Saved From Development, Wilcox Woods Offers A Pine Sanctuary

My all-time favorite place to be in the woods is on a trail snaking through a pine grove. The trail is covered with a deep layer of pine needles and passes through a sea of ferns as shafts of sunlight illuminate the fronds like performers under a spotlight.

This pretty much describes Wilcox Woods, Middletown's largest conservation area. The former golf course turned tree farm turned preserved open space includes a number of unmarked trails and a fairly new rerouting of a portion of the 50-mile-long Mattabesett Trail that eliminated a long road walk between I-91 and Giuffrida Park.

There are a number of trail entrances along Footit Drive. The woods are filled with pines that were once part of the tree farm. Since they were planted so close to each other, their trunks have many dead branches, giving the area a slightly mystical aura. Visitors can either stay on the trail or wander under the pines. Just watch out for elves popping out from behind the trees, gnomes under mushrooms and trolls under bridges.

The Blue-blazed Mattabesett Trail — part of the New England National Scenic Trail — runs through the heart of Wilcox Woods and is a great upgrade from having to hike along busy Country Club Road to reach the 800-acre Giuffrida Park, Lamentation Mountain and Chauncey Peak. The trail snakes through the pines and a forest filled with traprock ridges, outcroppings and gorges. Be on the lookout for pockets of lady slipper orchids along the trail.

The highlight of the trip is along one of the ridges overlooking what I call "bullfrog holler." It's mating season, and the call of the frogs echoes off the sides of the traprock. When you stop and sit silently, the noise almost becomes deafening. And, like the peepers welcoming spring, the call of the bullfrogs in the sultry air seems to be ushering in summer.

The trail continues along an old underground canal system that still feeds Meriden's Bradley Hubbard Reservoir in the shadow of Chauncey Peak. After several miles, the trail reaches a crossroads at a traprock waterfall. Visitors can continue south over the 688-foot-high Chauncey Peak or take a red-blazed trail west to the 720-foot-high Lamentation Mountain. Both offer spectacular views, so if you can't decide just flip a coin.

Just to the south of Wilcox Woods is an old farm turned into a huge subdivision full of trophy houses. Be thankful there was never an Old Farms North. Wilcox Woods — purchased by the city and state Department of Environmental Protection — showcases the value of open space.

If you go: Take I-91 to Exit 20. Travel west on Country Club Road toward Meriden and turn right on Atkins Street. Take a left on Footit Drive and look for the trail sign. A guided hike will be held on June 4 during Connecticut Trails Day at 11 a.m.

Peter Marteka can be reached at 860-647-5365, at or at The Courant, 200 Adams St., Manchester, CT 06040.

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