I decided to visit Huntington State Park this Thursday for two reasons: to survey the effects bestowed on the park by Irene and this week’s water deluge; and fall is nearing and autumn is my favorite season in this little known secret in Connecticut’s state park system. Given as a gift to the State of Connecticut by Archer M. and Anna Hyatt Huntington, while she still resided in the estate house, it is to be kept as a preserve forever after her passing.
Anna Hyatt Huntington is a world renowned sculpture of bronze and other metal statues, the most recognized ones seen at the main entrance to the New York City Public Library. Two of her other statues stand sentinel at the main entrance to the park, a bear and a wolf family. The park encompasses over 900 acres of mostly woodland with small meadows near Sunset Hill Road, five lakes or ponds and several brooks and streams. The land was originally the residence of Commodore Walther Luttgen. It was he who excavated the ponds and lakes, built the carriage trails, and allowed the open land to grow into the sylvan grandeur with which we are now familiar.
The park is mostly in Redding with small portions in Bethel and Newtown. The main entrance is on Sunset Hill Road in Redding. A second entrance is on Old Redding Road off of Sunset Hill about one mile south of the main entrance. There is ample parking at both of these entrances. Past the second entrance is a parking area where you can put in canoes and kayaks. A third access, in Newtown, was created five years ago on Hopewell Road but parking is very limited.
Though autumn is my favorite time to visit, Huntington is definitely a four season park. Fall foliage will be magnificent by mid October but it is the crisp air and deep blue skies that keep me there almost daily in late September and early October. There is an incredible mixture of hardwoods offering a palette of colors contrasted with huge white pines and cedar that maintain their green throughout the year.
Spring and summer bestow endless activities and experiences. Time to bring out the bikes. Snow, ice, and leaves are gone but water is here. The water is not deep but the mud is thick-time to earn the middle back mud line. Besides the 7.5 miles of carriage trails, there are also another eight miles of single track trails, all challenging with logs, loose rocks, and stones. Spring also opens the fishing and paddling season. The lakes are no longer stocked but a healthy natural population of bass, sunfish, and a few trout are there for the taking. There is nothing more comforting and tranquil than softly floating through the lakes, coasting along the shore or under a bridge, wondering, once again what that stone tower is on the island in the middle of Hopewell Lake. And you can always cast your line from a canoe.
Hiking and running are for all seasons and be sure to bring a picnic lunch one day. Then winter—no snow- the ice skating is like nothing a rink has to offer. It reminds me of my days growing up, skating at Mianus Gorge in Greenwich. There is nothing like a hockey game on rough pond ice. Snow- the most wonderful cross country skiing location in the state. The trails are wide yet often steep and you feel like you are in the wilds of Maine.
This particular hike on Thursday was unusual due to the extreme weather. No, no damage from Irene. All bridges and dams were intact. Yet there were many changes and adjustments. Numerous trees and large branches down, most were ready to give in to nature anyway. Only one trail was seriously blocked and Sebastian and I were still able to get around this pile of limbs and trunks. Several trees had fallen on the main road behind the horse farm but had already been cleared; an amazing tribute to the wonderful care the state has taken of Huntington. Many of the parks bridges and the main dam have been replaced over the past five years.
This park is an important resource for Connecticut and for us here in Bethel. What really startled me was not just the amount of water; after all nearly 12 inches of rain had fallen over the past two weeks. It was that the water was all over the place. I could hear rushing water from virtually every corner of the park. Temporary streams inundated nearly every trail, level or sloping. Often times I was walking in 2-3 inches of water cascading over my sandals. Be advised that if you hike here in the next two weeks you should wear your sandals because your feet will get wet. Actually ambling through the flow was extremely refreshing. It was like being in a water park.
Make plans to visit Huntington this fall. Then wax your skis and pack a lunch. Break out of the winter doldrums next March as the marsh marigolds bloom by many streams. Then gently, peacefully float the pond on a steamy August afternoon-right down the street here in Bethel.