Groton to Preston on Foot: A Great Idea

 People who observe the world principally through a windshield see nothing but highways, shopping centers, housing subdivisions, office complexes and fast-food restaurants.

But those of us who escape pavement at every opportunity embrace an alternative universe of forests, meadows, streams and lakes often hidden from view but nevertheless easily accessible, even in densely populated areas.

I’ve often made it a challenge to get from Point A to Point B on foot with as few road crossings as possible – sometimes over considerable distances, such as the Hundred Mile Wilderness in northern Maine, or the Long Trail, a 271-mile pathway the entire length of Vermont, but also on shorter rambles over the Metacomet and Mattabesset trails from the Connecticut-Massachusetts border to Long Island Sound, and, most recently, 22-plus miles on the Narragansett Trail from Lantern Hill in Ledyard/North Stonington to Ashville Pond in Hopkinton, R.I.

That day-long trek a few week ago reinforced my commitment to devote more time hiking the elegant paths near our neck of the woods and fewer hours behind the wheel en route to more remote trails farther north.

We woodland wanderers are forever indebted to such organizations as the Connecticut Forest and Park Association, which maintains some 850 miles of blue-blazed trails throughout the state, as well as to local groups including the Groton Open Space Association, the Friends of Oswegatchie Hills Nature Preserve in East Lyme, the North Stonington Land Alliance and the Avalonia Land Trust that collectively have preserved thousands of acres of land and made available miles of hiking trails throughout southeastern Connecticut.

For the past several years one such group, the TriTown Trail Association, has been rallying support for a 14-mile path that would connect open space and existing trails between Bluff Point Coastal Reserve in Groton and the Preston Community Park. This inspiring concept has the backing of the towns of Groton and Ledyard, which both have applied for $200,000 state grants to help build and maintain the trail.

The catch: Approval of the public funds requires 20 percent in private contributions. Simply put, the project needs money to go forward.

From 5:30 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 2, the association and the Ledyard Rotary Foundation are sponsoring a party and silent auction at The Paddock Tack Shop, 55 Rose Hill Road in Ledyard to raise money for the trail. Tickets are $15 and can be reserved by calling 860-464-1558. More information about the event and the organization also is available on the TriTown Trail Association’s Facebook page.

“Think of what a boon this trail would be for this area,” said Laurie Gorham, an association volunteer who envisions a popular hiking-biking-equestrian route that would not only appeal to local outdoor enthusiasts but also attract tourists.

“We’re trying to raise money and enthusiasm,” David Holdridge, a former Ledyard town councilor who heads the association, added. He said about a quarter of the route already is preserved through existing trails at Bluff Point Coastal Reserve, the Gungywamp preserve in Groton, and the Clark Property off Route 117 owned by the town of Ledyard.

Rights of way would have to be secured from private property owners, including Connecticut Light and Power, which has a path along its power lines, and the City of Groton Utilities Commission, which owns reservoirs in Groton and Ledyard that include wonderful trails and service roads that are now off-limits to the public.

For years Holdridge and a host of public officials have implored the City of Groton to open its property to the public, as have numerous other reservoir owners across the country, but their requests have fallen on deaf ears.

“We hope eventually they’ll come around, with enough public support,” Holdridge said.

The Ledyard Reservoir trails would be a key component of the new network, and among the highlights. A confession here: I’ve sneaked onto the trails a couple times years ago – once on cross-country skis, another while running – and would love to do so legally. I presume the statute of limitations on my trespassing has expired.

There is ample evidence that reservoirs that are open to the public actually are better protected against vandalism than chain-link fences because, as we all know, no simple barrier will keep out determined miscreants, and having more responsible people around will deter inappropriate behavior.

The reservoir link, though desirable, is not critical and would be substituted, at least initially, by an asphalt detour of a few miles.

I look forward to completing the route on foot one day in the near future and am confident the trail group will be rewarded for its efforts.

It’s a great project and I hope you’ll help support it.





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