Newtown's Scrabble Connection To The Natural World

Connecticut is home to plenty of firsts: First Whiffle ball. First can opener. First Pez dispenser. First submarine.

It is also home to the first Scrabble board game, born in the Newtown house of James Brunot. He came up with the name after he and his friend — game inventor and architect Alfred M. Butts — had played Criss Cross Words for years. When the demand for Scrabble became too much, Brunot sold the rights to Selchow & Righter, which went on to sell millions of copies.

Brunot and his wife Helen donated the land near their house where those famous wooden letter tiles were first made to the Newtown Forest Association – one of the oldest land trusts in the state.

Today, hikers can navigate their way along several miles of trails that wind through the 77 acres of forests and fields in the Brunot Preserve along the Bethel border. The Brunots donated the 66-acre farm where Helen raised Dorset sheep to the Association in 1970. Parcels were donated by John Southworth and Aubrey Justis in Helen's memory after she died in 1972. James passed away in 1984.

The preserve is made up of trails blazed with yellow, white and red diamonds nailed to trees (although it would have been cool to use wooden tiles). The yellow-blazed trail will take visitors around the perimeter of the preserve past numerous stone walls and huge glacial erractic boulders. One of the highlights of the trail is passing through a large gorge and a forest lined with small boulders topped off with green moss that look like minature rock wigs.

The white-blazed trail takes visitors through the beautiful, hidden meadows where Helen's sheep once grazed. The fields are full of wildflowers with goldenrod and Queen Anne's lace just starting to bloom and waving in the wind as if saying goodbye to summer. Butterflies, dragonflies and bumblebees bounce from flower to flower collecting the waning summer pollen.

A red-blazed loop trail is located along the northern portion of the property and takes visitors along a picturesque stream and through a deep patch of woods with more stone walls lining the forest floor. The trail is a bit steep and wet in portions, and it can easily be skipped by remaining on the yellow-blazed trail. The word Scrabble actually means to grasp or grope with your fingers, and you may find yourself doing that to get up some of the trail.

"Each habitat present at the Brunot Preserve is invaluable to enhancing this wildlife sanctuary largely hidden from outsiders," reads the property description on a sign near the entrance. Hidden beauty is a good description and I would even go so far as calling the journey "Quixotry" – now that would get you some serious points on the Scrabble board.

To get there, take I-84 to exit 9. Take Route 25 north and take a left on Taunton Lane and right on Taunton Hill Road. The preserve is located at 124 Taunton Hill Road. Visit http://newtownforestassociation.org/item/brunot-preserve/ for a map of the preserve.

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