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'sno fun without snow

While merrily tramping along on snowshoes one glittering morning in mid-December, and then gliding on cross-country skis later that afternoon, little did I know I would still be waiting a month later to enjoy favorite winter activities again.

“A great start to the season!” I remember calling over to my son, Tom, and our friend, Phil Warner, as we schussed for miles on unpaved roads at Pachaug State Forest in Voluntown that were covered with nearly a foot of fresh snow.

Phil agreed.

“Perfect conditions! It’s like being on groomed trails at a ski center in Vermont,” he exclaimed.

Earlier that morning, I had joined my wife, Lisa, along with friends, Betsy and Bob Graham, and Mary Sommer, on an equally satisfying snowshoe tour of the Knox Preserve in Stonington.

Though modest in size — only about 17 acres, with a half-mile trail (that we looped around a couple times) — this nature sanctuary has expansive views of Fishers Island Sound to the south and Quiambaug Cove to the east.

From spring through fall the preserve’s fields and meadows explode in colorful blossoms — joe-pye weed, goldenrod, asters and other wildflowers — but winter’s white blanket prevailed during our visit, offset only by evergreen boughs of pine and juniper. A lone flock of Canada geese flew overhead — gone now are ospreys, purple martins, goldfinches and other warm-weather birds.

Originally acquired and farmed around 1652 by Thomas Minor, one of Stonington’s first settlers, the property still contains orchards, stone walls and other colonial vestiges. After changing hands a number of times over the centuries, it was sold to developers who proposed building a magnesium plant in the late 1960s.

Alarmed at this prospect, local surveyor David D. Knox bought the parcel in 1968, and 20 years later, donated it to the Mashantucket Land Trust, now the Avalonia Land Conservancy. The organization owns or hold easements on about 100 properties in eight towns in the region totaling more than 4,300 acres, preserving them as open space and maintaining miles of public hiking trails.

Tom and I went back to Pachaug for another skiing outing the next day, mindful that here in New London County you can’t rely on winter conditions to last long.

Sure enough, only a couple days later, torrential rain washed away all the snow. With no winter storms in the immediate forecast, who knows when or if we will get out on skis or snowshoes again?

No matter — winter trails offer ample rewards, with or without snow.

With leaves off the trees, you can better appreciate the undulating terrain that characterizes much of southern New England. Birds and animals may not be as prevalent, but often are more visible.

It’s also a lot easier to maintain social distancing in winter, since far fewer hikers hit the trail after the frost settles in.

Best of all, there are no bugs.

This snowless stretch also offers other benefits. I’ve been busy cutting, splitting and stacking firewood, and building more stonewalls.

I haven’t had to shovel the driveway or path to the woodsheds.

Still, I’m hoping for a few more decent winter storms. After all, what’s the point of living in New England if you don’t get hammered by a good, old-fashioned blizzard every so often?

If we do get more snow and you plan to ski in Pachaug (or simply want to hike), get ahold of an excellent, waterproof trail and forest road map, published by Great Swamp Press in Carolina, R.I. (www.greatswamppress.com)

For more information about the Knox Preserve, visit avalonia.org.

And, if you have a favorite place to hike or paddle, leave an online comment on this column or send an email to s.fagin@theday.com.

As always, stay safe, and stay active.

  

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