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'Bathe in the forest' on the Goodwin Trail through East Lyme

Arthur Carlson marked all the rectangular white blazes along the stretch of the new Richard H. Goodwin Trail in East Lyme that passes through the town he’s called home for the last 40 years, hauling the paint, brush and other equipment more than five miles each way.

“I completely underestimated how much work it would be,” Carlson said one recent morning, during a more modest two-mile trek on the new trail.

But for Carlson, a retired Naval Undersea Warfare Center engineer who now heads the town’s Conservation of Natural Resources Commission, the effort was a true labor of love. Anyone who hikes with him will quickly learn that for him, traversing woodland trails is more than a pleasant pastime. It’s mental and physical therapy he advocates more people partake in, volunteering his time and talents to make the activity more accessible. For the new trail, he also enlisted Boy Scout groups to build cedar benches and kiosks, and to help create a primitive campsite with tent platforms, a covered picnic table and pit toilet. Future projects he’s planning include ridding one area of invasive autumn olive and brush-hogging another section to make it less hospitable to the ticks that carry Lyme disease.

“The Japanese have a very interesting way of saying they’re going for a walk in the woods,” said Carlson, as he passed out of an overgrown pasture from the farm that once occupied the land and into a forest of chestnut oaks, birch and laurel. “They say they’re going to bathe in the forest. I wish I had thought of that phrase.”

The path to success

The Goodwin Trail, a 14-mile path through eight different parcels in East Lyme, Salem, Lyme and East Haddam, opened in June, the culmination of a four-year effort that Carlson helped initiate, and members of his commission supported. Named for a Connecticut College botany professor well known for his land conservation efforts both locally and nationally, the trail connects fields and woodlands in state forests and wildlife management areas, land trust properties and an area in East Lyme owned by Yale University that previously has not been open to the public.

“We negotiated a 20-year lease to cross Yale property,” said Carlson. “We developed a really good relationship between the town and Yale.” A connector path off Whistletown Road is called the “Partners Trail,” he added, in recognition of the newly forged friendship between the two.

Patricia Young, program director for the Eightmile River Wild & Scenic Watershed, which also led the effort to create the trail, said it has been well received so far, even though it’s still a work in progress. She’s heard from several people who’ve walked the entire 14 miles in one day.

“We’d like to add some sections going north, and connect it to the Airline Trail,” she said. “We’ll be putting up eight kiosks with more detailed maps, and some transitional signage at each section.”

While the entire trail offers both length and breadth in the variety of habitats it covers, from hardwood forests to huge white pine stands to fields, rocky ledges and streams, Carlson is eager to point out the attributes of the section he blazed, carefully choosing spots for the markings to keep hikers on the trail without intruding on nature with too many.

“You won’t find any signs on this trail saying, ‘that way to the nice view,’” he said, pausing to point out an escarpment a few dozen yards off the trail with a scenic vista worth the detour. “You should go find those yourself. There are 120 bird species here, because this is part of a 6,000-acre forest block. Because of the vastness of this forest block, you don’t know you’re not in New Hampshire or Maine, yet you’re 10 minutes from my house.”

The southernmost trailhead starts at the town-owned Darrow Pond property off Mostowy Road, marked with a yellow diamond-shaped sign with a “G” in the middle that are found across the 14 miles. The white blazes on trees in the East Lyme portion supplement the yellow signs.

It begins at an old farm road, then connects to a forest trail. After passing through ferny understory interspersed by boulder fields left by the glaciers and mounting some modest hills, Carlson came to an old town road called Aunt Ruth’s Turnpike, crisscrossed with handsome stone walls. A few yards from one of the walls sits a cellar hole for a long-forgotten house or barn. Carlson said he doesn’t know the origin of the road’s name, or anything about the former structure, but would love to know. Because the old road was never paved and is lined with the remnants of human settlement, he’s been told it’s a potential “archaeological gem.”

“It would be wonderful for someone to research it” he said.

On the way back to the trailhead, Carlson talks of a book that helped him better understand why hiking feeds his mind and body. Titled, “Walking Your Blues Away: How to Heal the Mind and Creating Emotional Well Being,” by Thom Hartmann, the book describes how veterans and others with post-traumatic stress syndrome found their way back to mental health on the Appalachian Trail. It has to do with the rhythmic, bilateral movement of walking that brings balance to the two hemispheres of the brain, Carlson explained.

“Right brain, left brain, right brain, left brain,” he said, striding at a moderate pace, the July heat tempered by the forest shade. “Now that I know the science behind it, it gives me more reason to want to walk.”

ABOUT GOODWIN TRAIL

Towns: East Haddam, Lyme, Salem and East Lyme

Directions: To parking area at Darrow Pond, East Lyme: Take Route 161 N from Flanders Four Corners; turn right on Mostowy Road; entrance on the right. To parking area at Chapal Farm Preserve, East Haddam: Take Route 85 N to left on Route 82 W. Travel about 18 miles to left on Baker Lane.

Where to park: Parking areas at Darrow Pond open space area in East Lyme and Chapal Farm Preserve in East Haddam; parking areas also at midway points along the trail at Nehantic State Forest in East Lyme; at Hartman Park in Lyme; and at Eightmile River Wildlife Management Area in East Haddam.

Description: 14-mile trail connecting open space parcels in four towns. Terrain in mostly moderate, with a few short steep sections.

Regulations: Dogs should be on a leash; closed at sunset.

Amenities: Kiosks with maps being added at several locations; benches in East Lyme section.

Natural features: Stone walls, vistas several streams in the Eightmile River watershed as well as sections of both the east and west branches of the Eightmile River.

Fees: None.

Things to note: New trail; blazed with yellow diamond markers with “G” in the center. Kiosks to be added.

Owned by: Various parcels owned by towns, state and land trusts.

More information: www.eightmileriver.org.

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