New Trail and It’s Grape!
John and Madeline McClean Outdoor Education Preserve, Suffield
The Suffield Land Conservancy seems to have a penchant for long preserve naming conventions. Their newest trailed property (in 2022) follows the pattern. Whereas most organizations would call this the McClean Preserve, SLC always likes to use first names as well. Then again, with the popular McLean Game Refuge not too far away, perhaps it makes good sense here.
The property, named for the land donor’s parents, is directly across from Suffield High School. It is “intended to enhance our next generation’s appreciation for nature and promote stewardship for the environment.” That’s cool. I had no such nearby woodlands at my high school. Or middle school. Or elementary school. (I guess I made up for that by going to UConn for undergrad.)
The property has multiple ecosystems including an overgrown orchard and meadow, hard and soft wood stands, a stream, wetlands and vernal pools. These natural resources, science equipment and observation stations will give our Suffield High School teachers and students new tools to learn plant and animal identification, wetland delineation, soil and water testing, and climate monitoring.
That’s pretty awesome to say the least.
The SLC had constructed two Adirondack type shelters and a shed by the time of my walk, and plan to construct a raised observation platform and two ground level decks when they have the time and money.
The JMMOEP is a 23-acre lot with an exceedingly nice lollipop trail totalling maybe a mile or so. I say “exceedingly nice” because it’s graded, often laid with mulch, and has border logs throughout. I guess if you’re going to have lazy high school students out here walking it, you need to make it as comfortable as possible.
The SLC has done a great job with that.
I hiked it counter-clockwise from the split at the first structures. This took me through an overgrown orchard and a maze of Concord grape. The air was thick with the scent of grapes and if you, like me, have a Concord grape scent memory of a specific place, it’ll all come back to you here. (For me, it’s my grandfather’s backyard by the woodpile on the way to the garden. I spent many days spent there as a child.)
I walked quickly and was impressed with the diversity of biomes here. Orchard, overgrown meadow, hardwoods, softwoods, a swamp, a stream… really the only thing missing are hills. Hey, if the kids want hills, the Metacomet Ridge isn’t far.
The SLC owns and manages lots of land in Suffield and I’ve poked around all of their properties for the most part. This one is different, as most are farmed field or hillsides off the dominant ridgeline in town. It’s also clear they’re invested in it, with all the structures and the hard work required to create these trails the way they have. Heck, there’s a raised planked trail through the swampy area that was about 100 steps long for me.
Returning to my car in the high school parking lot, I noticed the name of the sports complex. If I may use a Reddit in-joke here, username checks out:
Heh. I think that’s funny… and I’m okay being alone in that.
The John and Madeline McClean Outdoor Education Preserve is a great addition to Suffield and I hope those biology and ecology students appreciate what they now have. Punks.