Every time I hike, I come down with a bad case of little-boy-itis. You know, that "virus" you pick up as a child that causes you to go as close to the edge of a cliff as possible or splash your way across a stream or run through the spray of a waterfall.
A visit to the Dark Hollow Brook area of the Meshomasic State Forest in Glastonbury will ignite that inner child when you explore the abandoned former dam of the East Hartford Water Co., or slosh underneath an old culvert built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in an area known as the "10 curves" of the Old Route 2.
Although it is unclear exactly how the brook got its name, according to John Leshane, an expert on the legends of the Meshomasic, a stagecoach on the old toll road known as the Hartford and New London Turnpike plunged off a bridge and into the swollen brook, killing all aboard and forever haunting the ravine.
"According to legend, you can still hear the screams of people," Leshane said.
The entrance to old Route 2 is off the aptly-named Toll Gate Road and follows a dirt road to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection's gun range. Just before to the range, the road changes from from dirt to concrete with traction groves in it – the remnants of the old Route 2.
After passing mysterious five-foot-high concrete pillars and an abandoned foundation that is in the process of being reclaimed by the New England forest, the old highway dips into Dark Hollow and across an old stone bridge. A path along the western side of the road leads to the bottom of the bridge and a concrete culvert.
Just west of the original highway bridge are the massive culverts built in 1949 that carry Dark Hollow Brook under Route 2. The 10-foot culverts are popular shortcuts for people hiking and mountain biking the Shenipsit Trail, a 41-mile-long Connecticut Forest & Park Blue-blazed trail that runs from East Hampton to Somers.
An unmarked trail just to the south of the culverts takes visitors to the former East Hartford Water Co.'s reservoir. Although the reservoir is noted on various maps, the old concrete dam was breached years ago and now the basin resembles more of a marsh, with the brook disappearing at the western end of the dam and reappearing underneath the spillway. Those daring enough to follow the brook will find a number of waterfalls and cool pools leading back to the old CCC bridge.
For those looking for a longer hike, the Shenipsit connector leads to the main trail that twists and turns through a forest of mountain laurel and ferns with seasonal overlooks. Hikers can turn around at Windham Road and return to the old highway.
The days of stagecoaches and Fords, Plymouths and Oldsmobiles traveling on the toll road and old Route 2 are over. The abandoned "10 curves" section of the highway now welcomes hikers and bikers instead.
To get there, take Route 2 east to exit 10. Take a right on Manchester Road and left on Wassuc Road to Toll Gate Road. Route 2 West to exit 11 and Toll Gate Road. Follow to the end of Toll Gate Road and park at the cul-de-sac.
Peter Marteka may be reached at 860-647-5365, at pmarteka@ courant.com or at The Courant, 200 Adams St., Manchester, CT 06040.