
Then the pretty brook. Then a well-made new bridge… and that’s when I started coming around to Culver Pond.
After the straight downhill shot, I reached the old logging roads and began the clockwise loop. The old roads are now much closer to being “just trails” than roads, which was a nice surprise. Every once in a while, the overgrowth had overtaken the trail, but it was never too cumbersome.
The marsh held some magic for me. The autumnal colors were just beginning to appear and I’m sure this is an awesome walk in October. An absolute unit of a hawk soared above the stagnant water. It was nice.
The trail took me essentially around the border of the property. This necessitates 90-degree turns a couple of times which always feels unnatural, but it also makes sense. Except that second turn right that everyone must miss – until the NCLT does something to alert hikers better in the future.
These woods have also been a tree farm and therefore there are stands of white pine, but also stands of new growth beech and whatnot. It makes for a varied hike for sure. As I neared the completion of the loop, I neared Culver Pond. It looks nice… just like any other Connecticut pond. But most of the shoreline is private property and the owners are very clear about that with a million signs in the woods.
I respect that, but I also heard what sounded like a waterfall just beyond the signs. Now, these days with cheap wildlife cameras, you’d have to be a fool to disobey property rights. I’m a fool, especially because the “waterfall” was just dam overflow. I’m sure I was caught on camera and cursed.
Don’t be a fool.
I completed the loop and returned up the trail back to my car and the dirt road. I feel kind of weird writing this because I’d want more people to have my experience of thinking this would be a perfunctory woodland hike with nothing remotely memorable only to find it as pleasantly surprising as I did. Oh well.