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 may want to take advantage of these natural resources, which provide not only much-needed exercise but also 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.
Looks can of course be deceiving. It’s a lesson we all earn early in life. The prettiest flower can have the thorniest of stems. The cutest of animals can have the nastiest of tempers. But then again, what appears ugliest can oftentimes be hiding a beauty just underneath the surface.
To say that the trail leading into Fresh Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary is ugly would be a gross mischaracterization. And yet, it certainly does a masterful job of hiding what lies in wait for those who decide to venture out for a hike around its rolling landscape.
In the summer of 2018, in the early-morning hours of a July day, The Herald described the Sanctuary this way:
A small parking area — enough for five or six mid-sized vehicles — can be found off of Cook Hill Road, just a few hundred yards from Elim Park Place and nestled between two private properties. As one begins his or her trek into the preserve, the private homes are clearly visible on both sides and, for a moment, it feels as if the narrow trail is actually intruding on these small homesteads.
Then, suddenly, the two residences disappear and the trail dives deep into nature — the long path shaded by overhanging tree limbs that give the look of an archway leading to the ultimate destination. Eventually, one arrives at the 32.8 acres of Fresh Meadows, perhaps the most aptly-named recreation area in all of Cheshire.
This often-overlooked trail offers what many may be searching for at the moment: tranquility. Though never that far away from the nearest road or signs of neighborhood life, the Sanctuary feels cut off from much of the outside world. Even the sounds of nature seem relaxed in this setting, as birds fly overhead and butterflies can be seen fluttering from one flower to the next.
There are two trails from which to choose upon entering the property — the Meadow Trail or the Ridge Trail. As their names would suggest, the courses offer a little something different, but both can be completed rather easily over the span of a few hours.
The Ridge Trail provides a bit more in the way of difficulty, but nothing that requires exceptional stamina or skill. The trail never becomes too steep or the drop-offs too intimidating to scare away hikers of any skill level.
During our venture in 2018, The Herald explained how the Ridge Trail differs from the more flat-ground hike on the Meadow Trail:
The Ridge Trail … goes up the small hill on the side of the property and swings down around back into the meadows, providing hikers with an overview of Fresh Meadows from an elevated vantage point. The Ridge Trail begins at the Bog Bridge — a long piece of wood that is narrow enough to force those crossing to do so one foot in front of another. Be forewarned, however — the bridge is all but completely covered at the moment by overgrown vegetation and the only clue of its existence is the small end of the wood bridge just visible at the beginning of the trail.
After pushing aside the brush with hands and feet to cross safely, the trail leads up a slight incline to the top of the ridge, with rocks and tree roots serving as stepping stones. While steeper than any other portion of the property, this incline is easily handled with a few well-positioned steps.
Once at the top, the Jean M. May Memorial Bench — a roughly-cut granite slab honoring the memory of Jean May, described as an “Environmentalist and Champion of Cheshire Land Preservation” — is found. Hikers can stop here and take a moment to look out over the property, or continue down the ridge where the path then connects with the Meadow Trail, which serves as the main artery into the preserve.
Leading initially into a large opening by way of a wide, mowed and matted-down grass path with fields of high stalks and vegetation to the left, right and front, all points eventually lead back to this trail. On a bright summer day, with the sun beating down, one feels as if they have just been transported magically to a Kansas hayfield, with the smell of wildflowers all around.
There is no shortage of buzzing bees, seemingly content to let walkers pass without incident, as well as an abundance of butterflies — some pure white, others multi-colored — landing on buds for a few moments, then taking off again.
The ground here is flat except for the natural indentations of the earth. The grass is not as neatly cut as one would find at a well-manicured front lawn, but the vegetation never really rises beyond ankle height and most of the path provides a smooth, soft surface on which to walk.
Designed to appeal to all, no matter the age or experience of the hiker, the Meadow Trail also seems perfect for a leashed canine ready to enjoy a day out in the sun with its owner. Eventually the trail does begin to alternate between open and narrow pathways, especially when entering the “dead end” portion of trip, which leads to the Alice Jupp Bridge at the north end of the property, overlooking a peat bog that is not accessible to the public.
The property has been owned and operated by the Cheshire Land Trust since 1985, but the name itself has much deeper Cheshire roots. When settlers from Wallingford arrived in Cheshire in the 17th century, they immediately identified it as being perfect for their farming interests. The name “Fresh Meadows” was given to the south end of town, in honor of the fertile fields the Wallingford natives planned to till for themselves.
Walking along the property, one senses what Cheshire’s first inhabitants must have upon seeing the land for the first time, and the excitement that must have followed knowing so much of it was open to them.
And as one walks through the Sanctuary during the spring and summer months, signs of life can be found everywhere.
While there can be no guarantees as to when you’ll spot an animal in its natural habitat, one has a rather excellent chance of seeing everything from small chipmunks chasing each other through the woods to deer roaming in the denser parts of the forest. Keep a watchful eye turned up as well, as many distinct species of birds call this area home.
For hikers looking to challenge their physical endurance, Fresh Meadows Sanctuary will likely prove to be a bit of a disappointment, but for those seeking refuge in a sun-drenched field surrounded by the sites and sounds of nature, there is perhaps no better place in Cheshire to be.