Maybe it's because I read "Treasure Island" too many times as a kid. Or maybe it was the islands of grass -- known as "witches heads" -- we would hop across as kids to get to the other side of the swamp.
Whatever the reason, I love islands. Whether I reach them by land, bridge or watercraft, islands are my favorite places to explore. And as I mapped out a plan to explore the 2,000-acre James L. Goodwin State Forest, there it was in the middle of the map – Governor's Island in Pine Acres Pond.
And half the fun would be getting to it, since there wasn't a direct trail. I could take the Connecticut Forest & Park's Blue-Blazed Natchaug Trail across Bear Hill, around Black Spruce Pond to Pine Acres Pond Trail. Or I could journey along the abandoned Air Line State Park Trail named after a railroad that once passed through the state on its way to Boston and New York.
So I did a little of both. From the parking area, a trail descends down to the shores of the pond and a viewing platform. The Natchaug starts its 30-mile journey to the Massachusetts line from here, traveling along the pond's shore, under the boughs of huge white pines, their orange needles strewn across the path. The Natchaug journeys along the Air Line briefly before turning northwest through the forest.
I remained on the Air Line, which resembles a journey into infinity with the abandoned railroad-turned-linear-trail stretching out to the horizon. As the trail begins its bend toward Pomfret Center, a beautiful stone wall parallels the railroad. One can imagine sitting on top of the stone wall under the branches of huge oak trees as mighty trains thundered past.
After a brief walk east along Estabrooks Road, I returned to the forest and Pine Acres Pond Trail, which runs along the entire eastern shore of the pond. After its shadowy start in a deep pine forest, the canopy opens overhead as the trail winds past a large swamp and across swaths of huge rocks to the tombolo – a spit of land that connects to Governor's Island.
A short trail winds under huge pines trees to a wildlife viewing platform with a bench on the island's edge. It's not a palm tree on the beach, but visitors can sit and watch all sorts of birds swim, feed and fly across the pond. Be sure to spend some time under the boughs of the huge pines and explore every nook and cranny of the small island before returning to the tombolo.
The trail continues its journey along the shore with views across the pond to the newly emerging deciduous forest, its lighter shades of green blending in with the dark pines. Yellow pond lillies resemble little balls as they prepare to burst into flower. The final leg of the journey includes a trip through a spooky and surreal forest of red pines, the many dead branches seemingly ready to grab your arm.
I didn't find any pirates or buried treasure or witches' heads to hop on. No palm trees to sit under. But a visit to Goodwin is a peaceful journey to a wild, deserted island – one of my favorite places to be in the natural world.
Goodwin State Forest is located off Route 6 in Hampton and Chaplin. Visit http://www.ct.gov/deep/lib/deep/education/goodwin/goodwintrailsmap.pdf for a map of the forest. Portions of the trail, especially the Air Line, are accessible to the physically challenged.
Peter Marteka may be reached at 860-647-5365, at pmarteka@ courant.com or at The Courant, 200 Adams St., Manchester, CT 06040.
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