Growing up, I was never one to stay on the trail. Family hikes consisted of my parents saying: "Oh, kids, look at that bird," "Oh, kids, look at that rare plant," and "Where did Peter go?"
And 40-something years later, not much has changed. Especially if there are ledges involved. And at Old Lyme Land Trust's Jericho Preserve, there are ledges on top of ledges. Each rocky outcropping is covered with scrub oaks and blueberry bushes, calling out to you to explore.
The Lymes – East, Old, Hadlyme and just plain Lyme — are my favorite places to explore along the Connecticut shoreline. And it seems each time I visit Old Lyme, whether it is places like John Lohmann Connecticut River Preserve or Elizabeth B. Karter Watch Rock Preserve, the hikes within the 29-square-mile town become instant favorites. And the ledges of Jericho are no exception.
From the trailhead, a huge pyramid-shaped rock formation covered with thick pads of moss greets hikers at the preserve, donated to the land trust by Mary Steube. According to the trust's website, she donated the land to the trust "to be preserved in its natural state for study, education and conservation purposes."
The hike is about a mile long and it takes about an hour to navigate the double loop trails. When I first read the description, I figured I should find a second trail nearby. But you aren't going to want to spend only an hour there. The ledges are mesmerizing, with the trails passing through the valleys of the giants and along the banks of vernal pools and a large swamp. Huge swaths of ferns grow seemingly everwhere and huge evergreens and oaks fill the forest, giving a sense of scale to the dramatic ledges.
The first loop trail takes visitors on a moderately difficult climb along a ridge and then undulates through fields of ferns in the shadow of larger ridges. There are places where high grass mixes in with the ferns near stone walls; when little zephyrs of wind blow through them, it creates an idyllic scene. Huge mushrooms grow on dead hemlocks and one half-expects to see a troll or elf standing under them.
The second loop trail passes through a forest in which trees struggle to grow along the rocky outcroppings, sending roots out in every direction, making some trunks look like beach houses on stilts. The easy-to-follow trail wraps around more ledges and a large swamp before depositing visitors back at the first trail.
Ledges in the middle of the woods are a romantic part of the natural world. One can imagine a Native American walking along a ledge in search of a deer, or a wolf howling under the light of a full moon. They have a magnetic pull at Jericho, and they will lure you off the beaten path.
To get there, take Route 1 (Boston Post Road) to Whippoorwill Road; follow for about a mile. Look for the preserve sign and entrance at No. 44 on the left. The parking area is located on the left of the driveway. Do not drive up to the house, it is private property. Additional parking can be found along the road. Visit here for a map of the preserve.
Peter Marteka may be reached at 860-647-5365, at pmarteka@ courant.com or at The Courant, 200 Adams St., Manchester, CT 06040.
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