Robert Stanley Nature Trail, Newington
Newington has a lot of sports fields for a town its size. It doesn’t have very many trailed properties, but it does publish a trails guide. Most of the hikes in that guide are walks along suburban streets to connect the town’s parks.
Hey, I’ll take it.
The Robert “Bob” Stanley Trail also connects two town parks, but this one goes through the woods and across a swamp. So that’s exciting. Many of Connecticut’s more famous trails were Native American trails hundreds of years ago. This one? I’m guessing that the Bob Stanley Nature Trail began as a BMX cut-through in the 1970’s – an equally noble origin story.
The 3/4-mile or so trail, which contains a little loop to nowhere, connects Churchill Park and the Clem Lemire Recreation Complex. It was dedicated to Bob Stanley, who served as the superintendent of Newington Parks and Recreation from 1973 to 2004.
After checking out the Churchill Covered Bridge on Churchill Drive at the Churchill Bridge Townhouse complex, I crossed the street and began my trek at Churchill Park. (Newington’s Captain Charles Churchill served in the American Revolution and was apparently a fairly big deal.)
This trail now exists thanks to an Eagle Scout project. It had been neglected and overgrown for years before the scout got in there and made the effort to open up the connection between the two parks. When he did so, he found old trail markers along the way and some bridges.
I found a lot of standing water and mud, but that’s nobody’s fault of course. As best as I can tell, the numbered signs along the path meant something a long time ago, but no longer do. When I see these things along nature trails, I can almost always figure out what they’re meant to point out. Here? It was a challenge.
These are just Newington woods. It’s cool that Newington has these woods, and it’s cool that locals can stroll the trail, but as far as fascinating features are concerned, I’m afraid there’s only one…
At the Clem Lemire entrance, the trail begins with a long boardwalk across a swamp. Traversing it in the rain was honestly as treacherous as anything I’ve ever done. It was slanted from years of settling and ice events. It was as slick as ice with moss and slime. And even if it wasn’t slick and slanted, I’d still have been concerned about stepping through it.
I don’t know how old this thing is, but it was incredibly well built to still be intact. The invasive phragmites that surrounds it creates a rather extraordinary tunnel effect. It was unlike anything I’ve ever walked before. Right here. In the center of Newington.
After I successfully traversed it once, I reached the end of the trail, turned right around, and crossed it again – totally pressing my luck. I made it across unscathed, completed the little spur loop, and quickly made my way through the mud to my car.
For most people, there’s nothing remotely memorable about Newington’s trails. For me, though, I’ll always remember this one. For the boy scout’s work, for the crazy boardwalk, for the big signs at both ends, and for the mere fact that it exists. I love these little trails almost as much as I love our state’s big trails.
I guess I like a good underdog understory story.