Much of Cheshire is shut down at the moment, in response to the outbreak of COVID-19. However, what remains open for use are the numerous hiking trails around town.
As the weather warms, residents stuck inside at the moment may want to take advantage of these natural resources, which provide not only much-needed exercise but a chance to escape into nature for a while.
In the summer of 2018, The Cheshire Herald ran a series of articles detailing the different trails around town. We thought now would be a good time to revisit those experiences, sharing with you what we saw on some of the trails open to the public.
It’s important to remember that all social distancing protocols should be adhered to while hiking, and that reports of mass gatherings at these or any other open space areas of town could force their closure.
Variety is, they tell us, the spice of life.
It’s a saying that seems more pertinent now than ever. As each of us looks for ways to fill our days, variety can be hard to come by.
How do you “mix it up” when stuck inside? Shelter-at-home protocols force all of us to think outside the box for diverse distraction.
Perhaps that’s why a hike through one particular part of Cheshire seems so appealing at the moment. The Casertano Property in the west end of town is an expansive, 127-acre property that stretches across what is known as the “green belt” of Cheshire, intersecting with other open-space areas and undeveloped land.
What makes Casertano so unique, however, is the diversity of experiences it has to offer. Spend an afternoon walking these hilly trails and you’ll be immersed in deep, dense vegetation, then emerge into open areas of forest dominated by old, large trees and hills that slope into valleys.
The Herald walked the property back in early August of 2018, and described the experience as thus:
At points along its two trails — orange and blue — one feels as if they have been thrust into dense forest, with thick vegetation on all sides. At other times, the scene is more reminiscent of a trek up the side of a mountain, as tall, narrow-trunked trees create a canopy high overhead, leaving open views of the landscape below.
Even more interesting, hikers eventually come across an open field stretching down the side of the hill — as if removed from some farm and placed carefully in a new home — opening up spectacular views that, on clear days, reveal neighboring towns.
What is now known as the Casertano Property has a long history of agriculture in Cheshire. In fact, its fields were being planted and harvested by local families since around the turn of last century.
At one time, much of the property was known as the Eliot Doolittle Farm, until it was purchased by James and Salvatore Casertano in 1956.
The Town of Cheshire eventually purchased the land in 1998.
To the south are the Mixville Hills, to the east is the Ten Mile Lowlands, and to the south sits open space property maintained by the Cheshire Land Trust. Such a location is perhaps the main reason why hiking along the property can feel so different depending on where you are.
After one finds the beginning of the trail off of Marion Road — a bit hidden from view for those searching from the street — the journey starts in deep, dense vegetation surrounded by all different species of trees. According to the Town’s Management Plan, Casertano’s forest is composed of “birch, red, black and white oak, hickory, beech, maple, tulip poplar, and chokecherry trees,” many of which are old with impressively large trunks and deep roots.
There are the usual wildlife hidden in the forests, but the area has also seen its share of bobcats. In fact, in 2018, The Herald came across a special contraption — a stick with what appeared to be a small bucket sitting atop it and a piece of plastic hanging from the bottom — that, according to the note left on it, was a part of a UConn professor’s experiment tracking bobcats in the area.
Staying on the orange trail, hikers begin a rather steep incline towards the top of the property; nothing that challenges one’s fear of heights but, instead, tests the strength of one’s thighs and calves.
After The Herald’s 2018 trip up the trail, we described it this way:
The higher one goes, the taller the trees seem to become and the more the landscape changes. Rather than feeling like the forest is closing in, the wooded areas open up a bit and one can appreciate the rugged terrain of the land. Slopes curve down into small valleys, then back up the side of hills with large, exposed rocks all around.
Finally, one arrives at what is the most unique part of the hike — the Algonquin Gas easement. This relatively narrow field of tall grass and vegetation seems somewhat out of place in a forest, as if a giant mower had carved it out of the side of the hill. Standing in the center of the easement looking down from this elevated position, one can see parts of Cheshire and even the Meriden ridgeline. On a clear day, the view is quite impressive.
Beyond the easement, it can be somewhat easy to get a bit off track and follow the trail past where one should and into private property, so anyone walking the property should be mindful of where they are at all times. But that should not come at the expense of eyeing rather unique landmarks along the way, such as a “man-made stone wall nestled comfortably in this natural setting; an oak tree with several dates and initials carved into the side, no doubt by travelers looking to mark their experience; and finally a wooden bridge that crosses a small stream.”
If you’re heading out to Casertano, plan to spend a few hours on the trails, as it is not the kind of hike one should spend with their head down and only watching for the next stone or branch in the center of the trail.
It is a beautiful journey through a variety of settings that gives one a glimpse of Cheshire’s unique landscape.