With a French Kiss
Joshua’s Trust Chenes Roches Preserve, Willington
We all know English isn’t the prettiest tongue on earth. I can’t say which language is the most pleasant to the ear, but French is pretty nice. Take this preserve’s name: Chenes Roches… ahh… Chenes Roches…
(It’s pronounced “Shen Roesh” which isn’t all that lovely. But it’s nicer than the “Oaks Rocks” English translation. OKES ROX. Bleh.)
Setting aside my ridiculous romancing of the romance languages, I arrived at the small hiker’s lot at this Willington property after lunch with my son attending a soccer training camp near UConn. I’d already hiked around another Joshua’s Trust property before lunch – the Tobiassen Memorial Forest in Tolland and wanted to squeeze in one more hike while my son kicked a ball around.
Joshua’s Trust has been able to secure parking right next to private residences and driveways all over their large footprint in northeast Connecticut. I don’t know how they do it, but they do.
In the case of Chenes Roches, I’m guessing it’s part of the deal they got when the preserve was donated to them by Esther Labbee; she lived in the house next to the parking area. And she was an impressive and generous woman.
Esther Labbee donated 55 acres of her property to Joshua’s Trust in 2004 with the remaining 8 acres containing the house, barn, fields and outbuildings to be bequeathed to the Trust upon her death, which occurred in 2012 at age 84. Esther named her property, Chenes Roches (oaks rocks) for the large glacial erratic boulders and the many oak trees and especially her favorite, a huge white oak that is now a prime attraction on the preserve.
Esther was an elementary school teacher in Manchester for more than 25 years, retiring in 1984. Esther loved this property where she raised cows and other farm animals, gardened and raised fruit trees and berry bushes. She was extremely independent and resourceful, building many of the farm buildings herself. She harvested firewood on the property, driving her tractor on woods roads that some of the Chenes Roches trails now follow. She wanted the property she loved and worked to be forever protected from development in perpetuity and so granted custodianship to Joshua’s Trust.
I think the Trust sold the house? It seemed like a regular ol’ family was living in it when I parked and hit the trail, but who knows.
Across a field and along a stone wall, I’ll admit to being happily surprised at what is one of the most perfect white oaks in the state. The “Chenes” of the property’s name. She’s a beaut for sure.
Once past the oak, the rest of my hike was in typical forested Connecticut woods. When I hiked, there was the simple three-quarter mile yellow-blazed Esther’s Loop. There was also a short red spur trail and a longer spur trail across a stream.
I’m writing in the past tense above because I have a feeling that the two red-blazed spur trails will be connected someday. If you look at the map, it just makes sense. And if you hike both spurs as I did, you’ll wish for that to be the case.
Yes, I walked all the way to the end of the Valley Spur Trail, only to walk all the way back along it, knowing there had to be a cut-through to the trails above me up the hill. Granted, it’s a pretty steep and rocky hill, but since when is the Joshua’s Trust afraid of steep and rocky hills?
The connection would need a healthy amount of trail work; side-hilling, perhaps some steps, definitely some shoring up… but I predict it will be done at some point. The trails that existed as they did during my walk were lovely all the same.
There’s a nice mix of hardwood and hemlock here, and some of the glacial erratics that dot the Preserve are impressively large. As I circled around back up the little hill towards the end of my walk, there it was again:
Esther’s beloved tree. My word it’s a lovely tree.
Esther was feisty and of strong opinion but was extremely self-effacing and wanted no public recognition when the Willington Conservation Commission made her the recipient of the Raymond K. Daley Environmental Action Award in 2004 for the donation and preservation of her land. Upon her death, her alma mater, the University of Maine Fort Kent, received a very generous bequest from her to be used for scholarships.
Through Esther’s generosity and the efforts of Joshua’s Trust, members of the public can now enjoy the beauty and the varied landscape of this wonderful piece of property.
This is a beautiful piece of land and was certainly worth my effort to speed out to during Calvin’s training camp. Speaking of which, my son is something else.
I returned to the fields to see the final scrimmage. He’d been moved up to play with much older kids and was still playing his normal center midfielder position. Look, not too many just-turned 10-year-olds hold down that position playing with and against 13 and 14-year-olds. He held his own, shouldered an adult coach off the ball, and sent some kids on a few nice runs.
A good day was had by all.