Connecticut loses approximately 8,000 acres of farmland to housing developments and urban sprawl each year, according to the Connecticut Farmland Trust. That's why places like Bauer Park are so special.
Madison's Bauer Park was once the farm of Erwin C. Bauer. He donated 65 acres to the town in 1990 in memory of his parents, Constantine and Louisa Bauer, and his brother, Anthony Bauer.
The town has pretty much left the property as it was, and there's still agriculture going on there in the form of a large community garden. Visitors are free to walk the land as the Bauers had done for more than a century.
A winding dirt road takes visitors past the circa-1840 farmhouse to a parking area in front of the community garden. From there, visitors can walk across a field and take a boardwalk over a stream and into the woods.
Or they can walk on trails that wind along stone walls and under huge evergreens and maples. An aptly named "woodland trail" brings hikers deep into the forest, past rock outcroppings and old foundations.
The Bauers were typical Connecticut farmers who grew just about everything, from fruit to vegetables. They even tried raising trout.
According to a history of the farm by Robert Kuchta, the Bauers brought their produce to the farmer's market in New Haven or went door-to-door selling their items to shoreline residents.
The fields and ponds remain relatively unchanged since the Bauers worked the land. Grassy trails wind around the ponds, and a covered bridge passes over a stream connecting two of them. The trails run along the edge of the ponds, where bluebirds flit from tree to tree.
From the covered bridge, visitors can make their way to a post-and-beam barn made of chestnut from when the trees still scattered the landscape. It's a typical picturesque old New England barn setting along an country road.
My favorite part of the Bauer farm is the woodland trail that winds through 25 acres across the street from the homestead and barn. The trail begins at the southern end of a large field and winds past the ruins of collapsed buildings.
Today, the old Bauer property is home to an outdoor classroom where both children and adults learn about the town's agricultural roots. The community garden keeps residents connected to the soil and visitors get a sense of why the Bauers lovingly maintained their slice of the shoreline.
Bauer Park is at the intersection of Copse Road and Hunter's Trail, about a half-mile north of I-95 and east of Route 79. Go to http://www.scrcog.org/documents/trails/Trail%20Map-Madison_BauerPark.pdf for a map. Peter Marteka may be reached at 860-647-5365, at firstname.lastname@example.org or c/o The Courant, 200 Adams St., Manchester, CT 06040.