Power to the Peoples!
Barkhamsted, Trail network (~10 miles)
October 7, 2007
After enjoying myself immensely during previous visits to Peoples State Forest – at the Barkhamsted Lighthouse and The Stone Museum, as well as across the west branch of the Farmington River for the two hikes in American Legion State Forest, I was eager to hit the many trails ’round these parts again.
The only complication was just how I’d do that and feel a sense of completion. There are seven trails here, all described in detail in the Connecticut Walk Book. So I did what any CFPA Blue Trails Challenge taker would do and studied the maps and came up with the best plan of attack one person could with one day and one car: I would do every trail, making sure to take in all the “important” sites. In the order I hiked, I present to you, The Peoples State Forest Trails…
The Elliot Bronson Trail, 2.02 miles, Blue & Red Blazed
I began my day at the eastern trailhead of the Elliot Bronson Trail, off of Park Road. As I’ve found with all the trails out here, there are always nice big signs to make them easy to find. Off I went, along the easy trail thinking about Mr. Bronson. Elliot B. Bronson, who arranged many of the land sales to create the forest. By 1928, the forest had grown to 1,264 acres through the generous donation of over 180 individuals, 13 DAR groups, and 50 clubs. The Forest continued to expand through donations including 27 acres from the Kiwanis Club and 37 acres given by Connecticut Federated Woman’s Clubs in memory of Jessie Gerard. More on her below.
I quickly passed the intersection with the Walt Landgraf Trail and continued up towards the top of Ragged Mountain. Connecticut’s other Ragged Mountain, in Southington along the Metacomet Trail, is much better to say the least. This Ragged Mountain, while holding a wealth of interesting historical import, was merely a forested bump in a forest.
After summiting, I did a 180, bounded back down and back to the Walt Landgraf Trail, and then ulimately back to my car.
To end my day a couple hours later, I set off from Ullman Grove to do the other end of the Bronson Trail. It was a lot steeper up Ragged Mountain this way – or was I just tired? No, it’s steeper. But I summited (again), turned around (again) and went back to my car (again).
The Walt Landgraf Trail, .5 miles, Red Blazed
This short little spur trail has a great payoff at the end – the old soapstone quarry used by Native Americans as long as 4,000 years ago. It was so short, in fact, that I barely had time to pay homage to Mr. Landgraf. He was a historian and curator of the Stone Museum, and longtime CFPA Trail Manager for the local trails.
After passing many little boulders on the way, I reached the cliffs of the former quarry. This long, shallow cave was where the Indians once quarried the green soapstone to be carved into cooking vessels, bowls, smoke pipes, and ornaments. When the soapstone deposit was depleted, the shallow overhang at teh base of the cliff provided shelter. The site was excavated in the late 1940’s by a group from Yale. Cool.
I decided to make a plate (below). Once back to my car, I drove up to the north end of the state forest – in order to attack another trail.
The Jessie Gerard Trail, 1.8 miles, Blue & Yellow Blazed
For this one, I had already done a bit of it a month prior after the Barkhamsted Lighthouse. Back then I started at the East River Road trailhead and climbed up the steep incline until I met the Robert Ross Trail.
I took the left, continuing to climb up the surprisingly steep and rocky mountainside, which had several very nice views. Soon I reached the Falls Cut-Off Trail to head back down to my car.
Jump a month in time to my “real” day in Peoples Forest and I started at the other end of the Jessie Gerard Trail. I found the sign beckoning me along Greenwoods Road, parked, and got going. My plan was to hike down to where I’d climbed the hill from the cemetery a month prior and complete a circle via part of other trails. So that’s what I did.
The nothern end of the Gerard Trail is very nice and very family friendly. In fact, I must have passed at least 30 people out there, half of which were kids.
After a few minutes, I passed between two huge boulders – called the Veeder Boulders – named after Curtis Veeder, a CFPA member who was an early supporter of our State Forests. Like I said, this place loves naming stuff for people who helped create it.
I continued along the trail through hemlock and pine and eventually came to an overlook. Below me was the Farmington River and the little section of Barkhamsted named Riverton. In the foreground is some guy who refused to get out of the way:
After the overlook, I continued along the trail along the top of the ridge. After a few more minutes, I was treated to another beautiful overlook. This view was more southerly and took in the previously hiked American Legion State Forest.
From there, the trail descended fairly steeply down to the Falls Cut-off Trail and finally (I say finally, but I’m talking only several minutes) to the trailhead for the Robert Ross Trail and the end of the Jessie Gerard Line for me. I’ll spoil it now – this is the best trail in the park.
