Do The Mash…amoquet
Mashamoquet Brook State Park, Pomfret
April & July 2011, August 2017
I’ve hiked the 6.5 miles of trails at Mashamoquet at different times and for different reasons. This page is a combination of previously published slightly divergent pages.
I don’t know for sure, but Mashamoquet might be the first Connecticut state park I’d ever been to. I came to the state in 1991 for undergrad and as a member of the UConn cycling team – yes, that was a thing – we rode out to here fairly frequently. But it’s not like CTMQ existed then, so those visits pretty much don’t exist in this particular universe.
Flash forward 20 years to 2011 and a couple visits at different points in the year. It’s not that Mashamoquet is huge, but there are several things to check out here – at least as far as my “needs” for this website are concerned.
One of those things is the Pomfret Historical Society’s Brayton Grist Mill and Marcy Blacksmith Museum which, as of this writing, I have yet to visit. But everything else? Let’s get going…
The biggest draw here is the Wolf Den. In order to get to the famous site, you need to hike a couple miles. So when I first visited this park (for the purposes of entertaining you), that’s exactly what I did.
There are several trails here, more or less forming north-south loops. And while you’d have no idea today, Mashamoquet is a combination of three state parks: the original Mashamoquet Brook, Wolf Den and Saptree Run. In fact, the Wolf Den State Park sign still stands… at least in 2011:
A large portion of the park was public domain even prior to the State Park and Forest Commission’s creation in 1914 due to the foresight of the Daughters of the American Revolution who had purchased the Wolf Den parcel in 1899. Other purchases and gifts over the years gives us over 1,000 acres of state park today.
And it’s a lovely park, I must say. The Wolf Den portion of the park is dominated by some striking geologic features not usually associated with Connecticut’s Quiet Corner. Sharp rock outcroppings, cliffs and glacial erratic dominate the steep hillsides. This isn’t the trap rock many people think about when you mention “cliffs” and “Connecticut” but a different type of rock.
Strangely, the DEEP site doesn’t have one of their usual “Geology of the park” sections for Mashamoquet. Oh, about the name, from the state of Connecticut: “The region was once the domain of the Mohegan Chief Uncas. The name Mashamoquet is
That “entire area” was actually what is now the town of Pomfret as well as Brooklyn, Hampton and Putnam. The settlers bought this whole parcel from the Mohegans for 30 pounds. Sigh.
After spending some time along the “stream of good fishing” and watching some fishermen, I parked down on Wolf Den Drive near one of the several very nicely maintained camping areas and did a healthy loop hike along the blue and red trails, pretty much taking in the whole park.
Along the way, I passed Indian Chair and Table Rock, both of which are pretty rad. The star of the show here is, of course Wolf Den. I visited that again in 2018 with both of my sons using slightly different trails (below).
The hiking here is really nice. The hills and boulders may catch a few day-hiking picnickers by surprise, but there’s nothing too strenuous and all the loops return to the camping and parking areas.
I brought the boys up here as part of the Connecticut DEEP’s Sky’s the Limit hiking challenge. For this visit, I employed my kindly and fatherly “Let’s see how close we can get to the goal in the car to save your tender young legs” approach.
Since I’d hiked all over Mashomoquet before, and have even been swimming in the pond with Damian several years ago (below), the idea was to get the the Wolf Den and get out.
Also, I had a full slate of stuff to do in Putnam after this hike, so I really didn’t want to start at the main entrance and spend two hours here. (And, if you know anything about my son Damian, spending two hours hiking with him isn’t usually the best idea.)
So I found the single-track woods road off of Wolf Den Road known as… Wolf Den Drive. It’s not the easiest off-roading I’ve done, but it wasn’t the worst either. However, it’s definitely one of those, “Holy cow, I’m in this 100% since I literally can’t turn around until I get all the way to where I want to get.”
I got there just fine.
I parked and the three of us walked down the very nicely cleared road/trail to the aforementioned picnic area. It’s funny that this was so easily drivable, but the road to get here is decidedly not.
Damian went through his usual progression of self-injurious behavior and opposition to the walk, but we continued to plug along. He usually gets over it in five or ten minutes. (And did.)
