by Beth Sullivan
We all walk or hike with different intents, at different speeds and for different reasons. Many of us prefer natural trails through whatever scenery we choose on any given day. With so many habitats locally, and such wonderful, preserved, open space, we have plenty to choose from. We don’t live in a truly mountainous area, so most trails are generally easy to travel. We do not have the thousands of acres of wild landscape like out West, but some of the state lands, and Avalonia’s newer acquisitions, cover greater numbers of acres and offer better opportunities to rack up miles.
|A Veery makes its nest on the ground.|
Walk with common sense
However and wherever you choose to walk, there are some common sense guidelines to keep in mind to make your experience safe and enjoyable for yourself and for others and, respectful of the land and wildlife within it. The first thing to keep in mind is that Avalonia’s preserves are nature preserves and not parks. Their primary purpose is to provide sanctuary for wildlife, protect watersheds, and create greenways. In properties where it is appropriate, there are trails created to allow people to get close to nature, to experience what has been preserved. There is no better way to develop a conservation ethic than to get immersed in nature.
I love hiking with kids. Maybe it’s because they are closer to the ground and see more and are just enthusiastic open books, ready to experience everything. Experiencing the woods, fields, and shorelines with children is the best way to have your own eyes opened; however, care must be taken to also impart lessons of caution and to provide oversight. You can’t really keep a child on a leash (though I have encountered that) so care is always needed lest they scramble up an inviting rock, try to climb a tree, get too close to a water way, pick berries, or even decide to hug a tree that may be covered in poison ivy. Children run fast and with enthusiasm. Usually when they trip, they just get up, dust off and keep on going. But care is still needed.
I also like hiking with my dog. She leads me with her nose and often makes me look more closely at things she has discovered, even if it is gross, like a carcass or pile of scat. I know her well enough to know that she must be leashed because she turns off her ears and would be off and running into the next state before she realized I wasn’t with her. But the leash works for so many other reasons. I don’t WANT her to run off, I don’t want her to get lost, or get to the road, or get hurt. But I also do not want her running into another dog that may not be as friendly as she is, or to be over friendly to someone who doesn’t like or fears dogs. The prime reason to keep a dog on a short leash and under control is to protect wildlife. I have seen the aftermath of a dog ripping into a log to get in after some small creature. Ground- nesting birds and small mammals are particularly vulnerable. Some dogs just want to play and explore, but playing with a young creature often means death for the smaller animal, and can also put your pet in danger if the animal bites or carries a disease.
|Climbing rocks is great adventure just make sure that an adult is nearby.|
|From puddles to coves, water features offer so many opportunities for exploration.|
And walk with awareness
In the course of the seasons and storms, trees and branches fall. After the last years of stress on our forests, there are a lot more dead trees out there. Be careful! Be aware of your surroundings. It is our policy and practice to leave trees where they fall to provide habitat for all manner of creatures. They enrich the earth with slow decomposition and they become opportunities to observe and learn about that process in a forest. We only remove them if they completely block a trail. Most of the time a tree left across a trail is just an easy step-over, a nice place to sit, and it also makes the trails a little less inviting for ATV’s and motorized bikes which are not allowed.
When I walk, I manage to stumble around a lot. I like to look up and around, but I realize I need to watch my footing as well. I spend a lot of time looking down to watch my feet and explore things on the ground, but then I stop to look up to observe what I might be missing. I do fall down. I can’t look everywhere at once.
We do our very best to tend to issues but much is beyond our control. There is a lot of water out there this season. Brooks are overflowing, and trails may have washed out or be flooded. We are heading into winter with often snow-covered or icy trails. Please use appropriate footwear. Enjoying the outdoors in natural environments does have risks, and personal judgement and responsibility is required.
You can check maps on-line and assess trail length and terrain. There are new apps ( see our website for information) that detail all Avalonia’s trails and can pinpoint your location at any place on the preserve. You need to decide for yourself if a trail is good for you or your group. If an area presents a problem, turn around. There are many miles of trails to enjoy and many alternatives to choose from.
In this new year, enjoy our beautiful land, but please do it with mindfulness and you will not only be safe but enjoy it more.
|Downed trees are cleared when blocking trails, but are left to create habitat.|
|The CT DEEP is posting signs suggesting vigilance while hiking.|
|This year trails are flooded in many areas.|
|Soon trails will be covered with snow and ice.|
Photographs by Beth Sullivan.