Bristol, I owe you an apology.
I knew you were home to ESPN, Lake Compounce and Little League championships, and at one time you were the capital of the clock-making world. But I didn't know you were also a place where a visitor can be totally swallowed up in the natural world of deep forests, passing hoppers, eskers and drumlins only a mile from the city's downtown.
"The Hoppers-Birge Pond Nature Preserve is a way cool place to get off the world in a city with a population of 60,000," Patricia White, co-chair of a committee that oversees the 200-acre preserve, wrote in an e-mail inviting me to the area.
How could this be possible? What did P.T. Barnum once say about suckers being born every minute? And then I traveled through the deep woods filled with huge trees and swaths of mountain laurel along old Native American trails and roads dating back to the Colonial era. I stood at the bottom of a deep, dry kettle hole — known in this area as a hopper — and stared up at the forest surrounding me and couldn't hear a sound. I climbed to the top of Lookout Point and saw the church steeples, old factory chimneys and distant hills. And I chuckled to myself.
P.T. Barnum was right. I fell for it. Fell in love with this natural world right in the heart of Bristol. It's an old world, dating back 20,000 years to the melting of the Laurentide ice sheet, which at one time covered present-day Canada and most of the northern United States. When it melted, it left behind huge kettle holes and the eskers — winding, narrow ridges of sand and rocks formed as streams flowed in or under the melting ice — around them.
As you walk the several miles of trails within the preserve, you feel like you are walking on a Cape Cod beach with its sand and rounded rocks. But it is all glacial till — sediment left by the glacier as it retreated and melted. All of this can be seen while walking the white-blazed Glacial Trail along the western edges of the preserve. According to local folklore, Chief Cochinpianee of the Wappingers tribe spent hours trying to navigate the hoppers to transport apples to a cider mill in Farmington. During Colonial times, Stephen Graves, a monarchy supporter who made the Tory Den in Burlington famous, once hid in an area of the hoppers known as Pine Hollow.
Visitors on the Glacial Trail can walk to Lookout Point and see much of Bristol, Terryville and Plymouth, along with Farmington Mountain, out to the east. The point is heavily forested, so you may want to visit before the leaves come out. The trail weaves its way along the esker, passing a half-dozen hoppers of various depths.
For those not looking for the glacial adventure, the preserve has a short trail near the pond that is handicapped-accessible. A yellow-blazed trail takes visitors around the pond and along a boardwalk through a marsh. A red-blazed Indian Trail across the bridge over the spillway takes visitors to the blue-blazed Old Colonial Road, which connects visitors to the Glacial Trail.
Bristol, I hope you accept my apology. Now I will always know you as the home to Hoppers-Birge Pond Nature Preserve — a place where geologic time seems to stand still.
•Route 6 through Bristol to Route 69 north toward Burlington. Take a left on Cypress Street and follow to preserve parking area.