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The Natural World of Walker Woods

Peter Marteka

Nature's Path & Way To Go

June 18, 2010

During my journeys throughout the state, I've seen deer bounding through the woods, grazing at the edges of meadows and foraging in wetlands. Never has a deer stopped and struck a pose — until a recent journey to Ethel Walker Woods.

While walking through part of the 330-acre Woods, I startled a doe that looked like a cross between Bambi's mother and Rudolph's girlfriend Clarice. The doe bounded through the woods briefly before stopping abruptly and, well, posing for me as I snapped a few photos before it was startled by the noise and disappeared into the forest.

That is what a trip to the Ethel Walker Woods is like. From the moment you enter the woods — crossing a wooden bridge over Stratton Brook – you are immediately swallowed up in a natural world of towering white pines and old hemlocks. A variety of marked trails — blue, yellow, purple, red, green and orange — take visitors several miles through deep forests, along clear streams to the edge of a vast marsh, and around pastures and meadows.

On this trip, I start on the orange and green trail along the banks of Stratton Brook, formed by the confluence of several streams, including one from Town Forest Pond. The pond has a swimming area with a concrete lifeguard stand that is a must-see. Upon entering the woods, the bright afternoon sun is dimmed by the evergreen canopy and the warm late spring day feels about 5 or 6 degrees cooler.

Most of the trails through the woods are relatively flat and covered with pine needles. The earthy smells here are incredible, created by the scent of evergreens mixing with the aroma of boggy water from the vast wetlands within the woods.

After making my way along the purple trail, I came to Wegner Meadow and a pasture where several horses, their tails swishing, peacefully chomped their way through the high grass. A paved road takes you to the top of Cluett Hill, or Bushy Hill, to the Niels and Willem van Gemeren Observatory. Here there are views of the school in the valley and the surrounding hills, along with the ever-watchful Heublein Tower atop Talcott Mountain.

From here I journeyed back into the woods, eventually hooking up with my favorite path — the yellow trail — as it winds its way along the western edges of the woods along a vast marsh with views of the surrounding hillsides. Be on the lookout for unmarked secondary trails that take visitors even deeper into the woods.

Old signs rot away on the trunks of evergreens noting "responsible use of this land for horseback riding, ski touring, walking, fishing and nature study is permitted." It also urges visitors to "protect the environment of this land" and to take only pictures and leave only footprints. And it helps when the local wildlife poses for those pictures.

Route 167 (Bushy Hill Road) to a parking area at the intersection with Stratton Brook Road. Visitors can also follow Stratton Brook to Town Forest Road and park at Town Forest Park.

For a map of the area, visit www.keepthewoods.org. Column ideas and suggestions are welcome. Peter Marteka can be reached by phone at 860-647-5365; by mail at The Courant, 200 Adams St., Manchester, CT. 06040; and by e-mail at pmarteka@courant.com.