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    Friday, March 01, 2024

    Double the fun: Hiking and kayaking in two states

    Sections of the Pachaug Trail hug the north shore of Beach Pond in Voluntown. (Steve Fagin)
    Icicles dangle from a cliff along the Pachaug Trail. (Steve Fagin)
    Beach pond straddles the Connecticut/Rhode Island border (Steve Fagin)

    Why hike and paddle in one state when you can hit the trail and water in two – all in the same day, from a single starting point?

    This outing was inspired not long ago, when I drove east on Route 165 and noticed a sign for a hiking trail at Beach Pond, which straddles the border between Voluntown, Conn., and Exeter, R.I. I also spotted two signs for public boat launches, one in each state.

    Hmmm … Hike and kayak from Connecticut to Rhode Island and back, without having to move your car…

    “Sounds like fun!” my pal Marco Barres replied, when I mentioned this itinerary. Marco and I have climbed Maine’s Mount Katahdin and Hamlin Peak in winter, as well as other snow-capped summits in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. We also have kayaked to Fishers Island on a few occasions.

    One brisk morning last week, we met at the Connecticut boat ramp on North Shore Road in Voluntown. A thin layer of ice coated shadowed stretches of shore.

    “Let’s do the hike first so it warms up before we paddle,” Marco suggested.

    “Sounds like a plan,” I agreed.

    We left our kayaks strapped to cartops, donned hiking boots, and set out on the blue-blazed Pachaug Trail. This 28-mile footpath between Green Fall Pond in Voluntown and Pachaug Pond in Griswold crosses the Beach Pond boat ramp.

    I had hiked other parts of the trail, but never this section.

    “What a glorious trail!” I exclaimed, as we gazed from rocky lookouts along the pond’s north shore.

    The trail soon bent north, away from the 393-acre pond and deeper into dense woodlands of 28,804-acre Pachaug State Forest. Towering hemlocks, white pines, oaks, hickories and beeches surrounded us as we clambered up steep ridges and delved into narrow chasms. Although a south wind brought the temperature well above freezing, icicles still dangled from one ledge.

    Like me, Marco is old-school. We both carried cellphones but relied on a paper map to guide us. The only reliable maps of Pachaug and adjoining, 14,000-acre Arcadia Management Area in Rhode Island have been out-of-print for years. Veteran hikers covet worn copies as if they were the Magna Carta or Dead Sea Scrolls.

    In 1.2 miles, after crossing the Pachaug River, we followed the trail as it bent south, back toward the pond. In another mile, we crossed into Rhode Island and then turned left to head north on the yellow-blazed Tippecansett Trail. Connecticut trails, maintained by the Connecticut Forest & Park Association, are blazed blue; those in Rhode Island, managed by the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Narragansett Chapter, are blazed yellow.

    We soon met a small group of Rhode Island hikers who were heading toward Connecticut. I jokingly suggested that we simply swap car keys and drive back to our respective trailheads. Instead, we all proceeded on two legs.

    Marco and I encountered the Ocean Staters again at the Connecticut boat launch, where we switched from water shoes to hiking boots.

    “I hope we cross paths again,” I told the Rhode Islanders. Not this day, though – they were on terra firma, while we prepared to hit the water.

    After a short snack, Marco and I carried our kayaks to the pond, donned lifejackets, climbed into cockpits, snapped on spray skirts, and started paddling. In recent years, the boat launch had been besieged by raucous party groups, prompting Connecticut to ban alcohol, picnicking and swimming there last summer.

    Unruly crowds weren’t an issue last week; we were the only people on the water. The most noise came from a flock of unruly ducks.

    “The breeze has picked up,” Marco observed. We steered toward the south shore, which hugs Route 165, to avoid the wind. Much of this waterfront is lined with private homes, while the north shore, which lies within the state forest, is largely undeveloped.

    When Marco and I reached the Rhode Island boat launch a mile or so later, we couldn’t squeeze under the Route 165 bridge to reach the extreme eastern end of Beach Pond, so we spun around, paddled to deserted Finn Beach at the western end, and then returned to the boat launch with a buffeting tailwind.

    Marco and I wound up hiking nearly six miles and paddling about four more – a fun, bi-state adventure, with no bugs, crowds, or powerboat wakes. Plus, we stuck to a paper map and didn’t get lost.

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