The Gateway to Guilford and the New England Trail

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Photo Credit: Steve McGuire

BY CLARE CAIN

New England TrailReprinted by permission from the summer issue of Connecticut Woodlands Magazine, published by the Connecticut Forest & Park Association.

What happens when you link a National Scenic Trail and an Estuary of National Significance? You create a gateway to hiking adventure.

Chittenden Park, a Guilford town park situated on the shore of the Long Island Sound, is the official terminus or “gateway” to the New England Trail (NET). If you visit, you’ll notice that the shoreline at Chittenden offers a totally different atmosphere from what visitors experience at other, more-developed beaches on the sound. And this makes the park a special place to begin or end a journey on the NET.

Since President Obama signed Pub. L. 111-11, the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, and officially designated the NET as a National Scenic Trail, the Connecticut Forest & Park Association has pursued the goal of developing a gateway to the NET that is representative of the trail’s tremendous recreational and scenic significance. An undeveloped beach on the Long Island Sound, designated as an Estuary of National Significance by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is a most-worthy entrance to a 215-mile hiking journey through New England.

If you’ve been in downtown Guilford recently, you may have noticed that change is underway. New NET trail blazes have begun to take up residence on utility poles. The blazes reveal themselves along the trail’s route through town. Paul Mei, a Guilford resident and CFPA’s lead local volunteer, has been hard at work closing the gap between the NET in the 583-acre East River Preserve and the Sound. A blue/green side trail has also been blazed and leads hikers to the historic Guilford Town Green.

Paul MeiBut the Guilford Green is not the only significant historical stop on the new trail route. The trail links to other landmarks such as the Henry Whitfield State Museum (the oldest stone house in New England and a National Historic Landmark), the Hyland House, the Thomas Griswold House, the Guilford Fairgrounds, and the Guilford Covenant. Hikers and walkers are now able to accent their longer hikes on the NET with a walk back through time among the deep and rich colonial history of the town.

Originally known as Chittenden Beach, the park was purchased by the town in 1945 and became the first public beach for Guilford residents. In the 1960s, the surrounding property was also purchased and now hosts a ball field, soccer games, and bocce courts. Although the beach has always been used more for sunning than for swimming, it remains an attraction for beachcombers, birders, and anglers. No formal access to the shore currently exists. Because of this, the park is relatively undisturbed and remarkably unknown. This piece of the shoreline offers a tremendous spot for visitors to connect with the Sound and the surrounding natural environs in a quiet, untarnished way.

Our vision is to construct a sustainable walking trail over to the park’s dunes. Imagine a short stretch of elevated boardwalk out to an overlook platform. From the open platform, visitors will be rewarded with beautiful views of Faulkners Island, Chaffinch Island Park, and the West River. The hope is that these recreational improvements at Chittenden Park will invite the public to experience and appreciate the Sound and the surrounding habitat in a new and sustainable way. What more appropriate place for hikers to begin or end their journey on the NET than at such a scenic spot overlooking the Sound?

Thanks to committed funding from the Guilford Foundation, the National Park Service, the Town of Guilford, and the state’s Department of Community & Economic Development, these improvements will soon become a reality. The gateway to the NET will be officially dedicated next year, on Trails Day Weekend (the first weekend of June 2014) in conjunction with Guilford’s 375th anniversary celebrations.

Get ready for a unique adventure. Follow the new trail blazes on the NET to the dynamic downtown of Guilford. Slip down to the shoreline, stop to discover and sample some of the local lore, enjoy the winding and pastoral back roads and disappear into the woods and unblemished open spaces that make the area so attractive. The gateway is open to you!

Clare Cain lives in Niantic. She has hiked thousands of miles in New England and elsewhere. She is the trail stewardship director of CFPA and has spent the last few years working on the extension of the NET to Long Island Sound.

 

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