On paper it is a brilliant plan. With a greenway of more than 300 acres encompassing picturesque farms with views of the surrounding hills, valleys and lush, deep forests, the Bakerville section of New Hartford has the potential to be a major draw for outdoor enthusiasts looking to escape from civilization.
In reality, though, not so much – yet. I visited the work-in-progress greenway and left dazed and confused, but at the same time impressed and awed by its potential. New Hartford does know how to do it right, as evidenced by my visit to the 158-acre Jones Mountain Preserve several years ago, which is on my top 10 list of best hikes in the state.
So I will start with the good of my recent visit to this northwestern Connecticut town, sandwiched between Canton and Torrington. The Antolini Woods and Surdam Farm Preserve are connected by a fun trail system that takes visitors along paths marked with white blazes and blue dashes. The best place to access the properties is Surdam Farm off East Cotton Hill Road.
The out-and-back trail starts as a pleasant journey through a young forest, but the farther one travels the more the forest setting turns fairy tale-ish, with lush green moss covering rocks and trees and huge above-ground roots that seem as though they could come to life. The deeper you journey into the forest, the more you feel as though the eyes of elves or gnomes are upon you.
My favorite part of Surdam is passing the stream, with water tumbling over moss-covered boulders and through rocky chasms. The trail passes along moss-covered stone walls and leads to an amazing sight – a huge white pine tree growing along and over a giant boulder. The huge roots resemble the tentacles of an octopus, covering half the boulder. The trail loops around the Antolini Woods and returns to the parking area.
I attempted to visit Phillips Farm Preserve, but there are no trails linking Surdam to the former dairy farm across East Cotton Hollow Road. I pulled up to the farm and inquired about access to the hiking trails, and the people I spoke to also lamented the lost potential of unblazed trails. When I was unable to hide the disappointment in my face, they gave me a little hope by telling me to go west and visit the Goula open space property.
But Goula, along Cotton Hill Road, was in the same state as the Phillips Farm, with great views and potential – and no trails. I walked through waist-high grass and wildflowers where bees buzzed from blossom to blossom and dragonflies tugged on the tops of the tall blades. While I found it enjoyable, that journey is not for everyone.
Shortly after the town purchased a conservation easement for the Phillips Farm with help from the state and The Trust for Public Land, Jeanne Phillips said it was her family's dream to "preserve our farm forever for future generations to enjoy." That was more than four years ago. It's time to link these parcels and showcase the entirety of a beautiful greenway.
Visit http://www.town.new-hartford.ct.us/sites/newhartfordct/files/u59/antolini_woods_hiking_area.pdf for a hiking map of Antolini Woods. Parking for the Surdam Farm property is located along the east side of East Cotton Hill Road across from 267 East Cotton Hill Rd. Parking for Antolini Woods is located next to the South End Fire Department at the intersection of routes 202 and 219.Copyright © 2015, CT Now