At first, the description of The Nature Conservancy's Poquetanuck Cove Preserve in Ledyard seems to go a bit overboard. "Go back in time to when Native Americans camped along these shores to harvest oysters, and bald eagles soared overhead."
After a slight chuckle and roll of my eyes, I got out of the car and started my journey along the 1.5-mile trail that travels through the 234-acre preserve on the banks of the Thames River. After passing through a second-growth forest crisscrossed by stone walls with a half-dozen wolf trees seemingly standing guard next to them, the path entered a ravine filled with huge hemlocks. The bright, sparkling day had suddenly been turned into a spooky twilight.
I am no longer laughing. And my eyes are now darting from tree to tree, half expecting to see an Indian brave behind a hemlock, aiming bow and arrow at a deer. A stream babbled into the cove in front of me. I halted on the trail looking around for a group of Native Americans working on a dugout canoe as they prepared to harvest oysters.
I quickly discovered that the preserve definitely lives up to its hype. With narrow trails along moss-covered bluffs and views of the peaceful cove and a sheltered grove of American beech trees where shadows dance on the ghostly bark, the preserve is a secluded respite in an area where two casinos rise high into the air.
The main trail winds along stone walls and wolf trees — large oaks that farmers of long ago left standing so that livestock would have shade. The half-mile path passes over the stone walls at some points before reaching the mile-long loop trail. Visitors can walk the loop clockwise — the decision I made — but it is frustrating because each time you see the sparkling waters of the cove and you think you are about to get to the overlook, the trail turns away from it. And this happens several times.
It's better to walk counterclockwise, because in that direction the trail soon takes you into the dark hemlock forest with its spooky setting. Much of the lower two-thirds of the trees are void of living branches, seeming like a forest of skeletons. The path eventually finds the shores of the cove and narrow trails snake along bluffs with beautiful views of the cove and Duck Island.
The trail follows the bluff and at times dips down to the banks of the cove, where visitors can get a view of the island and its high marsh grass, pitch pines and scrub oaks. Visitors slalom around huge hemlocks before the trail heads down to the banks again for a final, stunning look at the cove. The path returns visitors to the main trail through a pitch pine forest.
So as you are walking the trails of Poquetanuck Cove, watch the shadows closely. You never know what you might see around the next bend at a place Native Americans once called home.
I-395 to Exit 79A to Route 2A East. Stay on Route 2A through the center of Poquetanuck. Turn right on Cider Mill Road. The preserve is about 0.8 miles on the right. To explore the cove by water, take a right on Arrowhead Drive off Cider Mill Road and follow to the end and turn right.