If aliens in a spaceship hovered over Simsbury's Belden Forest Wednesday morning, they would have marveled at a hiker among the giant pines, spinning in circles and gazing up at the sky every few feet.
"That is what the earthlings call a ballerina," one would say to the other.
Belden Forest was once part of the Eno Woods Estate, the summer home of Amos R. Eno. Eno, a Simsbury native who became one of the richest men in the country, owned most of the valuable portions of Manhattan Island during the late 1800s and built the Fifth Avenue Hotel.
PHOTOS: Belden Forest
The woods portion of his estate has pretty much remained untouched over more than a century, allowing many of the white pines within the forest to grow more than 100 feet tall. The forest resembles a miniature version of the Cathedral Pines of Cornwall. Those Pinus strobus specimens were 120 to 140 feet tall, dating to Colonial times and one of the largest old growth pine stands east of the Mississippi.
The forest can be entered along a yellow-blazed trail between the Simsbury Public Library and Simsbury Town House otherwise known as the Boy Scout Hall. The Town House, Simsbury's original town hall, dates to 1839 and is one of the oldest buildings in town. The Greek Revival building is a great place to start the hike — the site makes you feel as if you are going back in time as you head into the old growth forest.
A yellow-blazed trail will take you to the top of a ridge with a view of the town center and the Talcott Mountain range. A blue-blazed trail takes visitors along the northern portion of the forest returning visitors along a yellow-blazed path over the southern half of the forest for a round trip of approximately 2 miles.
But when you are walking among giants, you are going to want to take some time to study these native trees that grow ramrod-straight and were once used for ship masts. This patch of Sequoia-like trees will inspire you.
Route 202/10 to Route 167/309 and take a right on Firetown Road and right on Beldenwood Road. Look for the trail entrance along the right. Parking is also available next to the Simsbury Town House on Hopmeadow Street (Route 202/10) between the library and church.
Peter Marteka can be reached at 860-647-5365 or firstname.lastname@example.org or at The Courant, 200 Adams St., Manchester, CT 06040.