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    Thursday, June 13, 2024

    Ledyard’s Steve Fagin offers info on the best day hikes in the region in a revised, expanded book

    Block Island, R.I. (Submitted)
    Steve Fagin (Tom Fagin)
    Chauncey Peak in Meriden (Submitted)
    White Memorial Conservation Center, Litchfield (Submitted)
    Narragansett Trail, Voluntown (Submitted)

    You’re setting out on a day hike you haven’t done before. You’ve heard the area is beautiful, but what about the details? Where exactly is the trailhead? At a certain point, should you turn left or take that path to the right? How challenging is the hike, and how many miles does it run? If you bring your dog, will they be able to handle it?

    A newly revised book, “AMC’s (Appalachian Mountain Club’s) Best Day Hikes in Connecticut & Rhode Island,” offers pretty much all the details a hiker would need to tackle one of the 60 sites featured.

    The book is a new, expanded edition of earlier ones done by Rene Laubach and Charles W. Smith. Steve Fagin reviewed and revised what the previous authors had penned, and he added 14 hikes in Rhode Island as well as most of the eastern Connecticut ones that are highlighted.

    “It’s a really hiker-friendly format,” Fagin said. “It’s tried and true. The ACM is the gold standard for these guidebooks. It’s a huge honor to be considered even to contribute to it.”

    Fagin, an avid outdoorsman who lives in Ledyard, is a former Day reporter and editor who writes the “Great Outdoors” column for the paper. He is also book editor of Appalachia journal, published by the Appalachian Mountain Club, and has written for the New York Times and Runner’s World.

    “AMC’s (Appalachian Mountain Club’s) Best Day Hikes in Connecticut & Rhode Island” breaks down information about each hike. It boasts summaries of the time, distance, and difficulty. It includes GPS coordinates for every trailhead and detailed directions. It offers information on universal accessibility and what the best options are for hikes with kids.

    Fun facts are part of each entry, too. For Napatree Point in Watch Hill, the “Did you know?” section states that “dense woods covered much of the peninsula until trees were swept away during the Great September Gale of 1815.” The Cliff Walk in Newport segment notes that, in May 2023, the median listing home price in Newport was $995,000.

    There are short essays sprinkled through the book about such topics as “Saving Haley Farm — and the Birth of an Environmental Movement” and “Stone Walls: An Enduring American Indian and Colonial Legacy.”

    Fagin’s goals with the book are twofold.

    First is “to inspire people to get out there and hike and enjoy all the wonderful trails and parks and nature preserves.”

    The second is to give credit to the people who had the foresight to establish the preserves and parks — and to the folks who maintain those places. Some members of the public might think that the government sets up the sites, but most are privately run with volunteers laboring on various projects during their free time.

    An example of the latter: a group called the Rock Stars who are affiliated with the Connecticut Forestry and Park Association, which maintains more than 800 trails. Fagin spent time with the Rock Stars when they were working on Chauncey Peak in Meriden. Their efforts included hiking up several hundred feet of steep trail and then moving boulders, as well as placing some steps that were needed because of erosion.

    A great range

    There are a lot of different choices in terms of hikes, and Fagin narrowed them down to the ones he included in the book.

    One of the most striking things about those suggestions is just how diverse they are.

    “You have meadows, you can hike along lakes, along the shore. I think in terms of variety, Connecticut and Rhode Island are pretty hard to beat,” Fagin said.

    While Connecticut doesn’t have 10,000-foot peaks, it does have some wonderful and challenging mountains. Fagin noted that some people train in the White Mountains in the Nutmeg State for their Mount Everest ascents.

    He said that while Rhode Island is nicknamed the Ocean State, it has much more to offer beyond the shoreline. There are, for instance, trails with very steep rocky hills; “You’d swear you’re up in northern Maine or something,” he said.

    Rhode Island also has distinctively sandy soil. When a hiker gets into a pine grove or evergreen forest, the pine needles on that sandy soil make for an ideal surface for hiking; it’s soft and forgiving.

    What’s the favorite?

    One question Fagin often gets asked is what his favorite hike is. He said every one has the potential to be his favorite because so many different factors go into determining that.

    “It could be something that’s very ephemeral. I mean, you can’t rely on an eagle (always) swooping down in front of you or a bobcat appearing around the corner or something like that,” he said.

    It could be seasonal as well; a gorgeous day could make a hike idyllic, while experiencing bad weather could make the hiker think it’s a dreadful trail.

    Not surprisingly, Fagin has a fondness for the local hikes like Bluff Point in Groton, Barn Island in Stonington, and Pachaug in Voluntown.

    In doing research for the book, Fagin also got to visit places he hadn’t before. Bluff Head Ridge in Guilford boasted a sensational walk along a ridge. He said the Sprague Land Preserve was a fun hike and very whimsical, with little wood sculptures carved by Don Konow placed at various points along the trail.

    He also said that the hikes on Block Island are “pretty stunning,” with some jaw-dropping experiences.

    Working with technology

    Fagin began packing AMC’s guidebooks with him back when he first started hiking. He said he’s an “old-school kind of guy” who puts on a backpack, grabs a water bottle and some gorp and hits the trail. When working on this book, though, he had to learn how to use the technology, which he said was interesting, exacting and a good discipline to enforce a certain level of attention.

    “In terms of hiking, I do use guidebooks, but I also take a more casual approach sometimes. I know where a trail is, and if I see something that looks interesting, I’ll veer off in that direction. This (the book project) is an entirely different approach, and it’s very specific. It took a while for me to adjust to this whole paradigm of recording exact distances, elevation gains, GPS coordinates, and very specific directions. It’s good — I’ve actually done that a couple of times, and it works,” he said.

    Bluff Point as Coney Island?

    Of the sites listed in the book, Bluff Point is probably where Fagin has gone the most — particularly because he used to run there all the time when Johnny Kelley, a Fagin friend who won the 1957 Boston Marathon and ran on two Olympic teams, coached the running team at Fitch High School in Groton. Fagin wasn’t a student but did the team workouts, running the 10-mile loop at Bluff Point five days a week for a couple of years.

    Fagin also has another connection to Bluff Point.

    “I can take some very small credit in helping establish it as a natural area. Back in the 1970s, I was asked to sit on a legislative panel that was asked to look at ways to preserve it. The state had just purchased a large portion of Bluff Point, and initially there was a plan to turn it into a Coney Island. They were going to build Ferris wheels and roller coasters and bathhouses and boardwalks. That whole area, that salt pond at the very southern end of it … they were going to fill that in and make it into 6,000-car parking lot,” he recalled.

    The Bluff Point Advisory Committee suggested keeping the site in its natural state, and the state legislature agreed.

    Our own backyard

    “AMC’s (Appalachian Mountain Club’s) Best Day Hikes in Connecticut & Rhode Island” can serve as a good introduction to the outdoors, as well as be a helpful resource to experienced hikers.

    “It gets people to appreciate what we have here in our own backyard,” Fagin said. “I’ve traveled a lot internationally to different places, and that’s great. But really we have hundreds and hundreds of miles of wonderful trails all within an hour’s drive.”


    What: “AMC’s (Appalachian Mountain Club’s) Best Day Hikes in Connecticut & Rhode Island”

    By: Steve Fagin, Rene Laubach and Charles W.G. Smith

    Publisher: Appalachian Mountain Club

    List price: $24.95

    Talk: Fagin will speak about the book at 6:30 p.m. April 23 at Groton Public Library, Route 117, Groton.

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