Tiptoeing Under The Tulip Trees In Vernon

Peter Marteka
Contact ReporterThe Hartford Courant

For some reason, the song "Tiptoe Through The Tulips" has stuck in my head over the years. I found myself humming it once again as I made my way around the tulip tree trail in the wilds of Vernon. I even found myself changing the lyrics a bit.

"Tiptoe through the forest. By the rail trail, that is where I'll be. Come tiptoe under the tulips with me," I sung under my breath as I walked under the towering native trees — my favorite deciduous specimens in the New England forest.

The trail — affectionately known as the TTT — is the newest addition to a vast swath of open space along the Hop River Linear State Park that includes the 95-acre Bolton Notch State Park. The Hop River multiuse trail follows the abandoned right-of-way of the old Hartford, Providence and Fishkill Railroad from Manchester to Willimantic.

One of the "stops" along the way is the trail, just east of Valley Falls Park.

According to Bolton Conservation Commission Chairman Rod Parlee, the idea to create a trail that winds under the tulip trees was sparked when arborist Matt "Twig" Largess visited the area. Parlee said Largess was "totally amazed at the size" of the numerous tulip trees. The commission worked with the Vernon Conservation Commission and the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and created a figure-eight trail that winds through fern-filled forests, past stone walls and a huge rock ledge and the rim of a quarry hole.

The trail is a gem, and like all precious materials, it takes a little time to find it. My journey began from the Bolton Notch parking lot as I hopped on the old railroad line and hiked north. Visitors on the mile-long journey to the start of the trail will pass huge rock cuts, a scenic waterfall cascading next to the old bed and little reminders of the railroad — from telegraph poles to rotting ties.

Once passing over the Vernon line, look for blue/yellow trail blazes on the tree. The trail descends sharply down to the scenic Railroad Brook. Take a right along the trail, cross a bridge and look for the start of the path marked by blue blazes with red tulips painted on top.

The large loop takes you under some neat specimen tree where visitors can look up the ramrod straight trunks to the branches high above. A smaller loop passes a glacial erratic boulder surrounded by ferns and leads to an abandoned quarry hole. Another highlight is a towering ledge, part of a limestone ribbon that Parlee noted runs north to Littleton, N.H., and south to Portland.

"When hiking under the towering canopy of the tulip trees," Parlee said. "I noticed how it made you feel small. Its a very wild and diverse forest with many other species of mature trees. I have seen numerous deer, prancing on and off the trail. One sunny and early autumn work party morning, we noticed a large flock of purple finches feeding on the leftover tulips on the very tops of the trees, creating swirling tulip pedals floating though the sky."

Parlee said the tulip trees should be left to grow "wild forever so someday they'll reach star status matching the champions in the Smokies."

Until then, it is awe-inspiring to walk — well, tiptoe — among Connecticut's giants.

Bolton Notch State Park is located along Interstate 384 just west of the Route 44/Route 6 intersection. Access to the parking area is along the westbound lanes of 384. Those traveling east should take the Route 44 turnoff and then wrap around back to 384.

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