It is not hard to find Church Farm Preserve.
You basically drive along Route 89 north from Mansfield or south from Ashford until you see one of the state's most striking farm houses a huge yellow house with imposing white columns surrounded by nearly perfectly constructed stone walls and a picturesque farm pond. And in case you miss all that, just look for the equally imposing yellow barn.
Although the house and barn will draw you into the area, it is the two-part trail system that is the highlight of the journey to Church Farm, an 80-acre preserve in Ashford and Mansfield that was donated to the Joshua's Tract Conservation and Historic Trust Inc. by Joe and Dorothy Zaring.
For those lookking for an easy stroll, take a short walk on a trail that travels along boardwalks through a marsh known as the East Meadows to the banks of the pristine Mount Hope River. The entrance to the 17-acre preserve is across the street from the Church Farm Homestead and barn.
Visitors walk through a small patch of woods before linking up with a bridge and boardwalk across a swamp to the banks of the Mount Hope River. The river is a pristine and canoe-able waterway that flows 14.5 miles from Westford, a section of Ashford, through northeastern Connecticut to Mansfield Hollow Lake. The yellow-blazed path winds along the banks to the Route 89 bridge.
A short loop path across Route 89 takes visitors along a glacial esker a narrow ridge of sand and gravel deposited by the glacier with nice views of the river. The trail will connect with a parking area and visitors can then backtrack along the road past the stone walls and farm fields surrounding the old homestead.
An active farm since Zalmon Aspinwall first plowed the fields in 1791, the area serves as an outdoor classroom for students at Eastern Connecticut State University. And it's not only the natural sciences, but also the fine arts. And there's plenty of subjects to study and paint within the college-owned 256-acre forest and pastoral setting. Both the house and barn are on the National Register of Historic Places.
The second parcel — several hundred feet south along Route 89 in Mansfield — involves a somewhat strenuous hike to the top of a bedrock ridge. Visitors can travel along the first loop trail across the hilltop that includes a great view of the Mount Hope River valley.
The trail branches off along the first stone wall I've seen that ends at an angle. The longer loop trail, about a mile long, takes visitors past long stone walls, across streams with waterfalls and through woods filled with princess pine. In the age of dinosaurs, these club mosses could grow 120 feet tall and 5 feet in circumference. Now the miniature pine tree look-a-likes grow 6 to 10 inches tall.
From Mansfield Center take Route 89 north for approximately six miles. Visitors will pass the parking area for the ledges hike first. Church Farm is located on the left. Visit www.joshuaslandtrust.org/post/maps/ChurchFarm.pdf for a map of the preserve. For more Way To Go columns go to www.courant.com/waytogo.Copyright © 2015, CT Now