Dams, Dinosaurs and a Dump
Northwest Park, Windsor
January 19, 2013
This page is a beast because Windsor’s Northwest Park is a beast. I say that as a compliment… this place is a gem and I’m fortunate that it’s so close to my home. Not only that, it is very near my older son’s special needs school and as a result, he visits at least twice a year with his class – and always has a blast. I’ve personally visited a dozen times or so over the years and surely will return again in the future.
As far as town parks in Connecticut are concerned, Northwest Park is one of the best. As far as CTMQ is concerned anyway. There’s just so much going on here. In addition to all of the trails that we’ll get to in a minute, there’s the Connecticut Valley Tobacco Museum and the Northwest Park Nature Center – two of the earliest museums I visited for this site.
There are many farm animals on the grounds, a cool playscape, soccer fields, and a maple sugaring shack with weekly demonstrations in late winter. Just in front of the shack, there stands the former national champion bear oak! (It took a major hit in a series of ice storms and as a result, lost its lofty title in 2016.)
And, of course, there’s much to be found along the park’s nearly 12 miles of trails including a cool little dinosaur print exhibit and a history lesson including a US First! Phew.
On top of all that, the park provides a professionally made and accurate map of the park and its trails. Hallelujah! As you see, this is a very family oriented property and is just a great place to go for, well, pretty much anything. It’s not everywhere that all four of us visit and have fun, that’s for sure. Have I mentioned everything here is free?
Everything here is free.
This page you’re reading is all about the trail system. When I hiked them, all of the trails here were well-marked and cleared. They are also all easy to walk as well, as Windsor isn’t a hilly town. Each trail greets hikers with an explanatory sign which is always nice.
When I hike without my son(s), I tend to start out just as dawn breaks. I have several reasons for this – I’m a naturally early riser, less heat in the summer, less traffic to get there, fewer people bothering me, more large wildlife/fewer insects, any hours that my family is sleeping are unicorn “free” hours that I’m not taking away from family time… Oh, and I love sunrises.
Sunrises are better than sunsets. Always and forever, amen.
I know non-morning people don’t get it. And honestly? That’s fine with me. Your loss.
There are officially 11 trails here, but to actually set out to hike every inch of them all is just crazy. I mean, who would do such a foolhardy thing? Don’t look at me. Are you lookin’ at me? Don’t look at me. Am I a hiking clown?
Walking around the main buildings
(Now called The Conservation Trail)
There’s a pond and the animal barns and some mules and a cow and a playground. But really, I’m only putting in this fake section to be able to include one more picture of my beautiful* family.
*Note: I don’t feature in these pictures.
Purple Octagon blaze, 1.25 miles
This is the first trail one encounters while walking north up the main road from the barn and museum complex. One time we tried taking a hike up at Northwest on a warm summer evening.
We were devoured by mosquitos that day and turned back. It was AWFUL. Worse than anything I’d ever experienced up to that point in my life. I had that in mind as I walked around the quick loop of the Brookside. Of course, in January I had no such insect worries, but I did get a good look at the little ponds and vernal pool areas that surely breed mosquitos by the ton in the spring and summer.
I did not get a good look at the promised riparian zone and babbling brook because, as you can see, everything was a bit frozen. I’m sure it looks like a creek. In the woods.
This trail wasn’t very exciting, but it was more or less a loop (which is always nice for families with little kids) and there were a whole bunch of nice natural history and botany lessons along the way.
I especially liked learning about Touch-Me-Nots, which included a bit about the Touch-Me-Not Family. Like, did you know touch-me-nots are named that because when you touch the mature seed pod, it explodes and kids love that?
Also, according to a little metal sign in the woods in Windsor, the touch-me-not stem contains a liquid that soothes the itching of poison ivy. So now, is this the worst named plant in the world or what? It should be touch me now or touch me please.
This trail wasn’t too exciting and only contained a gentle down and up slope. They get better, I promise.
Open Forest Trail
Green crescent blaze, .7 miles
Back in the day, the Open Forest Trail was a mere third of a mile and served merely as a connector trail to the more exciting stuff at the far northern end of the park. These days the trail has more than doubled in length and… serves merely as a connector trail to… the more exciting stuff at the far northern end of the park.
The signage explains how this section of forest has been “disturbed” – meaning culled and logged in the not-too-distant past. So now we’re to enjoy the succession taking place with grasses and shrubs that provide habitat and food for wildlife. It also skirts the eastern edge of the park’s property, meaning it takes you along fences along back yards.
Black square blaze, .9 miles
Now we’re getting somewhere. Where is that? To the northern reaches of the park where relative few dare to tread. The land of dinosaurs!
The Triassic Period (248-206 million years ago) is named for the Latin “trias” for three rock layers formed in Germany at this time. It was a time of major geologic activity, beginning with the break up of the super-continent Pangea.
