An urban adventure on the Norwich Heritage Walk

The view of the falls at Uncas Leap on the Norwich Heritage Walk on May 21.
The view of the falls at Uncas Leap on the Norwich Heritage Walk on May 21. Peter Huoppi/The Day Buy Photo

The Norwich Heritage Walk connects the city's waterfront to the stunning overlook at Uncas Leap, but you wouldn't know it at certain points on the trail.

While both endpoints are worth a visit, the footpath itself seems at times neglected and forgotten, interrupted by city sidewalks with no directional signage.

I set out for a weekday morning run on the trail, planning to leave my car in the lot at Howard T. Brown Memorial Park. The lot was closed for an upcoming carnival, so I was forced to do the trail in reverse. I'm glad I was, as I probably would have turned around in frustration after the path left me on a busy city street.

While Brown Memorial Park is well-manicured and has historical and ecological signs at the edge of the river, there is no obvious indication that the Heritage Walk exists at all. At the northwest edge of the park, the new red brick path abruptly turns brown and worn. The path under the bridge ahead looks overgrown and foreboding. Trailside views include a homeless camp and a water treatment facility. The pedestrian path ends abruptly at a driveway behind Christ Episcopal Church. Logic dictates that one turn left on Washington Street and head down Maple Grove Avenue to follow the river, but no signs offer a route.

Between Maple Grove and Sturtevant Avenue is a pleasant oasis. Maple trees lean over the river from a grassy bank. A plaque informs visitors that the wastewater pipe overhead is the longest unsupported span of stainless steel pipe in the United States! How this is omitted from the region's tourism guides I'll never know.

From there the trail continues its bipolar march to the north. Sidewalk and close-packed houses: blah. Blooming rhododendrons: gorgeous. Weed whacker outside an apartment complex: plug your ears. Uncas Leap: wait, this is Norwich?

The waterfall and rocky gorge at Uncas Leap, also known as Yantic Falls and Indian Leap, look like a scene out of the White Mountains. The view downriver from the bridge over the falls is worth the aggravation of an unmarked trail on city sidewalks. True, you could just park in the lot off of Yantic Street, but how rewarding would that be?

The walk from the waterfront to the falls is about a mile and a half. The walk continues for another quarter mile on city streets and down a dark wooden staircase behind an auto body shop. An outdated guide on the Connecticut Department of transportation website lists a "historic museum" in a "renovated power house," but it appears it has since been boarded up. Unless you're intent on completing the entire trail, you might as well turn around at Uncas Leap.

The idea of a trail along the Yantic River is an appealing one; unfortunately the existing neighborhoods make this an impossibility. The areas that parallel the river make this a trail worth taking, but it's too bad that most of the informational plaques have disappeared, and there are few signs on the streets to point walkers in the right direction.

The bricks immediately turn old and weathered where the Norwich Heritage Walk leaves Howard T. Brown Memorial Park. PETER HUOPPI/THE DAY
The bricks immediately turn old and weathered where the Norwich Heritage Walk leaves Howard T. Brown Memorial Park. PETER HUOPPI/THE DAY
Rhododendrons in bloom on May 21 alongside the paved pedestrian path section of the Norwich Heritage Walk.
Rhododendrons in bloom on May 21 alongside the paved pedestrian path section of the Norwich Heritage Walk. Peter Huoppi/The Day Buy Photo

NORWICH HERITAGE WALK AT A GLANCE

Town: Norwich

Directions: From I-395, take exit 80 and follow Main St. (Route 82) east into downtown Norwich. After crossing a bridge, turn right onto Chelsea Harbor Drive. The parking lot for Howard T. Brown Memorial Park will be on the right.

Where to Park: Parking is available at Howard T. Brown Memorial Park, at Uncas Leap on Yantic Street, and at Upper Falls Park on Sherman Street.

Description: The 1.5-mile trail runs from Howard T. Brown Memorial Park along the Yantic River to Uncas Leap and continues another quarter of a mile to Upper Falls Park. It alternates between paved pedestrian path and city sidewalk. There are few signs or trail markings.

Regulations: None posted

Amenities: Boat launch, benches, portable toilets and seasonal ice cream and snack bar can be found at Howard T. Brown Memorial Park.

Natural Features: Uncas Leap, also known as Yantic Falls and Indian Leap, is a waterfall and deep rocky gorge on the Yantic River. According to popular legend, during 17th century war between the Mohegan and Narragansett tribes, a group of fleeing Narragansetts attempted to jump across the gorge and plunged to their death.

Fees: None

Owned by: City of Norwich

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