Life & Style
‘The Sky’s the Limit’ at Connecticut State Parks, Forests
The Devil’s Hopyard in East Haddam. A search for the origin of the name “Devil’s Hopyard” reveals many stories; all of them likely more fiction than fact. One tale comes from pothole stone formations. Early settlers said that the devil had passed by the falls, accidentally getting his tail wet. This made him so mad he burned holes in the stones with his hooves as he bounded away. (Photo courtesy of Connecticut DEEP )
Set in the scenic rolling hills of the western highlands, 439-acre Black Rock State Park in Watertown features a variety of outdoor activities and steep, wooded ledges covered with pine, hemlock, and oak surrounding Black Rock Pond. (Photo courtesy of Connecticut DEEP )
Silver Sands in Milford features beaches, boardwalks, seashells, and shore birds. (Photo courtesy of Connecticut DEEP )
The boardwalk at Silver Sands in Milford runs for three quarters of a mile. (Photo courtesy of Connecticut DEEP )
Kristen Bellantuono spent many of her childhood summers at a cottage on Leete’s Island in Guilford, and when she got older, one of her first jobs was working at the nature center at Meigs Point at Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison, so she’s well aware of the shoreline’s charms, which include not only Hammo, but also nearby Chatfield Hollow, frequented by many who live in this area.
Now she works in Connecticut State Parks & Public Outreach for the Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (DEEP) and lives near Sessions Woods Wildlife Management Area in Burlington, where she loves spending time. Her experience illustrates an interesting fact about Connecticut’s 110 state parks and 32 state forests, that most people in Connecticut live within 15 minutes or less of at least one of them. And those are the ones we tend to visit, frequent, and love best.
But what about the others? While it might be hard to hit all 142 of them as we make our way out of the mess that was last year, Bellantuono and others who work at the DEEP state parks division want people to visit and enjoy as many as they can this year.
To encourage us to do that, they’ve organized a list of 20 state parks both on the shoreline and inland, and have created a contest, The Sky’s the Limit, with prizes possible for those who visit at least 15 and more prizes possible for those who visit all 20.
“You don’t need to go to another state to take a vacation,” she says. “We just want to get people outside. The state parks and forests are an asset, and even if you’ve visited one or two, you should think about visiting more. Make it a part of your family’s routine. It’s a low-cost way to enjoy the outdoors.”
Popularity Continues to Climb
While the state doesn’t have park attendance statistics for all of the state parks, the statistics it does collect shows that more and more people are coming.
Hammonasset, for example, saw a 20 percent year over year increase from 2.22 million day-use visitors in 2019, to 2.67 million as of fall 2020.
“There are other statistics that we feel demonstrated the significant increase in people discovering or rediscovering the outdoors in 2020: Trail use increased by 50 percent in 2020, according to our friends at the CT Trail Census,” says Will Healey, a DEEP spokesman. “Our DEEP environmental conservation officers saw a nearly 300 percent increase in calls for service in our state parks.”
Still, since many people do tend to favor the state parks and forests close to their homes, Bellantuono says this year’s challenge is a way to help people to find new favorites. She had hoped to launch this challenge last year, but instead opted to do a more modest challenge, given the constraints related to the pandemic at that time.
They were concerned about encouraging people to use some of the parks, where trails might have made it hard for people to keep apart. At the time, it wasn’t exactly clear what was needed by way of best practices.
“We just didn’t have enough knowledge or information,” she says.
Now, people are used to wearing masks, and staying six feet apart, and they are asked to do so while using the state parks and forest trails and in other areas. And more people than ever are happy to take advantage of the relatively safe environment that the outdoors provides, particularly as the weather warms up.
This year’s The Sky’s the Limit challenge involves visiting a variety of parks, taking pictures of yourself at the parks, and then submitting them to DEEP.
Scenic Bridges and Boardwalks
This year, there is a common theme for all of the destinations.
“Personally, I have an affinity for the coast, and shoreline, and inland water features, so we’ve included that. We want people to experience some sort of water feature, whether it’s a bridge, a footbridge, or a boardwalk,” Bellantuono says. “You can find them in all parts of the state.”
The challenge is designed to get people to focus on some of the most scenic parts of state parks and forests. “While they’re out in nature, enjoying the birds and the trees, we are also asking them to notice a wooden pier, and old bridge, something that starts somewhere and often leads you to a different destination,” Bellantuono says.
The challenge was also designed in part based on feedback they’ve received from past year’s challenges
“It’s like an invitation, open to anyone, free, to visit these state parks and forests in Connecticut,” she says.
The challenge started in March and will end Friday, Dec. 3 at 3 p.m. People who want to participate should look at the list of parks and forests and try to visit as many as they can before Dec. 3.
The guidelines offer ideas for places to take pictures, including designated signs, and on specific trails and other locations, at each destination. Then, after following all of the directions, participants are asked to send in all the pictures at the end of the contest. Those who successfully meet the guidelines for 15 state parks from the list are eligible for a Sky’s the Limit certificate and a medallion. Those who meet the guidelines for all 20 state parks are eligible for a certificate, a medallion, and a special hand-carved walking stick made at the Portland sawmill by James Moore, the State of Connecticut DEEP sawyer. If the number of submissions exceeds the number of walking sticks, there will be drawing for the walking sticks.
But, for all of the prizes, Bellantuono says the main goal is for individuals and families to just have a good time.
Visit portal.ct.gov/DEEP/State-Parks/Skys-the-Limit for all of the details about how to take pictures, where to take pictures, and what to do with the pictures once you get them, along with links to maps, directions, and parking information. For more information, email DEEP.SkystheLimit@ct.gov.