As the Triassic Period was coming to an end, crustal movements created deep crevices in central Connecticut. Three major flows of lava flooded the Valley. The present Atlantic Ocean was formed. Many smaller faults cracked the land due to stresses. These “rift valleys,” similar to today’s Death Valley, formed the initial drainage of the ancestral Connecticut Valley. While this was occurring, a widespread extinction eliminated most of the primitive reptiles, leaving dinosaurs to dominate the land.
When I hiked this trail, it was only 1/3 of a mile. Today, it’s just a hair under a full mile, as an eastern arm has been added. I’m sure it’s a nice, flat walk through the woods around what the current map calls the Rainbow Dam Field.
But that’s not why this trail is awesome. This trail is awesome because there, at the far northern reaches of Northwest Park, is this:
And what is that? Why, that’s a little hut protecting a fossilized dinosaur track! Yes, the cast of the track was donated by our own little Dinosaur State Park down in Rocky Hill and I just think it’s cool that it’s plopped out here in the hinterlands of Windsor.
The track was made by none other than Eubrontes, which was a meat-eating dinosaur that lived here during the – checks notes – Jurassic Period. I have no idea why it’s on the Triassic Trail. Why didn’t they just name it the Jurassic Trail?
Regardless, Eubrontes is Connecticut’s state fossil of course, and it is the same track that Dinosaur Park is known for. I always think of this little hut here and if I were to ever do some sort of massive Connecticut Treasure Hunt, I’d include it. I just love its randomness I think.
Let’s move on.
Softwood Forest Trail
Orange Triangle Blaze, .9 miles
Oh come on now. After all I do for Connecticut?
The trail is named after the type of trees along this trail? Not as an indictment of me, Steve Wood? Okay… Softwoods include your junipers, hemlocks, pines, firs, larches. (Here at the park you’ll walk through Eastern hemlocks and white pines.)
But check this out – something I learned from the trail’s sign. The soft inner bark of these trees is rich in Vitamin C and has helped starving people not starve. The early colonialists apparently stored this wood over the spring and summer to dry and then ground it up and used it in flour over the following fall and winter.
Where did they learn such a thing? From the Adirondacks. And what does “Adirondack” mean? “Tree-eater.” This is all from this trail’s sign and I trust Northwest Park implicitly, so no need to fact check anything here.
The trail itself forms a loop in the upper middle section of the park. That’s great, but I was still smarting from the “Softwood” comment, until…
Woody Succession Trail
Green Star Blaze, .8 miles
Softwood schmoftwood. This is what I’m talkin’ ’bout:
Another loop trail in the northern end of the park, this trail aims to teach the kids about life. After Woody Success, you achieve climax:
Okay, okay, I’ll stop with the dopey jokes. I remember back in college in my many ecology courses, ecological succession was pretty much central to every lesson it seemed. It is kind of cool that the different plants “succeed” each other in the same way for the same reasons the world over.
And how animal species take advantage of the different stages of succession. (And hunters do too, for that matter, as I believe the edge community – which is essentially the second stage of succession – is best for hunters.)
As for this trail, there are a nice series of boardwalks and before I knew it, I was on the Rainbow Reservoir Trail!
Rainbow Reservoir Trail
Pink Circle Blaze, 1 mile
Not being fully familiar with the geography of Windsor, I recall being a bit surprised that this trail took me to the Rainbow Reservoir. Let me clarify; yes, once I saw I was hiking the Rainbow Reservoir Trail, I realized I’d be hiking along Rainbow Reservoir. But before I got here, I didn’t realize Northwest Park extended up to the reservoir.
I’d been to Rainbow Reservoir before, but on the northern side of it. The side you can drive to and park at. There, the DEEP maintains a fish ladder and power is still generated by the dam.
On this side of the reservoir (which is the Farmington River), the view is entirely different. I was alone, save for the deer constantly running around near me, and the scene was quite peaceful. There was a ton of fishermen litter though, so there are times this place isn’t so peaceful, obviously.
And this place was pretty darn exciting in 1890, when what was then called Oil City generated electricity here and transferred it to Hartford – the first such long distance transfer of electricity in the nation! (Again, according to the unimpeachable Northwest Park signage.) Wicked cool.
Continuing away from the dam, which technically is accessed via a spur trail off the Triassic Trail now, and along the shore of the reservoir, I came upon signs saying that fishing here is illegal:
Literally 3 feet from that sign was this:
I guess the idea is that this is fairly inaccessible and the rogue fishermen won’t get caught? Continuing down the trail, now southward back towards the buildings, another warning sign:
So I’ll do my part: No fishing here you bums. Just walk around and enjoy the park for what it is. Now it’s time to enjoy the next trail for me…
Wetland Forest Trail
Yellow Circle Blaze, 1.5 miles
The time has come for me to address the trailhead sign mileage issue. I’ve written that the information on the signs is not to be questions. I lied. The distances are fine, but the estimated times are impossibly slow. I figure they figure you’re hiking with a two-year-old maybe. Or a 102-year-old? The Wetland Forest Trail is a flat 1.25 miles and the sign suggests that will take you an hour and 15 minutes.
