A Visit To North Stonington's Tefftweald At Birchenturn Preserve

In the middle of the North Stonington woods are a number of large upright field stones surrounded by several stout cedar posts faded like summer driftwood. A huge pine and clumps of mountain laurel grow in the middle of the parcel, which has been cleared from the nearby forest.

Those passing along an old woods road may not even notice that those field stones are graves in a place known as Bell York Cemetery. Such are the mysteries within Tefftweald at Birchenturn. I've wanted to visit the preserve in North Stonington for years. Why? Because it is called Tefftweald at Birchenturn, and anything with a name like that needs to be explored.

The 77-acre preserve in this southeastern Connecticut town along the Rhode Island border is owned by the Avalonia Land Conservancy, one of the state's oldest land trusts. The trust has preserved more than 3,200 acres in the southeastern portion of the state including Griswold, Groton, Ledyard, Preston, Stonington and North Stonington. The group believes it is "essential to conserve our natural resources for the benefit of wildlife, our present generation and the generations yet to come."

A number of loop trails blazed with blue arrows take visitors through much of the preserve. The main woods road intersects the heart of the preserve. Visitors should follow this to the brook loop along the picturesque Wyassup Brook. The brook, flowing quietly in the middle of a dry summer, is filled with boulders and must be a commanding presence during times of high water. The loop trail connects with the pavilion trail at a huge, towering jumble of boulders and a cave that are neat to explore. The trail passes by huge stone walls and leads back to the main road.

Across from the pavilion trail is the "Doodle Loop" path that will take visitors past the cemetery. Although not much is known about the cemetery – marked with 15 field stones – it served as a simple burial place for the Isaac Bell York family from the late 1700s to late 1800s. The lives of those who are buried there are marked only by the silent, blank stones.

Back out on the main lane, my favorite trail is known as the "Poet's Bench Trail." The path leads back to the brook and a huge flat ledge known as the "Poet's Bench." The formation juts out over the brook with the waters cascading and babbling over a run of boulders. Just to the south of the bench is a deep, still pool. The setting is enough to inspire the poet in anyone.

Lauren Arpin, whose mother Lois Tefft Van Deusen donated the property, helped to take some of the mystery out of the preserve's name. She noted that the "Tefft" portion comes from the last name of her family. The "weald" portion is Old English for a "well-wooded country." She said the origin of Birchenturn comes from a story her mother told.

"An old native of North Stonington told her that it was what the lane going back was called - the road turned at the birches. How true, she doesn't know, but it tickled her funny bone," she said.

Arpin added that the property was a Girl Scout camp before her mother purchased it. She noted that a small grassy meadow is named "Lily's Lea" after a pet frog the girls had at the camp. She said there is even a brass plaque mounted on a rock with "Lily's Lea" on it.

So venture out to Tefftweald at Birchenturn and find the Poet's Bench or pay your respects at a forgotten cemetery. You may even return with a poem or two about your adventure.

To get there, take I-95 to exit 93. Follow Route 216 north and take a right on Route 49 or Pendleton Hill Road and left on Grindstone Hill Road. The preserve is located at 282 Grindstone Hill Road. Visit http://www.avalonialandconservancy.org/images/Trail%20Maps/tefftweald.pdf for a map of the preserve.

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