It's hard to imagine what Hurd State Park would look like if Jesse S. Miller had won.
Places within the 940-acre park in East Hampton, like the popular "Split Rock" — a granite fissure on the northern edge of White Mountain with its tremendous views up and down the Connecticut River — probably would have been reduced to rubble. In the early 1930s, Miller believed he had the rights to extract rich pockets of feldspar from the property for the Bon Ami Company for use in cleansers, porcelain dishes, insulations, tiles and abrasives.
But by 1935, the state Supreme Court found Miller's claim to be meritless and Connecticut's first state park on the banks of the Connecticut River, with its craggy New England mountains and forests, has remain untouched ever since.
Visiting the park over the years, I figured I knew every nook and cranny. But on my numerous visits, I had always ventured up – to the top of Split Rock, River Vista or White Mountain. It was time to see New England's longest river up close instead of from high above.
I returned on a recent cold day as winter refused to loosen its grip on the state and was pleasantly surprised to see a full parking lot on a Monday morning – apparently a lot of us have spring fever. Two, mile-long trails marked with white blazes leave from the lot. Both take hikers through the forest to the river trail, and the southern branch of the trail passes by a spooky, must-see wolf tree.
With all the leaves off the trees, the deep blue of the river immediately fills your view. A sign notes the entrance to the "river trail," which is marked by easy-to-follow red blazes. The trip down is gradual, but can be a bit steep in places, so you may not want to become too mesmerized by the river's beauty. The path eventually brings visitors to a sandy beach.
The work of beavers is amazing along this stretch of riverbank. They have begun to take down some huge trees. I have always thought beavers to be brilliant rodents and the animal world's engineers, but I have to question this group's sanity as they appear to be trying to build a dam across the river.
The trail follows the river to an opening and one of the river's camping areas for boaters and canoeists. Beautiful Hurd Brook cascades through the forest and a side trail takes visitors past numerous waterfalls and plunges.
But the highlight of the trip is a half-mile long rock jetty on the banks of the river made with two or three layers of huge quarried blocks. Although I did some research into the Courant's archives, I was unable to discover if these were placed by area quarrymen or by the state when it took ownership and created the park.
The jetty is a lot of fun to walk along as you dodge huge piles of flotsam and giant trunks of trees that have floated downstream and gotten stranded. On one side of the jetty is the river; on the other, a small tidal cove. The views up and down the river are tremendous and any block makes a great place to picnic or just sit and watch the river flow past.
Whenever I visit the banks of the Connecticut River, it constantly amazes me how relatively undeveloped it is, especially along the lower stretches south of Middletown. If you find yourself in a preserve or state park along the river, make sure you not only venture high, but also seek the beauty below.
The easiest way to get to the river trail is to park at the lot along Route 151 at the junction of Hog Hill Road and Hurd Park Road. Go here for a detailed map of the river.