The original plan was to walk along the banks of the Connecticut River on the abandoned Valley Railroad in Middletown and search for bald eagles.
I had visions of an eagle perched high on a dead tree or picking at a fish along the icy river, but all I saw was a leaf rattling on a branch in the winter wind, ducks scattering at the sound of my boots on the snow-covered path and a crow making its usual racket on a branch.
But it gave me a chance to return to one of my favorite places along the river, the 75-acre Hubbard Brook Preserve. And with more than a foot of snow on the ground, the preserve had taken on a different look from my late spring visit a few years ago.
The pond was covered with ice, deep in its winter slumber. The piles of rocks from an abandoned quarry were covered by snow, making an easier scramble down to the banks of the river. And the riverfront was scoured clean and footprintless.
Returning to my car, I began to think of ideas for a different column. And then I saw it — a blue-blazed trail ascending into a hemlock grove. Apparently volunteer crews from Connecticut Light & Power and the Connecticut Forest & Park Association, which had created the preserve on Northeast Utilities land, had blazed a new trail since my last visit.
It was pretty much like hiking up the side of a ski slope. The snowpack was deep and the trail undulated through mountain laurels, whose gnarled trunks and branches took on an even more ominous appearance in the starkness of winter. A climb to the top of a nearby boulder allowed a better view of the vista through the bare trees.
The trail continued its ascent through another mountain laurel grove before reaching a rock outcropping. And as it usually happens when I hike to an overlook on a cloudy day, the sun broke through the clouds as I looked out over the hills of East Hampton, Higganum and Haddam. The river flowed peacefully through the valley below. The snow added a purplish hue to the horizon as flurries rushed over the nearby hills.
I always thought the views from Gillette Castle or Hurd Park's Split Rock or River Vista were the best in the area. But a nameless rock outcropping at the top of Hubbard Brook Preserve may be the lower Connecticut River's new must-see vista. It almost took the sting of not seeing any bald eagles away.
Take Route 9 to exit 10. Follow Aircraft Road and take the first right on River Road. The trailhead is on the left about a half-mile down the gravel road. Look for a pulloff parking area and blue blazes on trees. Visit http://www.nu.com/LandManagement/downloads/ScovillLoop.pdf?id=4294988409&dl=t for a map of the preserve. Peter Marteka may be reached at 860-647-5365, at email@example.com or at The Courant, 200 Adams St., Manchester, CT 06040.Copyright © 2015, CT Now