A fog hovered low over the fairgrounds in the distance. The sun peeked in and out of the clouds illuminating a group of pitch pines nestled in among birch leaves turning their autumn yellow on top of Mount Pisgah. I suddenly felt like I was transported to the porch of a general store and was listening to an old man in a rocking chair talking about the ghost fair of long ago.
"On nights when the moon was full," he would say, his eyes sparkling, "we would climb to the top of old Mount Pisgah and — don't you know — there it would be in the yonder distance. The ghost fair, rising out of the mists of the meadows. If you listened real close you could hear the screams coming from the midway and the music of the bands."
A screeching hawk high above brought me back to reality. Here I was along the Mattabesett Trail in Durham on top of the 644-foot-high Mount Pisgah. And before me were the grounds of the Durham Fair, a place where I've spent many end-of-September days and nights playing games, braving the rides, viewing farm animals and, well, you know, eating and eating.
But this was a new view and something I had never thought of doing until reading about a hike sponsored by the Connecticut Forest & Park Association — "Family Ramble: Durham Fair Hike." An evening hike to the top of Pisgah to see the sunset, the lights of the distant Ferris wheel and fairgrounds as you ate a picnic dinner.
It was brilliant. Why hadn't I thought of this? Maybe I had each time I went on the giant Ferris wheel. You know that moment when you get to the top and the chair starts to rock back and forth and those butterflies flap around in your stomach? I usually distract myself by looking around at the traprock ridges in the distance and wish I was there.
And now I was. I did the hike on a glorious autumn day earlier this week as the fairgrounds were just coming to life and crews were setting up the rides. Although the fairgrounds were a good distance away, you could see the Ferris wheel towering over the midway. As the hills curve off into the distance, the Hartford skyline can be seen rising out of the foliage, which is starting to make its annual transformation.
The Pisgah peak is about a half-mile from the trailhead on Pisgah Road. The initial ascent is a bit difficult, but the trail levels off and travels along an old logging road to the summit. The summit is lined with pitch pines and wild blueberry bushes and offers panoramic views west, north and east of the surrounding hills and valleys. A path leads from the peak down to a northerly overlook, where the steeples and farms of Durham and the fairgrounds sprawl before you.
The views from the Ferris wheel are great. But a visit to the natural world when the fair comes to town was a different experience. Soon the fair will be gone and the Coginchaug Meadows will return to their natural state. But for one autumn day, all you needed to see the fair was a pair of hiking boots and a round-trip ticket to Mount Pisgah.
To get to Mount Pisgah, take Route 17 through Durham center. Take a left on Route 79 and right on Sand Hill Road. Take a quick left on Pisgah Road and look for the trailhead at 150 Pisgah Road. The Durham Fair Hike will be held at 5:30 Saturday night. Participants should bring a picnic supper and arrive by 5:20. Participants must also register. Call Lucy Meigs at 860-395-7771 for more information. Peter Marteka may be reached at 860-647-5365, at email@example.com or c/o The Courant, 200 Adams St., Manchester, CT 06040.