This may have been the destiny of the 624 acres now known as the East River Preserve. Where a path now winds through a sea of hundreds of large rocks, there could have been houses on a road called "Boulder Drive." Where bluebirds sing and flit from cedar tree to scrub oak, there could have been more houses on "Bluebird Way."
The easiest trails to follow are across from what I call "graffitti bridge," at the end of Sullivan Drive. After crossing the bridge over the East River, visitors will find well-blazed trails that circle the meadows. The trails follow the forest line and the banks of the river.
My favorite spot is at the end of one of the southernmost fields where a rocky hill drops off into a dell. Visitors can sit on the moss-covered hill and watch the river pass on its way from the Guilford Lakes into Long Island Sound. And it's a great spot for bird watchers, as Courant photographer Cloe Poisson reported "a gazillion" bluebirds during her visit.
I parked along Clapboard Hill Road and followed the path to a stream that tumbled over a broken dam and out into a marsh – one of the few remnants of the great saltwater tidal marshes that once extended nearly unbroken along the Atlantic coast from Maine to Georgia. The trail follows the stream to an abandoned dam and spillway that once held a mill of some kind.
The trail system passes bogs and freshwater marshes and travels over rugged terrain to a forest filled with a vast swath of boulders. It is as if all the rocks in the nearby fields were taken out and rolled into this forest spot. I've never seen anything like it in my travels.
Visitors can take the trails around the fields or stay in the woods along the abandoned Bear House Hill Road, which will take you deep into the preserve. The opposite end of the road will take visitors to a bridge over the tranquil East River and to the peaceful Foote Cemetery along its banks.
For now the trails are blazed by the footsteps of past visitors. But it sure is a lot better than following the ruts of bulldozers or walking along a place that might have been known as East River Street or Tidal River Way.
Route 79 to Opening Hill Road just south of the junction with Route 80. Take a right on Blinnshed Road which turns into Squaw Lane and Podunk Lane before becoming Clapboard Hill Road. One parking area and trailhead is located across from a horse farm. A second parking is located by following Clapboard Hill Road across the East River to Tanner Marsh Road. Take a right on Goose Lane and right on Sullivan Drive. Visit http://www.ci.guilford.ct.us/pdf/east-river-preserve-map.pdf for a map of the preserve.
Peter Marteka can be reached at 860-647-5365, at firstname.lastname@example.org or at The Courant, 200 Adams St., Manchester, CT 06040.