Three words I love to hear when people talk about my column: "I never knew." As in, "I drove/ran/biked/walked past this for years and I never knew it existed."
The George and Woodward H. Griswold Preserve, operated by the Old Lyme Land Trust, is one of those places that people often don't know exist.
Located off the shoreline's busy Boston Post Road, most people drive past the 51-acre preserve in a blur, missing its sign and small parking lot. But you miss a lot, from the waterfall over a broken dam, to the forested, picturesque banks along Lower Mill Pond, to the imposing rock ledges at the property's center.
Visitors have two choices: walk between two cedar posts and along a trail that winds through the forest, or along an old road that leads directly to the dam and falls.
Vernal pools dot the property, and a few submerge the trails at points. As you navigate the trails, you hear the dam, like distant thunder, before you see it.
The main reason I sought out this preserve on the first day of spring was its eel and fish ladder.
With trees still in their winter slumber and crocus and daffodils either buried in snow or barely out of the ground, my search for signs of spring was a bust. So I turned to a tributary of Long Island Sound.
I figured there may be a few brave blueback herring or alewives — fishy harbingers of spring — lurking around the busy rapids of the Mill River. The anadromous fish — they hatch in freshwater, migrate to the ocean and return to the place they were born to spawn — return in late March and early April.
But as I reached the falls and the fish ladder, I find it may have been too cold for the returning fish. I searched the rapids, the falls and the clear pools for any sign of activity, but only saw my own reflection in the cold water. Although I didn't find any fish, the falls where an old mill once stood are stunning, from the cascading L-shaped waterfall to the old chimney and stone ruins.
And then I saw some signs of life. First there was an osprey soaring overhead, perhaps seeking out a nesting spot. Across Lower Mill Pond were a pair of Canada geese and mallards floating on the water. A pair of swans worked on a nest among the small swampy islands in the middle of the pond. Nesting season has begun.
So come to know this shoreline preserve. Even though spring is slow to arrive this year, there are plenty of signs the season has changed — at least in the avian world. You just have to look for them.
Take I-95 to exit 70. Travel east along Route 1 (Boston Post Road) and look for the parking area on the left after passing Griswold Avenue. Visit http://www.oldlymelandtrust.org/Assets/ollt_map_griswold.pdf for a map of the 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.