We entered the woods through a laurel stand and began descending down into a valley.
Damian became obsessed with the fact that there were “steps” in the woods. Over and over he had to confirm with me, “Papa. Steps.”
“Papa. Steps. In the woods.”
“Papa. Papa! Steps! In the woods!”
You get the point. (Actually, no you don’t. The child can perseverate like no one you know. It’s maddening if I’m being honest.)
And just like that, we’d reached our goal: The Wolf Den. I’ll just borrow some text from my friends at WNPR.
Israel Putnam is a name that stands out in the colonial history of Connecticut as a war hero of the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. Prior to his wartime glory, he earned the nickname “Wolf Putnam” by killing what was believed to be the last wolf in Connecticut when he was a young farmer in the eastern Connecticut town of Pomfret.
The disappearance of an animal from its native habitat is no longer cause for celebration, but life in the mid-1700s was very different than today. To make a go of farming, you were up against many obstacles—the harsh New England winters, rocky soil, and predators destroying your livestock. A wolf was not viewed as a mysterious, beautiful wild animal but a serious threat to your livelihood.
There are many versions of the story of Israel Putnam and the wolf, but the original is found in the book The Life and Heroic Exploits of Israel Putnam, written by General David Humphreys, and first published in Hartford in 1788 while Putnam was still alive.
The story goes that one night in 1742, 70 of Putnam’s sheep and goats were killed by a wolf that had been terrorizing the Pomfret area for years. This was not just any wolf. She was a tricky animal, who despite losing most of the toes on one of her feet in a steel trap, regularly evaded capture by “flying to the western woods,” returning each fall with a new litter of pups. Every year, the hunters were able to destroy the wolf pups, but the mother wolf continued to elude them.
One fall evening, Putnam and his neighbor tracked the wolf through newly-fallen snow all the way to the Connecticut River and back.
Wait a minute. Hold on. That’s over 80 miles. Perhaps they meant a different river? I’m sure that’s the case. I know this story is mostly apocryphal, but at least get your made up facts correct!
Using a pack of bloodhounds, they drove her into her den about three miles from Putnam’s farm. After all efforts to get the wolf from her den failed, Putnam decided there was no other option but to enter into the den himself. He removed his jacket and waistcoat, lit some strips of birch bark as a torch, tied a rope around his legs, and descended into the cave-like den. According to Humphreys, Putnam made three trips down into the den: the first trip to determine the location of the wolf, the second to shoot and kill her, and the third to bring up her body.
Yeah, that story is absurd. But whatever, it’s one of Connecticut’s finest and it’s about one of Connecticut’s finest, so we’ll go with it. Putnam went on to fame and glory during the Revolutionary War – and later had a town named after him. Putnam Memorial State Park in Redding and Bethel is the preserved winter encampment from the Revolution – and if you haven’t been, you really should check it out.
The boys and I hiked back up the hill and the steps that were built into it and back through the picnic area. On our way, young Calvin Wood stalked and hunted the last blueberry in Connecticut.
We had tracked them all the way to the Mississippi River and back and now we had found it.
He cornered it and picked it.
And ate it.
And it was bitter.
Calvin Wood: Hero. I’ll make a plaque.
Damian and I went swimming in the pond at Mashamoquet, and it was great. I think it’s my favorite pond to swim in we’ve been to thus far. It’s very shallow and safe for one thing, the beach area is half-shaded for another, and it’s just really pretty. Not much more to say so enjoy a few pictures… Damian’s getting a little more adventurous slowly but surely.
Mashamoquet is a classic Connecticut state park. It’s old and established. It has a museum, it has history, it has a legend. Trails, camping, picnic sites, and swimming.
I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for this place, even if I don’t get out to Pomfret too often. I just hope you all do at least once. For Ol’ Put, if for nothing else.
DEEP’s Mashamoquet State Park’s page
CTMQ’s Mashamoquet Brook State Park page
Brayton Grist Mill and Marcy Blacksmith Museum
The Wolf Den
Indian Chair & Table Rock
CTMQ’s State Parks, Reserves, Preserves, & Forests
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