Open Groton Reservoir to hiking - and still keep it safe and clean

Hikers walk on a path on the east side of Morgan Pond Reservoir in Ledyard on April 20.

After strolling past a copse of evergreens we climbed a gentle rise and then followed the trail to the edge of a sparkling pond. Nearby a waterfall tumbled over mossy rocks, while an osprey's shrill cry pierced the air.

This was Morgan Pond Reservoir in Ledyard, a pristine expanse of clear water surrounded by dense woodlands more reminiscent of northern Vermont than southeastern Connecticut.

I was on a 3-mile group hike last week sponsored by the Ledyard Library Friends and led by Karl Acimovic, an engineer with the City of Groton Utilities, which owns the property. Such organized outings are for the time being the only way the public can legally walk on these reservoir trails, since the department tightly controls access to a water source that serves some 6,800 customers.

"The beauty of the area is absolutely breathtaking," Paul Yatcko, director of utilities, told me the other day, but added, "Job number one is the safety and security of the water system."

At issue is a longstanding debate over whether the city ever will allow hikers unsupervised access to the property, especially considering the reservoir section is a critical link in a proposed 14-mile Tri-Town Trail that would extend from Bluff Point Coastal Reserve in Groton to the Preston Community Park. We were on the section north of Sandy Hollow Road near Rosemond Pond, a small portion of the department's 300-acre reservoir holdings in both Groton and Ledyard that contain about a billion gallons of water.

David Holdridge, a former Ledyard Town Councilor who heads a committee that for years has been promoting the trail (www.tritowntrail.com), told me his group has learned it soon will receive a $160,000 grant from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, in part to help secure easements and rights of way from property owners.

Though Holdridge has made his pitch numerous times to Groton officials and has been repeatedly rebuffed, he remains cautiously confident city officials eventually will relent.

I hope so.

Though I fully agree with Yatcko's point that the utilities department's first priority is to safeguard its water supply, I believe allowing responsible hikers to pass through the reservoir property will minimize rather than contribute to such problems as littering. Open-space advocates have reported such findings in numerous surveys across the country.

Acimovic, who led last week's hike, said utility workers routinely find litter and other debris on the trail – as if to prove his point, I spotted a floating beer can – but in my view this supports the case for allowing more people on the trail rather than the present system of futilely trying to bar everybody.

Obviously, anybody determined to stray onto the property can easily bypass gates, and short of installing a Berlin Wall with armed guards and patrol dogs people will continue to trespass.

Most of the hikers I know routinely pick up coffee cups, cigarette butts and other trash they encounter. For decades I've been hiking the trails at Bluff Point, among the most popular paths in the region, and almost never see so much as a candy wrapper on the ground for more than 10 seconds.

Yatcko said littering is only one concern. The department also must be wary of pollution – either accidental or deliberate.

Again, these are reasonable fears, yet a no-trespassing sign and flimsy gate would not deter anyone intent on deliberately contaminating a public water supply.

He also mentioned problems of liability, but new state laws indemnify public landowners who allow public access to their property.

There are a host of other issues – should the trail be open to equestrians, dog-walkers and bicyclists? Who should pay for trail maintenance? For rescues if hikers are lost or injured?

Holdridge and others, including mayors and state representatives who support the Tri-Town Trail, have been trying to counter these arguments and answer these questions for years, and I hope having the $160,000 in hand will help advance their cause.

Acimovic told me that at one point the city considered opening the trails using a permit system, but for one reason or other that idea was dropped.

I'm not sure why this plan never advanced, but think it is an excellent idea: Limit access only to those who have registered in advance. Why not try the proposal for a short period, say a month, and see how it works out?

In the unlikely event the city found more litter or evidence the water supply was in any way threatened, then go back to locking the gates.

I'm certain members of the committee would volunteer to patrol the area, and the magnificent trails would be safer, cleaner and better protected than they are now.

Here's another idea: Get the Groton Open Space Association (gosaonline.org) involved. This incredible organization has one of the best track records in the state for land preservation, trail creation and simply getting the job done.

Without GOSA such treasured parcels as Bluff Point and Haley Farm State Park would be paved over or dotted with housing subdivisions.

I've known Sidney Van Zandt of Noank, one of GOSA's founders and current vice presidents, for years, and trust me, if you ever want to create a park, build a trail or raise money for a worthy project, call her first.

Anyway, I hope one day we'll all be able to travel on foot from Preston to Groton without dodging too many cars or trucks, or making a sharp detour around the reservoir property.

Reader Comments

MORE BLOGS

How to Build a Stone Wall in 14,863 Easy Steps

I realized long ago that you’re never really finished building a stone wall, even after you’ve dragged and hefted into place what seemed like the final boulder, exhaled mightily and stepped back to admire your work.

Just in Time for the Holidays: Fagin's Annual Gift Catalogue for the Discerning Outdoorsman and Outdoorswoman

How often does this happen to you: You’re merrily tearing through the woods in your four-wheeler and come to what looks like a shallow stream but turns out to be a deep, water-filled ditch, so your beloved machine sinks like a stone beneath...

Arduous Autumn

In spring we crawl out of our cocoons and celebrate bursting rejuvenation; in summer we play outside from dawn to dusk; during the dark, frigid winter we hunker down like hibernating bears – which leaves fall, when we try to set aside time...

Chain Saw? We Don't Need No Stinking Chain Saw…

So, did you hear that doctors have developed a new method of performing an appendectomy without using anesthesia? It’s exactly like the old operation, except it hurts like a son of a b.

You CAN Go Home Again: A Run Through My Old West Haven Stomping Grounds

Although for decades I’ve been living in a home surrounded by trees that is heated primarily by wood stoves, and I enjoy kayaking, mountain climbing, building stone walls, growing organic vegetables and many other active outdoor pursuits,...

Utah Rocks Part II: Kayaking Down The Colorado River

Propelled by a swift current on the Colorado River earlier this month, my son, Tom, and I gazed at red rock cliffs gleaming against an azure, near cloudless sky. The rustle of aspen and cottonwoods in a gentle breeze mingled with the rush of...

Utah Rocks: Adventures Among The Arches And The Rapids (Part I)

You know how it feels when you witness something so astonishingly exquisite and surreal it literally takes your breath away, and all you can do is gasp in amazement?

Oops. I Meant To Say, Whatever You Do, NEVER Try To Pose For A Selfie With Bear Cubs While Mama Grizzly Is Watching, And Other Corrections

• Alert readers have correctly pointed out a slight flaw in my instructions for the proper rock climbing command when you have unclipped from your rope. You should loudly announce, "Rappel off," not "On rappel."...

Use It Or Lose It: Trails Disappear If Nobody Hikes Them

Nature really hates a vacuum when it comes to paths.

Plunging Through Plum Gut And Bongo Sliding Through The Race In A Kayak: Maybe There Is Such A Thing As Too Much Fun

So a rabbi and a psychiatrist are kayaking in the ocean when a giant wave crashes over them and knocks the rabbi unconscious. The psychiatrist manages to pull the rabbi ashore, where he regains consciousness.

Once Again, Pink Gloves (Plus a Clever Signal) Help Save The Day At The Josh Billings Runaground Triathlon

"On your left!" Phil Warner shouted from the bow of a tandem kayak, racing toward a buoy during the paddle leg of last Sunday’s Josh Billings Runaground Triathlon in Lenox, Mass.

It's Swallow Time Again On The Connecticut River

Early Thursday evening was a magical time to paddle on the lower Connecticut River near Lyme.