Nature's Path & Way To Go
6:57 PM EDT, April 25, 2013
Maybe it's the sight of grass and trees growing up through the gravel and railroad ties. Or the rotting trestle that spans a small river and fills the air with a light scent of creosote. It could be the echoes of water dripping in an abandoned tunnel.
Whatever the reason, I love exploring abandoned and forgotten railroads. The Meriden, Waterbury & Connecticut River Railroad is one I've always wanted to explore since I was a kid traveling to the movie theaters or a mall of Meriden. As we made our way along city streets and over a railroad crossing, I would peer down the tracks looking for a train, but see only rusting tracks going off into the forest.
I had forgotten those days until a visit to the Middlesex Land Trust's Highland Pond Preserve in Middletown, which is home to a portion of the circa-1885 railroad. The the tracks have long since been removed from the railroad that once ran along the southern shores of the manmade pond.
The small but beautiful preserve has short trails with views out across the pond to Higby Mountain. It also seems to be home to large numbers of sunning-on-a-log turtles I've seen, as well as a giant snapper.
"The residents around Highland Pond and a guy fishing have confirmed that there is a huge snapping turtle living in the pond," said trust member John Leshane. "They describe a carapace nearly 3 feet long. I have never heard of a local snapper being that large."
The old railroad and trolley line that once took residents to the long gone Highland Hotel has pretty much all been replaced by housing and commercial development east of the preserve through Middletown and Cromwell, although some embankments of the line still exist in places along the Mattabesset River.
But to the west of the preserve and at a nearby gravel operation in Meriden, the rails return. It's a surreal sight, with large trees growing over and swallowing up the rails and tracks suspended in mid-air over streams where the trestles have disappeared. I explored this 2-mile stretch from Baldwin Pond Park east to the gravel operation.
You begin your journey along the rails along a swath of grass within the park. The tracks pass through a tunnel underneath Route 15 and then across a trestle over a stream. From there it is pretty much a slalom course, with a forest surrounding the tracks as you pass through neighborhoods and then a field with views out to the traprock ridges before reaching the gravel plant.
There is the generation that built and rode the rails, and then there is my generation, which can only imagine what life along the railroad must have been like. As the forest continues to swallow up the railroads of yore, I hold out the hope that they will somehow be preserved for the next generation.
Go to middlesexlandtrust.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/HIghlandPond-130321-mailer1.pdf for a map of Highland Pond Preserve. Peter Marteka may be reached at 860-647-5365, at firstname.lastname@example.org or at The Courant, 200 Adams St., Manchester, CT 06040.
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