Directions: 95 north to exit 86; left onto Route 184/Route12; go straight onto Route 184 East-Gold Star Highway. Travel about 7.3 miles to a left onto Route 201 North; go another 1.5 to 2 miles, entrance to preserve is on the left, just past Arlington Acres trailer park.
Where to park: Cars can park on the shoulders of both sides of the road.
Description: A well-marked network of about seven miles easy-to-moderate, mostly flat trails traverse this 198-acre woodland, Avalonia's largest preserve, located in the northwest corner of Stonington. Hikers will find old stone walls and foundations, a cemetery, pine, spruce and hemlock forests planted by the former owners, Robert and Chippe Adlow Hoffman.
Regulations: Open dawn to dusk; dogs must be on a leash no longer than 7 feet at all times; only passive recreational uses - hiking, birdwatching, photography - are permitted.
Natural Features: The preserve protects watersheds for two streams, Copps Brook and Whitford Brook. Damp spongy soils throughout the preserve provide habitat for a wide selection of mushrooms and uncommon plants, such as coral root. There are also several large beech trees, a small pond and wetlands.
Things to note: While there are signs with maps and the trails are marked, it's best to carry a copy of the map along because hikers can get easily confused on the intersecting trails.
Owned by: Avalonia Land Conservancy
More information: http://www.avalonialandconservancy.org
A few hundred yards along one of the main trails at Hoffman Evergreen Preserve in Stonington, Rick Newton, volunteer and member of the Avalonia Land Conservancy, stopped to listen.
From the treetops came the loudest sound: the high-pitched chatter of chickadees.
"One thing I like about this property is that you can get away from the highway sounds and just hear the nature sounds," said Newton, on a recent hike with five other land trust members.
The 198-acre preserve, tucked in the northwest corner of town, recently became the largest of the land trust's holdings. A donation of 145 acres in 1976 comprised the original preserve, and another 53 were added last month. The new portion, on the northeast side of the property, will soon have its own network of trails to connect with the existing array of red-, blue-, and yellow-blazed pathways. Several kinds of thrushes, vireos, the Acadia flycatcher and the pileated woodpeckers are among bird species spotted here, and the additional land will enhance the bird habitat further, said Beth Sullivan, one of the Stonington town directors for Avalonia.
"The pileated woodpecker is a big bird that needs big woods," she said.
A deep, moist woodland with spongy soils, the preserve hosts many varieties of mushrooms - red ones, yellow ones, purple ones - along with uncommon plants like Lady's Slippers and coral root, an unusual plant that doesn't have chlorophyll.
"And here's a rattlesnake plantain," said Sullivan, bending to point out a delicate spotted leaf cluster. "It's a native orchid. And there's a spotted wintergreen."
Existing amid the forest's plant and animal life are stone walls, a cemetery, an old foundation and remaining sections of long-gone bridges near a small pond, among other remnants of past human habitation.
"What's that?" asked Joellen Anderson of Groton, another Avalonia member and volunteer, as the group approached a small stone structure with a round roof and cave-like chamber dug into the earth.
"A root cellar, probably," replied Richard Conant, Groton town director for the trust.
With its extensive network of trails, the preserve is a good place for all types of hikes, from all-day excursions to short ones. That morning, after an hour-long hike along the blue trail with the group, Conant decided his time in the woods was just beginning.
"Folks, I'm going exploring," said Conant, as he waved and turned onto the yellow trail, while the others headed back to their cars.