The Falls Cut-off Trail, .2 miles, Blue & Red Blazed
Very short, very steep, very nice. I’m sure this is really cool in the winter when ice forms over the 289 steps the CCC built to help hikers get up the hill. I only went down, though, as I’d come up the near-parallel Gerard Trail and cut over to this one.
Done. 4 down, 3 to go…
Charles Pack Trail, 1.9 miles, Blue & Yellow Blazed
To get over to the Charles Pack, I hiked small lengths of two other trails which will be described below. The Charles Pack Trail circles the northern end of the State Forest. Amazingly, I can’t seem to find out who Charles Pack was. I’m sure he was a good guy.
I mosied along and lo! Came upon a beautiful scene. This is Beaver Meadow/Swamp.
Where did that come from? (Well, yeah, I know… retreating glaciers after the last ice age, wise guy, thanks.) You may be able to make out the gaggle of geese across the pond – my presence sent up the warning calls and let me tell you… in a silent forest (I saw no other people on this trail at all) 30 geese can be pretty deafening.
It would not be a surprise to spot a moose here, or a variety of ducks, herons, hawks, bald eagle, coyote, fox, muskrat, beaver, raccoon or white tail deer. There also is a lot of history at Beaver Swamp, from the seasonal Indian camps on the edge of the swamp (found by a Central Connecticut State University archaeology survey dig) to hay harvesting during the 1800’s.
The rest of the Pack trail is somewhat unexciting… I did note a charcoal burning platform, as I promised I would in a previous report:
(I used to be a fairly well-accomplished orienteer and became quite adept at spotting the square flat areas in the middle of the woods while running, believe it or not. I know ’em when I see ’em.) The trail was nearly level the entire length, crossed a couple roads and Beaver Brook once or twice, and that was pretty much it.
The Robert Ross Trail, 2.2 miles, Blue Blazed
As I mentioned, this trail is really rather unremarkable. I hiked the upper third of it while connecting the Gerard and Pack Trails, which consisted of a long(ish) descent down some old 1930’s CCC stonework. South of that, the trail extends down to the stone museum parking lot gradually through mixed hardwood and then hemlock and pine forest. One tree allowed me to show my artistic side:
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Robert Ross was the CFPA Forester from 1929-35. He undertook some of the initial survey work at Peoples. A successful youth work program he started in CT in 1930 became the model for the federal Civilian Conservation Corps. The CCC put unemployed young men to work planting trees and building trails in the nation’s forests as part of Roosevelt’s “New Deal” program established during the depression.
In order to cut some time (and miss a chunk of already-hiked trail), I parked along Greenwoods Road and bushwhacked over to the Ross Trail. It went well and I even happened upon some of the greenest greenery I’ve ever seen:
Since nothing else happened to me, here’s another interesting (for real) tidbit: The name People’s State Forest broke with the practice of choosing Native American names for State Forests, such as Meshomasic, Pachaug, Cockaponset, and Shenipsit.
The name “People’s” (with the apostrophe) reflects that this forest was bought with private donations and given to the State. Early documents use “People’s” but through the years the apostrophe has fallen from use, as witnessed in recent documents, signs, and fascinating personal websites about hiking trails in CT.
As this trail was pretty much all downhill, it was over in no time which meant I had one trail to go…
The Agnes Bowen Trail, 2.6 miles, Blue & Orange Blazed
The Bowen Trail’s southern terminus is down near the Stone Museum (also near the Bronson Trail and Ross Trail ends too). Although it follows the same direction as the Ross Trail – and is only maybe 500 yards to the east from it – it is a different trail. It follows a creek for a good portion of its southern section which allows for a more varied landscape.
You need to know, don’t you? Okay… Agnes Bowen, then the secretary of the Barkhamsted Chamber of Commerce and a strong advocate for forest management to ensure a timber base for the town’s wood products industries, influenced the selection of Barkhamsted as the site of the new People’s State Forest. She was a local artist and writer and guided state representatives on a tour of the forest in 1923 that resulted in the decision to establish the forest on its 400 original acres. Rumor has it she was hot too.
This was a pleasant hike and was a nice way to end my day. It climbs gradually up the hillside and aside from creepy-looking instruments of torture hung ominously on trees, it was very fun.
I reached the junction with the Pack Trail and the southern tip of the Beaver Meadow again, which was where I’d parked my car. Peoples State Forest is beautiful and as unspoiled as you’ll find in Connecticut. The trails were well-marked, super clean, and always fun. I’d definitely recommend a day out in the woods in Barkhamsted.