Roaring Brook is a short but spectacular waterway traveling from its headwaters in the highlands of East Haddam to Whalebone Cove along the Connecticut River in Hadlyme.
And a visit to the East Haddam Land Trust's 96-acre Sheepskin Hollow showcases that watershed, with its numerous streams and babbling brooks cascading over multiple waterfalls and into a beaver pond and its active colony of Castor canadensis, a native North American rodent with a penchant for gnawing on trees large and small.
The preserve showcases several ecosystems, from a hardwood forest to a swamp created by the busy beavers. Flowing throughout the preserve are streams that seem to sprout waterfalls of every shape and size every few feet along their journeys to the swamp or into Roaring Brook. A path takes visitors to a spectacular series of waterfalls created as the stream passes over granite outcroppings. The most breathtaking is a waterfall that travels under a huge moss-covered boulder before plunging down another half-dozen drops into a clear pool.
The journey starts along a yellow-blazed loop trail that travels south from the preserve's entrance at the end of Ridgebury Road. The path leads to a bridge that crosses a picturesque stream and — of course — a little waterfall. Although the path passes a little too closely to civilization — a housing development and the always ugly retaining pond — the trail quickly returns to the deep New England woods down to Roaring Brook and the expansive marsh.
One can hear the start of Roaring Brook before seeing it as it begins its flow southwest from the swamp. There's no doubt the beavers are active now, with two beaver lodges made from severed branches and swamp muck along the southern shores of the swamp. The swamps muckiness factor? According to local legend, at one time an entire team of horses was lost in it. There is plenty of evidence of the beavers' work in the impressive dam at the southern end of the pond, which could have been designed by an engineer.
The trail circles around the marsh before its ascent into the surrounding hills. After leaving the marsh, the trail travels past old stone walls and groves of mountain laurel high on the hill with a panoramic view of the beaver pond. The path continues through the deep New England forest before eventually returning to the trail head.
According to town historian Karl Stofko, the area got its name from a thriving tannery business during the late 1700s and early 1800s. With the rocky topography in this area of town, farmers raised sheep and operated tanneries. One tannery operating north of the preserve used sumac on the hides, which produced a finer-quality leather that was used in women's shoes and slippers.
Route 9 to Exit 7 (Route 82). Follow Route 82 across the Connecticut River and turn left on Mount Parnassus Road.
Follow several miles and take a right on Warner Road and right on Ridgebury Road. Visit www.ehlt.org/sheepskinhollow-preserve.pdf for a map of the preserve.