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CTnow

No Folly In Bethany, Just Beauty

Peter Marteka

Nature's Path & Way To Go

5:26 PM EDT, August 23, 2012

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When U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward negotiated a treaty with the Russians to purchase Alaska in 1867, it was called "Seward's Folly" because many believed the "last frontier" was a wasteland.

Mendell's Folly in Bethany is no wasteland. The 125-acre Bethany Land Trust property on the border of Bethany and Beacon Falls is the group's largest preserve – and one of its oldest. The property was given to the trust in 1971 by Tibby and Clarence Mendell, who was a dean and classics professor at Yale.

"It's been said that one of Clarence Mendell's students, on seeing this wilderness of muddy fields and rocky hillsides, called it Mendell's Folly," according to a guide to the property. But, like Alaska, the beauty of Mendell's Folly is striking, with its white birch-filled forests, beaver pond and beautiful stone walls that snake across the woodlands along several miles of trails.

After passing a horse farm and crossing the lively Hockanum Brook, visitors are immediately swallowed up by the forest. The main path – Tibby's Trail – passes huge stone walls, pine groves and seemingly endless mats of princess pine before splitting into two trails. Visitors can either continue to follow Tibby's Trail, which runs along the southern end of a huge marsh, or travel the rugged White Birches Trail to the preserve's highest point. All paths are marked with yellow blazes and are easy to follow.

The birch trail passes through a grove of what I like to call "birch bark Indian canoe" trees and past several neat double-trunk oak trees. The trail dips down a ravine and passes more massive stone walls before depositing visitors at a beaver pond and a gorge filled with massive rocks.

The trip around the western side of the massive swamp is the highlight of this journey. With trails right along the edge of the swamp – merely a step or two away from the muck – the marsh has a plethora of wildlife activity. A kingfisher — one of my favorite birds — darted across the sky before landing on a high branch of one of the many dead trees in the swamp. A monarch butterfly floated from flower to flower, seeming to race the bees for the pollen and nectar. Nearby, a millipede undulated across a rock.

The views of the marsh are expansive and beautiful, with a late-summer sky filled with puffy clouds only adding to the effect. Goldenrod are in full bloom, signaling the end of another summer is close.

Seward's treaty securing Alaska was ratified in the U.S. Senate by a single vote. I have a feeling after visiting this preserve, a vote on the worth of Mendell's Folly would be unanimous.

To get there, take Route 42 in Bethany to just east of the border with Beacon Falls. There is a parking area at 335 Beacon Road. Visitors go down the driveway and must open and close the gate by hand and drive to the parking area and preserve's trailhead.

Visit http://www.bethanylandtrust.org/Maps/BLT_Mendell_s_Folly___Apr05.pdf for a map of the preserve.

Peter Marteka may be reached at 860-647-5365 or at pmarteka@courant.com or The Courant, 200 Adams St., Manchester, CT 06040.