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The Poisonous Snake Sanctuary and other unpopular nature preserves

Having tramped through countless parks, nature preserves and wildlife sanctuaries, as well as paddled in an untold number of ponds, lakes and rivers, I'm often hard-pressed to come up with new places to explore.

Some destinations, though, I'll never visit — their names alone don't exactly make you want to lace up hiking boots and skip merrily off in their direction. I'm sure that other outdoor enthusiasts also would be reluctant to reconnoiter — after all, you won't find these attractions printed on any map or listed in any guidebook.

Here are a few:

The Tick Museum, Mason's Island

Residents fought long and hard to prevent this facility from opening, particularly after they learned it would not showcase specimens preserved in formaldehyde, but feature live insects in their native habitat. But in the end, museum advocates prevailed when they presented evidence that the property once housed a collection of early works by Degas, and therefore had a longstanding history as an educational/cultural institution.

The open-air facility, open from early spring to late fall, features tall grasses and low shrubs, spread out over 137 acres.

Pets welcome.

The Poisonous Snake Sanctuary, Moosup

Originally a herpetology research laboratory housed in an abandoned granite quarry, the facility evolved into a sanctuary after a careless custodian forgot to secure the vault before leaving at the end of his shift.

Called back and ordered to round up the wayward black mambas, king cobras, pit vipers and diamondback rattlers, which had slithered off into the excavations, the maintenance man replied, "No @#*&-ing way!" and disappeared into the night.

The laboratory owner subsequently earned a generous tax write-off by creating a foundation that established the facility's new mission as a reptile sanctuary. Although attendance so far has been limited, even with no admission fee (visitors do have to sign a hold-harmless clause before entering), the owner hopes to boost popularity by opening an Aunt Millie's Gourmet Ice Cream Shoppe franchise next door.

The Fetid Swamp Preserve

Spread out over several communities in southeastern Connecticut, this extensive corridor of ooze and muck connects scores of properties that were set aside by developers to comply with zoning regulations requiring a portion of each new housing subdivision to be protected permanently as open space.

Sometimes called The Great Brownbelt, this area is accessible only to those wearing hip boots or aboard shallow-draft vessels following a heavy rainfall.

The Overgrown Bullbriar Refuge, Voluntown

Located in a remote section of Pachaug State Forest, this 467-acre parcel contains one narrow trail that supposedly extends for 11 miles but basically peters out after a few hundred feet.

The briars here grow up to three inches long in jagged patterns resembling sharks' teeth, and are capable of penetrating leather, Kevlar and even steel mesh. The only successful traverse of this preserve was by a former Navy Seal wearing full body armor while armed with a flame-thrower.

There had been talk of staging an endurance race in the refuge but organizers could not secure sponsors or insurance coverage. Not surprisingly, there was no shortage of disappointed competitors.

The Olde Mill Stream, Jewett City

Colonial settlers constructed scores of dams on a stretch of this waterway to power sawmills, gristmills, shingle mills and textile mills, confident that hundreds of years later, after the mills had long since shut down, people would spend an inordinate amount of time and money restoring them as condos, craft shops and art galleries.

Canoeists and kayakers must portage around 37 cascading spillways in one particularly challenging section, earning The Olde Mill its nickname, "That Damned Dam Stream."

Pigeon Poop Park, Ballouville

Officials in this tiny Killingly village insist they instructed a stonemason to carve the name Pigeon COOP Park on an overhanging ledge at the entrance to their new outdoor recreation complex, in recognition of its use as a training outpost for homing pigeons during the Spanish-American War.

The mason, who toiled for weeks while dangling from fixed ropes, disputes this account, and it wasn't until the morning of the park dedication, when the Board of Selectmen, high school marching band, church choir and crowds of spectators had gathered for the grand opening, that the error was detected.

Authorities and the mason have since been involved in protracted litigation. Meanwhile, the sign remains.

Now that I think about it, I might be tempted to check out the place.



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