Mountain Laurel Sanctuary, Nipmuck State Forest, Union
On New Years Eve Day in 2016, I visited this place with my son Calvin. Who visits a Mountain Laurel Sanctuary in the dead of winter?
We do… but we merely drove through it then to attain the all-important highest point in Windham County on Snow Hill. While the sanctuary is in Union, Snow Hill’s summit is mere feet across the border in Ashford. Important stuff.
The laurel was not in bloom then, so I wrote things like how I’d be sure to visit in mid-June someday.
Well. I forgot. So I revisited in mid-July and… it was as bloomy as it was in late December. So here… here’s what it looks like at peak from the state’s tourism site:
Here’s the weird thing: There aren’t really any trails here. There’s Snow Hill Road which is the gravel/dirt road that traverses the 3/4 mile or so of the sanctuary. From what I gathered, the laurel is pretty much along the road and doesn’t really penetrate the woods to any crazy degree.
There are better stands of our state flower (mountain laurel, duh) in the northwest hills. BUT! This place was begun as a beautification project of the Civilian Conservation Corps from Camp Conner in 1935. I think it’s pretty cool that they “cared” in some small way to retain pretty things back then. Apparently there used to be many more laurels here, as only a portion remains today.
In 2014, The Courant’s Peter Marteka wrote:
According to an informational kiosk in the sanctuary, the mountain laurel’s name “came from the settlers who noticed a resemblance to an unrelated laurel plant that is found in Europe. Spoons and other small utensils used to be carved out of the wood of mountain laurel so the name spoonwood can be used when referring to this shrub.”
Visitors to the sanctuary can drive through the preserve or park anywhere along the road and walk. I recommend walking through and watching the wind swaying the blossom-laden branches. Take a close look at the bowl-shaped blossoms that grow in bunches resembling white and pink exploding fireworks.
The sanctuary road, constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, runs for about a mile and is bordered by laurels that extend deep into the surrounding forest. The laurels in the area flourished after inmates from Somers prison were paid 25 cents a day in the 1950s to clear grape vines and trees to showcase the bushes.
Hm. I’ll trust that the laurel “extends deep into the forest.” I had Damian in the car with me and the deer flies were swarming as I poked around quickly. I apologize for not having any dazzling “mountain laurel in bloom” pictures for you, but it’s our state flower!
You’ve all seen it a million times. Besides, I honestly think this place was prettier in the snow.
After all, it IS Snow Hill on Snow Hill Road.
I’m sure this place is beautiful in June. And you should go there. It’s right off of I-84 at the Ashford/Union line. And if there’s anything I know about people, it’s that they love finding single-track dirt roads at the Ashford/Union line.