Green & Growing: 280 Open Space Trails, from Branford to Stonington
I’ve been walking the area’s woodland trails for a long time, but certainly haven’t visited all of them. When I look for new trails, I might peruse CT.gov’s state parks webpage, for instance, or the interactive guide to the state’s Blue Trails at CTWoodlands.org. AllTrails.com offers an interactive trail finder, as does UConn’s Connecticut Trail Finder. Even with all of these, I sometimes consult land trust websites and various towns’ open space pages, as well as several books. (See the end of this article for a list of trail-finding resources.)
Despite all my searches, I have never found any single place to get a complete list of woodland walks for the shoreline region.
Kip Bergstrom of Old Saybrook had not found such a list either when he started walking the river and shoreline region in 2021, but he didn’t need one. He bagged all 825 miles of the state’s blue trail system over 20 years ago. He is no stranger, either, to the social and business geography of southern New England. He had a career in economic development, during which he served three mayors and three governors in Connecticut and Rhode Island. He is currently the strategy officer for Northeast Wool, a Connecticut-based, woman-owned local wool textile venture that aims to “deplasticize” garments.
“When I started this current group of walks, I was simply looking for open space where I could walk to a view of the Connecticut River, south of Middletown,” he says. He found those views at Founder’s Park in Old Saybrook, Watch Rock and Smith Neck in Old Lyme, and Selden Ledge Preserve in Lyme, not to mention the Haddam Meadows and Gillette Castle State Parks. But as he found them, each site seemed like an invitation to more research. “It became an evolving quest,” he says.
The quest eventually led to a surprising discovery: There are 280 walkable open spaces from Branford to Stonington and in the towns north of them. As of this writing, Bergstrom has walked 223 and hopes to finish all 280 by this spring.
Some trails he found in state parks or forests; others traverse land trusts and town properties. Some trails are short; others are long. Some are easy, some not. Some offer sweeping views; others unfold beneath tree canopies. Some offer intriguing historical artifacts; others have rock scrambles and caves. Some join hands with contiguous open spaces.
Yet, as Bergstrom walked, a deeper perspective developed. “I found myself traveling in both space and time, through cycles of forest and field, glacial ice, and rock. The colonial farmers who worked on this land and built the stone walls seemed present. So did the native people who hunted in these woods.” He adds, “It’s a story whose broad contours I have known for many years, but my almost-daily walks brought a level of focus that I hadn’t experienced before.”
Does he have favorites? “There are a lot of great places,” he says, “but Selden Ledge Preserve in Lyme and Sheep’s Ledge at Old Lyme’s Ames Open Space are high on my list. They represent landscapes that seem little changed from pre-European times, based on what is known.”
Immersed in the woodland environment, he started saving photos, writing his observations, and compiling a book that will cover all 280 regional open spaces. Somewhere in the process, the underlying geology from New Haven to the Rhode Island border — sometimes called Connecticut Avalonia — spoke to him.
“Most of southeastern Connecticut is underlain by the bedrock of what geologists call Avalonia, a volcanic island arc that formed 600 million years ago,” he says. But the Avalonia story is much bigger than our tiny state. The granite, gneiss, and schist that underlie southeastern Connecticut also underlie Rhode Island, eastern Massachusetts, southern New Hampshire, southern Maine, the Canadian Maritimes, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and parts of France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, and Poland.
“I find it intriguing that we were physically once one continent, Pangea,” says Bergstrom. “As we try to come together as one world again to meet our current challenge, perhaps it will be helpful to remember this.”
The working title of the book, “Walking Avalonia, Part 1: Connecticut,” tips off his bigger plan. He hopes to write Part 2 and more as he walks the rest of Avalonia.
Bergstrom welcomes inquiries about the book and has started a list for advance notifications. His email is Kip.Bergstrom@mac.com.
Learn more about Connecticut and its walking trails:
Connecticut geology: portal.ct.gov/deep/geology/
State forests and parks: portal.ct.gov/DEEP/State-Parks/
The Blue Trail: ctwoodlands.org/trails/
Connecticut Trail Finder: cttrailfinder.com/
The Nature Conservancy: www.Nature.com Use the search bar to find Connecticut preserves.
50 Hikes in Connecticut by Mary Anne Hardy, 2019.
Connecticut Walk Book, 20th Edition
Kathy Connolly writes about landscape ecology, land care, and horticulture from Old Saybrook. Her website is SpeakingofLandscapes.com.