Tolland's New Open Space Acquisition Offers A Great Hike

C.W. Luce Conservation Area Offers Meandering Brook, Waterfalls And Nice Views

Sometimes a walk in the woods is like taking a trip to the circus.

"Step right up and see the amazing giant boulder balancing on top of these miniature rocks!" the ringmaster says. "You there in the hiking boots, come check out this magical flooded stone wall! Come on now, for a quarter you can visit the land of a thousand waterfalls!"

That's how it seems at the C.W. Luce Conservation Area in Tolland. The 83-acre preserve near the center of town is the most recent acquisition of open space by the town.

Over the years, the town has done a wonderful job preserving its natural assets, but also blazes easy-to-follow trails that highlight the preserve and shows them on color maps accessible on the Internet.

The town purchased the property in 2011 with a grant from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. The property is part of a substantial greenway in the area and abuts the state's 240-acre Charter Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary.

Although located at the end of a subdivision, it takes mere seconds for the developed world to disappear as the sounds of small waterfalls and rapids in the energetic Charter Brook fill the air. Visitors cross a wetland and then a small bridge across the brook to the start of the preserve's 1.5-mile-long loop trail created by the Tolland Conservation Corps.

But I didn't get to the start of the loop trail. I was mesmerized by the babbling Charter Brook and its series of drops and small waterfalls as it twisted and turned through the woods. Although the official trail doesn't follow the brook, a kind of fisherman's path goes along the banks and among patches of emerging skunk cabbage. You can just sit down on a small boulder and listen to the flow of the clear water as it winds its way to the Skungamaug River.

Always a fan of traveling loop trails counter-clockwise, the trail passes under huge white pines to a huge glacial erratic boulder. The boulder balances on four smaller rocks left when the glacier melted. But it also appears that someone could have placed the rocks underneath the boulders at some point.

The path heads up to the top of a ridgeline with views across the preserve. Below is a huge vernal pool where patches of deep snow were still surviving into April under the shade of giant pine trees. The ridge is a good place to have a snack or picnic lunch.

On the northern end of the ledge I met a posse of a dozen wild turkeys. They scattered, but not before a huge old male passed by, its head a beautiful shade of red, white and blue. Perhaps this is why Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey to be our national bird.

The trail wraps around another vernal pool, its banks swallowing up a portion of the trail after recent heavy rains. After passing under more white pines and pitch pines, the path reaches what the map calls a "flooded stone wall." And it is exactly what might imagine, with the stream flowing right in front of the wall. And at times of high water, it flows right over the wall.

Take I-84 to exit 68. Turn north on Route 195/Old Stafford Road. Follow about a mile from the town center and take a right on Susan Drive. There is a parking area on the cul-de-sac at the end of the drive. Go here  for a map of the preserve.

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