Discovering The Headwaters Of The Coginchaug River At Guilford's Northwoods

Peter Marteka
Contact ReporterThe Hartford Courant

One of my favorite things to do when I was growing up was to explore the headwaters of streams that flowed through the woods. Sometimes the journey would end at a small lake or the broken dam of a mill pond. Other times, the journey led me to spring or simply a pipe coming out of a storm drain.

Discovering the headwaters of a river is a bit more daunting. And that's where I found myself on a recent afternoon searching for the beginning of the mighty Coginchaug River, a waterway that flows through Guilford, Durham, Middlefield and Middletown before merging with the Mattabesset River and eventually into the Connecticut River.

After consulting a map, it was off to the Connecticut Forest & Park Association's Lone Pine Trail and Mattabessett Trail in North Guilford to see where the Coginchaug River – translated from the Native American to mean "place of swampy land" or "great swamp" – came into existence.

The exact formation of the river comes from the outlet of Meyerhuber Pond, a manmade body of water in the shadow of Bluff Head, a beautiful traprock ridge and popular hiking spot with views out to Long Island Sound. According to the Guilford Land Trust, the pond was dug out long ago by Conrad Meyerhuber using a team of oxen.

The Lone Pine Trail crosses a small stream flowing from the pond, and it is hard to imagine this waterway eventually becomes the Coginchaug and leads to one of the state's prettiest waterfalls – the thundering Wadsworth Falls. The trail winds through the woods and eventually hooks up with an old farm road that has tremendous views of the pond and its imposing 500-foot-high Bluff Head neighbor.

Lone Pine continues north on a farm road past fields, a horse farm and a large subdivision before reaching a trailhead into hundreds of acres of land trust and town-owned open space known collectively as the Northwoods.

The trail meets the picturesque Hemlock Brook, a waterway that flows south from Durham before turning north and helps to create the Coginchaug River. A broken trail bridge sits along the banks of the brook, so visitors must rely on large rocks and a half-submerged log to get across.

Shortly after crossing the brook, hikers can continue on the Long Pine Trail or take the North Slope trail to the Mattabessett Trail. Both trails eventually lead to the 73-acre James Valley Preserve, tucked into the town's northwestern corner on the North Branford and Durham town lines.

I decided to follow a stream that cut between the two trails and ran through a traprock gorge and discovered one of the area's lovliest waterfalls, which tumbled down a series of natural rocky, moss-covered steps cut into the old lava and basalt rocks. The clear pools are filled with traprock of just about every geometric shape one can imagine.

I eventually made my way back to the North Slope trail and enjoyed a romp through the heavily wooded Mattabessett trail with only one sign of humanity — a huge telecommunications tower looming in the forest. James Valley offered wonderful seasonal views of the surrounding hillsides and the trail passed along a stunning stone wall made of huge traprocks – their boxy shapes resembling a wood pile more than a rock wall.

So where does the Coginchaug River begin? It begins at a pond dug by oxen, a brook that travels through giant hemlocks and a waterfall that cuts its way down a former lava flow.

To get there, take Route 77 and park at the Braemore Preserve lot just south of Bluff View Road. Walk south along the edge of Route 77 to the entrance to the Lone Pine Trail about a quarter mile to the south. Visit for a map of the trails.

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