The 2021 Sky’s the Limit Hiking Challenge Locations are:
1. Dinosaur State Park, Rocky Hill. Trail name: Red trail connecting to the boardwalk, then to the Blue Trail. Photo locations (5): Trail information building, boardwalk at start, any one of the interpretive signs (educational signs) on the trail, decorated bat box, and boardwalk on blue trail.
2. Lovers Leap State Park, New Milford. Trail name: Lovers Leap Trail, Blue Trail (labeled on map as brown trail)-Waramaug Loop. Photo locations (4): Iron Bridge, highlights of Lovers Leap State Park interpretive sign, Indian Spring House, and photo of your choosing.
3. Silver Sands State Park, Milford. Trail name: Timber boardwalk leading to the beach and the boardwalk that parallels the beach and crosses the creek. Photo locations (2): New concession building and bench with viewing scope on the boardwalk.
4. Hammonasset Beach State Park, Madison. Trail name: Cedar Island Trail. Photo locations (3): The Hammonassetts Plaque on the large rock/boulder before heading onto the trail, photo looking out from the viewing platform toward Long Island Sound, and interpretive signage on the viewing platform.
5. Black Rock State Park, Watertown. Trail name: Follow the unblazed trail to the footbridge, connecting to the Blue Trail to the Red Trail and looping back to the Blue Trail. Photo locations (3): Footbridge, bridge, and photo from the area labeled on the map as scenic vista.
6. Chatfield Hollow State Park, Killingworth. Trail name: Follow the paved park road to the Paul Wildermann Boardwalk, to the paved park road to the Purple Trail, and to the park paved road. Photo locations (3): The Paul F. Wildermann Boardwalk (please note the boardwalk is not open to the public at this time), red covered bridge, and any other bridge, footbridge, or boardwalk along the hiking/walking area.
7. Collis P. Huntington State Park, Bethel, Newtown, and Redding. Trail name: Blue Trail to White Trail (by West Lagoon) to Red Trail (by Lake Hopewell) to White Trail (by geologic feature and South Pond) to Blue Trail. Photo locations (2): Trail bridge of your choosing and the Collis P. Huntington State Park signage with hand drawn trails and hand drawn explanation (key).
8. Southford Falls State Park, Oxford. Trail name: Red Trail loop. Photo locations (3): Covered red bridge, bridge near parking lot, and boardwalk on the Red Trail.
9. Wharton Brook State Park, Wallingford. Trail name: Unpaved park road leading to the Foot Trail (within Wharton Brook Natural Area Preserve). Photo locations (2): Bridge over Wharton Brook and the Pitch Pine Natural Area Preserve sign.
10. Wadsworth Falls State Park, Middletown. Trail name: Main Trail entrance leading to Purple Trail. Photo locations (2): Covered bridge and the stone arch bridge.
11. Peoples State Forest, Barkhamsted. Trail name: Blue Trail to Blue/Red Trail (loop hike from Pavillion to boardwalk). Photo locations (3): Agnes Bowen Trail/Robert Ross Trail signs, any one of the interpretive signs (educational signs) leading to or on the boardwalk/viewing platform, and the view out into the wetland along the boardwalk.
12. Ferry Landing State Park (DEEP Marine Headquarters), Old Lyme. Trail name: Follow the paved area to a timber walkway which runs along the upland; leading to a timber boardwalk over the water. Photo locations (5): Photo of How Well Do you Know Boating kiosk, photo of railroad bridge, photo of Blue Crab Regulations sign, photo of osprey platform interpretive signage (educational signage) with island/osprey platform in background, and photo of the Connecticut River from anywhere along the timber walkway or timber boardwalk.
13. Kent Falls State Park, Kent. Trail name: Red Trail to Yellow Trail Loop. Photo locations (3): Covered red bridge, timber footbridge, and bridge on Dugan Road (at the end of the Red Trail),
14. Cockaponset State Forest, Chester and Haddam. Trail name: Cockaponset Trail (Blue Trail) section from Main Street (Route 148) up to Jericho Road. Photo locations (4): Two bridge locations/crossings along the Blue Trail, area labeled on the map as Collier’s Hut Remains, and area labeled on the map as Observation Tower Remnants.
15. Sherwood Island State Park, Westport. Trail name: Beach walkway and Nature Trail. Photo locations (3): Living 9/11 memorial (just a photo of the memorial, no selfie) and two locations (stops) along the Nature Trail
16. Devil’s Hopyard State Park, East Haddam. Trail name: Orange (O)-Vista Trail. Photo locations (2): Covered bridge along the Eight Mile River and a photo taken from the area marked on the map as Scenic View.
17. Stratton Brook State Park, Simsbury. Trail name: Red Trail to the Orange Trail. Photo locations (2): Covered bridge and the pavillion.
18. Salmon River State Forest, Colchester. Trail name: Salmon River Trail-Blue. Photo locations (2): Covered bridge and area labeled on map as Salmon River Trail Scenic Vista
19. Osbornedale State Park, Derby. Trail name: Red Trail and area labeled on map as No Blaze. Photo locations (3): Boardwalk/footbridge across from Osborne Homestead Museum, a geologic feature found along the Red Trail, and boardwalk located along the trail.
20. Rocky Neck State Park, East Lyme. Trail name: Boardwalk and White Trail. Photo locations (4): Anywhere on the beach boardwalk, Bride Brook, intersection of the White/Purple Trail, and intersection White/Red Trail.