Along Connecticut's highly developed shoreline, there are vast open places like Rocky Neck and Hammonasset state parks, but there are also the little-known treasures such as Farm River State Park and Grass Island.
Add Madison's Garvan Trail to that list of rare treasures. The former estate of John S. Garvan is now the town's Surf Club, a popular summertime beach destination. But in the fall, time seems to come to a stop. Lifeguard stands and buoys are shunted to a storage area, waves wash over footprint-less beaches and gulls hoisting crabs in their beaks outnumber beachgoers.
I love the beach anytime before Memorial Day or after Labor Day, but especially in the fall when the sunlight sparkles off the sound and the air is clear and crisp. And if you miss summer and are looking for something to do besides leaf-peeping, an exploration of the Garvan Trail and the Surf Club may be a cure.
The entrance to Garvan Trail is off a road that leads to a sailboat, canoe and kayak storage area. The trail is marked by two large concrete blocks that denote a former carriage path entrance into the old estate. The path crosses along a causeway over a salt marsh leading to an old stone bridge. The trail wraps its way through a cedar forest and along the edge of the marsh before bringing visitors to a boardwalk.
Just before the boardwalk is a short trail that will lead you past the storage facility for the Surf Club. It's a bit surreal to see abandoned and decaying lifeguard stands among ones recently removed from the beaches and buoys surrounded by high grasses and weeds.
The boardwalk takes visitors through a beautiful freshwater marsh filled with swamp maples before ending at a parking area surrounded by athletic fields. Visitors can quickly get back into the wild by connecting with another loop trail marked with blue blazes. The trail passes an old upland forest filled with a few wolf trees and the estate's old stone walls. There are side trails where visitors can look out over the holes of the Madison Country Club with views to the sparkling sound below.
You are going to want to spend some time along the sound on a beautiful grass overlook between several of the club's beaches. A small jetty leads to Garvan Point with views to the southeast of Tuxis Island and southwest to Faulkner's Island Lighthouse, the state's second-oldest beacon, dating back to 1802 and commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson.
The large flat rock that makes up Garvan Point is filled with small depressions where the young and young-at-heart can explore several tidal pools. So, not ready to give up on summer just yet? There is a pocket of summer still left along the shoreline that is always open for offseason visitors.
Take Route 1 in Madison to West Wharf Road. Take a right on Surf Club Road and park at the far western lots near the boats. The trail head is off the road leading to the boat racks. Visit http://www.scrcog.org/documents/trails/Trail%20Map-Madison_Garvan.pdf for a map of the trails. 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.