Back in 1961, a developer wanted to turn an ancient shoreline farm into a housing development with 425 duplex units for the Coast Guard, which was stationed at Avery Point in Groton. Residents banded together, fought the proposal and raised money to save a farm.
The 267 acres is now known as Haley Farm State Park. This little-known farm-turned-state park in Groton dates to 1648 when Connecticut's first governor, John Winthrop Jr., owned a portion of the fields that extend to Palmer's Cove with views to Long Island Sound and Fishers Island Sound. Although its big sister park to the west — the 800-acre Bluff Point State Park — may be more popular, this little recreational jewel offers a leisurely bike path, 3 miles of some of the most incredible stone walls I've seen in my travels across the state, and trails that snake through old pastures.
The stone walls were created by Caleb Haley, a fish dealer who owned the farm from 1869 to 1924. Like any typical New England farm, this one had its share of rocks and boulders. So Haley made the building of stone walls his hobby creating ribbons of rock across the property. And these aren't the usual quaint rock walls you see in the forest. There are some gigantic granite rocks removed from the ground by an ox-drawn contraption known as the Merritt Stone Puller.
The stone walls separating woods from pasture, and the old barn foundations with the views to the marshes of the saltwater cove provide a dramatic backdrop for visitors traveling on the gently sloping trails. I traveled along the bike path to the Amtrak railroad tracks that take the Acela north to Boston and south to New York. A pedestrian bridge connects Haley Farm with Bluff Point.
The trail continues southeast along the tracks and passes a small tunnel that once took livestock and other animals under the railroad tracks. The tunnel is about 4 feet high and travels under the tracks to trails that connect to Bluff Point. Farther down the trail is a huge boulder known as "Canopy Rock" or "Jemima's Rock" and more views to the Sound.
The trail continues around the pastures that border Palmer's Cove, also known as Taskegonucke, an old Native American Indian shellfishing ground. The cove is named after David Palmer, who was killed in the Battle of Groton Heights in 1781, the final battle before the Continental Army's victory at Yorktown.
In addition to the trails through the pastures and along the railroad tracks, there are paths through the woods in the northern half of the park. There is an overlook, and the paths snake through the ever-present stone walls that seem to be watching as you navigate your way through the woods. Huge oak trees and ferns grow next to the walls adding to their imposing presence.
So walk these shoreline pastures with their forested overlooks and farm ruins and imagine what was once here. And silently thank a group of residents who fought so hard to preserve this ancient farmland.
•Peter Marteka can be reached by phone at 860-647-5365; by mail at The Courant, 200 Adams St., Manchester, CT 06040; and by e-mail at email@example.com.
Take Exit 88 off I-95. Follow Route 117 south to Route 1 north. Turn right on Route 215 and take the first right on Brook Street and a right on Haley Farm Lane. Visit ct.gov/dep/lib/dep/ stateparks/maps/haleymap.pdf for a map of the park.