Sunday, September 9, 2012

MDC West Hartford Reservoirs

This gate is nearly impossible to see if you are looking in some other direction.
Cardinal Flower
Welcome to the extremely popular MDC reservoirs in West Hartford.  I didn't know much about the MDC property other than this: It is very popular and there is a bright yellow gate that a mountain biker infamously crashed into while going the wrong way on the bike loop. She didn't see the gate until the last second and then tried going under it, breaking several vertebrae. After her crash, she accepted full responsibility for her actions and was especially grateful that she had not hit a small toddler while biking with her eyes closed or whatever.  I'm just kidding, she filed a lawsuit and won $2.9 million from MDC's water customers.  
Broken arrowhead on the trail
The lawsuit threw municipal property owners all across the state into turmoil, and public access was in serious jeopardy because the Court had determined that Connecticut's Recreational Liability Law did not apply to municipalities or quasi-government groups like the MDC.  For many years that law had protected such landowners from lawsuits if they opened up their properties to recreation and didn't charge money for it. Long story short,  the law was subsequently modified by the Connecticut Legislature after a huge uproar ensued (I was one small part of that uproar, hence my interest in the gate).  Only the trial lawyers objected.  

Gatehouse at Reservoir Number One

There are LOT of trails at MDC in West Hartford.  And they are all filled with people. Walking, jogging, biking. The place was mobbed. There are also a lot of reservoirs, including five smaller reservoirs on the southern chunk of land, creatively named Reservoirs Number One through Five, and a larger reservoir (Number Six) to the north all on it's own (that's for another day), so people are really spread out.

Reservoir One Building

The most popular trail is the paved trail, which is a loop of several miles.  Most of the paved path is used by pedestrians, but there is also a special one-way bike lane on one side. Although I didn't think the gates seemed dangerous, I was very surprised at how they have the bike lane on the RIGHT.  It is standard multi-use trail etiquette to keep to the right, pass on the left. It's also human nature in places like America where we drive on the right side of the road and reserve the left for passing.  This place just made up their own rules. I kept forgetting and frequently found myself walking in the bike lane because I was staying to the right out of habit.  

Funny weathering affect. 
There's a plaque in front of "Reservoir Number One" that says this is a "Reservoir Park"  and that it originated in 1864.  That's nice. Why don't the water companies in other parts of the state allow public recreation? If it's that bad for the water, then why is it allowed here?  And they do allow dogs, which is very nice.

Pump House (?) near the dam at Reservoir One.
There are several interesting old buildings around Reservoir One. They don't make them like that anymore. Look at the brick arches above the doors and windows.

Jack in the Pulpit
Monarch Caterpillar
A blue blaze would suffice
After spending some time around the reservoirs, it was time to hike the actual New England Trail (Metacomet), which cuts across the MDC property to the west of the reservoirs.  But first I needed to complete a short section of the trail to the south of Route 4, so I tried parking there along the road, but it was clearly signed "no parking." Fair enough, so I parked at the MDC lot and used my handy MDC trail map to find my way to the NET road crossing on Route 4.  There are many unmarked trails and I took the wrong one, double back and tried again.  This was the right trail and I found myself along the edge of Route 4, blue blazes visible across the street.  But I couldn't get to them because there was a six-foot chain link fence along the road keeping me in.  Sigh. So I followed some powerlines up, up, up the hill, searching for the blue trail-crossing. Finally found the trail, then down down down the trail back to Route 4. Then a road walk for a bit, and finally I was at the blue blazes I saw half an hour earlier on the other side of the chain link fence. It took me longer to get to that section of trail than to hike it!

Finger Rock
I quickly finished the short section south of Route 4 and then headed north up the ridge, hoping for those ridgetop views I've been missing. The last real view was Rattlesnake Mountain in Farmington. At MDC, the trail is just one of many, more like a gravel road at the start, and there are people jogging and listening to their iPods. I even saw this nervy doe grabbing some bites to eat between pedestrians.

I took a side trail off the Metacomet to Kilkenny Rock (no view during the summer, which was disappointing). After that,  the MDC map shows a rock formation known as Finger Rock, so I took a detour to check that out. It looks more like a turtle to me, but you be the judge.

North of Finger Rock, the Metacomet follows a ridgetop and becomes more like itself.  There were no more joggers and only the occasional hiker. The ridge is not high, and there are only suggestions of a view, but it's a pleasant ridge hike.  Further north, the ridge becomes a long stretch of hemlock forest with glimpses of a view. That was the best part of the trail.

Hemlock forest along the ridgetop

On the way back, I found a little Ring-Necked Snake crossing the trail, no bigger than a worm.

Teeny-Tiny Ringed Neck Snake - full size! 

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