Manchester's Pitkin Trail Offers A Mix Of Urban Life And Unspoiled Nature


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In H.G. Wells' book The Time Machine, future earth is populated by the peaceful Eloi and the Morlocks – apelike creatures with glowing eyes who live deep underground accessing their world through a series of dark tunnels.

It's these creatures I think about as I peer into the huge iron pipes that once carried hundreds of gallons of water down from the dam on Manchester's Union Pond to a power plant that helped run a paper mill operated by Cheney Brothers – famed silk manufacturers. The rusted – and rapidly disintegrating pipe – is one of the highlights of the half-mile-long Pitkin Trail along the Hockanum River as it winds its way through town on the way to the Connecticut River.

According to the Hockanum River Linear Park Committee, the trail is "one of the most scenic, hilly and tranquil of all those along the Hockanum River…the virgin forest setting is enchanting." I found that hard to believe as I've visited trails like Adams Mill, Laurel Marsh and New State Road that I found equally scenic, peaceful and enchanting.

But it perfectly describes this section as you leave a busy Union Street and are immediately swallowed up in the natural world. If it wasn't for the gravel operation next door, visitors would think they were deep in the wilderness as the trail drops you down into the river valley.

There are two ways to access the trail – by trail or by spillway. Visitors cross Union Street and descend a series of steps where they meet the well-worn trail filled with bricks, a remnant of the area's industrial past where the Pitkin Cotton Mill – the first of its kind in the state – once existed.

But if visitors take the stairs from the parking lot, they will be rewarded with views of water cascading over the huge dam. From the spillway, you can walk under the Union Street bridge along the Hockanum and view a huge sandstone ledge eaten away when the Hockanum spills over its banks as well as an impressive moss-covered sandstone arch bridge.

The trail follows the heavily wooded banks of the Hockanum eventually linking up with the network of iron pipes - a hulking six feet in diameter. According to the committee, old timers can recall a time when water would spray out of the pipe and freeze creating an assortment of ice sculptures during the long cold New England winters.

There are several scenic overlooks where you can view things like a huge beech tree leaning precariously close to the river. A bench allows you to view upstream all the way to the white, frothy spillway dancing in the background.

You don't need a time machine to turn the clock back. Just a good pair of hiking boots and a trail that is a step back in time.

Parking for the trail is located on Union Street. Take North Main St. to Union Street and park at the Union Pond dam. Visit http://www.hockanumriverwa.org/lpcm_pitkin.htm for a map of the trail and historical images of the factories. Visit http://www.courant.com/cthiking for more adventures in the state's natural world.


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