It started off as a usual walk through the woods of central Connecticut. As I navigated the trails of Middletown's Highlawn Forest, I passed under huge oaks trees, walked along the banks of vernal pools scaring frogs into the water and tripped over chunks of traprock.
And then I entered the Twilight Zone.
I must have tripped and hit my head because as I walked around the banks of a small pond, I entered the "infinity forest." Huge pine trees as far as the eye could see. Branchless trunks were identical in size and turned green by the shade of their canopy. A path covered with pine needles snaked through the heart of the magical place.
The patch of evergreens reminded me of one of those infinity lights you would see in discos or cool kids' rooms in the 1970s. There would be four or five rows of small light bulbs with a mirror at the other end giving the optical illusion that the lights went on forever. Walking through the forest – an abandoned Christmas tree farm or plantation with trees planted only a few feet from each other – gives an illusion that it is endless.
The infinity pines are one of the highlights of Highlawn Forest, an oasis of woods along a heavily commercial and residential strip on Route 66 in Middletown. Growing up in the area, I was always intrigued by the property whenever we would pass it. One year, a "Connecticut Tree Farmer of the Year" sign popped up along the property adding more intrigue to the mysterious plot of land that had escaped development over the years. It was a refreshing sight to see – deep forest across the street from huge apartment complexes and just up the street from shopping malls and fast food restaurants.
The Connecticut Forest & Park Association always had a small accessible-for-all loop trail along the southern portion of the property. But the family of the late John R. Camp and Ruth Camp gave a conservation easement to the association opening up much of the property for exploration. Three miles of newly blazed trails now circulate through the property.
Although a busy Route 66 can be heard when you enter the forest, it all but disappears with a cascading symphony of bird calls echoing through the woods. The main trail – Camille's Way – is marked with blue-blazes and circles the entire property. Camelia's Trail bisects the property for those looking for a shorter route. Newly constructed sturdy bridges take visitors over small streams.
According to the association, the property also comes with a unique history at one time being a fuel source for a nearby brick manufacturing factory. The property was once a patchwork of agricultural fields, woodlots and a Christmas tree farm. Today the property is almost totally wooded.
"Stone walls, old foundations, apple presses and coppiced hardwoods are still present and serve as historical references of Connecticut's past," a map description reads.
Anyone who visits the forest will appreciate the love Camp had for his property. Camp lovingly tended to his trees and kept the property in its natural state fending off developers over the years. And finally these mysterious woods – home to the soon-to-be-famous infinity forest - are open for the enjoyment of everyone.
An open house and dedication will be held at the forest from 1-5 p.m. on June 1. The forest is located at 16 Meriden Rd. (Route 66) near the Middletown/Middlefield line. Peter Marteka can be reached at 860-647-5365 or email@example.com or at The Courant, 200 Adams St., Manchester, CT 06040.
Visit courant.com/marteka for more photos and previous columns.