15 minutes per quarter mile? (That’s the default here.) That’s just 440 yards. I guess? If you literally stop and smell every proverbial rose? If I walked at the suggested pace of each trail’s sign, it would have taken me, literally, 12 hours to walk all of the trails here.
The Wetland Trail is the longest in the park and perhaps the most interesting. You’ve got your Rainbow Reservoir, your open field, your pond, your marsh, your overlook… and it also connects to the most other trails.
Everything wet was frozen solid at the time of my visit, so perhaps the trail isn’t so fun in April after a heavy rain. I’ll leave that up to you to figure out.
Blue Bow-Tie Blaze, .3 miles
Interesting. The current mileage is only a third of a mile but back in 2013 it was half a mile. I wonder if the beavers flooded out a bit of trail. (Actually, what I think happened was the park decided to name the “Conservation Trail” which is just the “trails around the barns” which took some… argh. I hate when I go on these tangents no one cares about.
The Pond Trail takes hikers to the beaver pond and provides a sign educating them about beavers. There’s all the usual information, and then this: “The teeth project past the lips so it can chew and swallow underwater without choking. The ears and nose have special flaps to keep out water. A third eyelid (nictitating membrane) serves as underwater goggles.”
For what it’s worth, most mammals have third eyelids. We ding-dong humans are the rare ones that don’t.
There’s a nice little overlook built up here and the beavers have done some serious work to the surroundings. Definitely a cool little side trail for the little ones to see the what the large rodents can do.
It also passes Dolliver’s Crossing, a nice memorial to a man, Dick Dolliver, who gave countless volunteer hours to Northwest Park and its trails. I just wanted to shout him out.
White Octogon/Cross Blazes, 0.8 miles
For whatever reason, I know/think I remember that “white crosses” can be a reference to amphetamines. I know this because when I bartended, I would sometimes leave work at 1:30 AM and drive to Delaware or New Hampshire or something. A coworker would always offer me “white crosses,” which he also called “trucker’s speed.”
They were just ephedrine (I think) and I never accepted his offer, and he was also a really sketchy dude so who knows what those pills really were. Please note: I never accepted anything from that guy. He once gave me and my friend LSD or ketamine or both mixed together – I don’t know, but we were in Boston and my friend and I dropped the doses behind the couch for some reason and then got all paranoid that the dog would eat them. Legitimately paranoid and concerned, not drug-induced paranoid.
So we told a friend (now deceased) to contact the apartment owner to tell him we didn’t do the drugs and hid them behind the couch and bonus! Apartment owner could have them AND save his dogs. That gentleman is also now deceased. Kids, don’t do drugs (I didn’t) and don’t hang out with idiots (I did.)
The Hemlock Trail, you’d assume, courses through a hemlock grove. Which is always nice.
Red Square/Black Dot Blazes, 0.5 miles
You made it! Without getting too bogged down, you made it to the final trail description! Congratulations. I’m very impressed. And this is essentially two trails in one! For Northwest Park has a Braille Trail along the Bog Trail. This simply means there’s a rope along the path to guide the visually impaired with some signage in Braille.
I’ve seen these at other parks around the state, but I’ve yet to see a blind person taking advantage of them. I’m sure they do, I’ve just never seen it.
The Bog Trail, at least when I walked it, encircled a bog and took me along the property line of the Bloomfield/Windsor Transfer Station. I found it odd that blind people, with their heightened senses of smell, are taken to the dump. Again being 10-degrees during my visit, I didn’t smell a thing, so I’ve no complaints.
And really, true bogs smell of methane and there are cows here nearby which… smell of methane. So a town dump smelling of methane shouldn’t really be an issue at all.
There are a ton of educational signs along this trail; braille and written. There’s also a bird blind to give visitors the true hunter experience without the hunting. (I get it, birdwatchers are fans of bird blinds as much as hunters.) The blind was built as an Eagle Scout project and is quite a nice one.
I finished the loop, walked back past the tobacco barn and the cross-country ski rental barn, the cows, the tractors, the museums, the sugar shack, the former national champion bear oak, the pond, the bridge, and the soccer fields to reach my car and call it a day.
Even if it was only 8:30 AM.
I’m jealous of Windsor. This park is a jewel that appeals to all ages and interests. Hikers, children, tobacco enthusiasts, bird watchers, dinosaur fans, scofflaw fishermen, maple syrup lovers, soccer players… on and on. As I noted at the outset, I’ve visited Northwest Park more times as my own town’s Westmoor Park mere minutes from my house.
It’s all free, it’s very well-kept, and is always open. Well done, Windsor!