Monday, October 1, 2012

Wilcox Park, Bloomfield

Black Birch provides early fall color

I parked where Wintonbury Road currently ends near the Simsbury/Bloomfield town line. This is an interesting old road that was once an important route used by colonists and Indians to cross the ridge via a prominent gap. Currently, the paved portion of Wintonbury Road clears the last house west of the ridge and continues rising up the mountain to a gate where people park, although the old unpaved roadbed continues past the gate and through the pass that divides Penwood State Park to the south and Wilcox Park to the north. It is said that people used the old roadbed as an emergency route in 1955 after the other roads washed out in the great flood.  
Looking west across the Farmington River Valley
This was one of the easiest ridge hikes along the New England Trail I've had so far, in part because the parking area is already half way up the mountain. There aren't a lot of spectacular cliff views during the summer, but there are many hints of a view just beyond the trees, and a few spots where it does open up to the east and west, mostly along the three powerline corridors that cross the ridge.
Looking east across the Connecticut Valley - that was all Lake Hitchcock.
Looking east across the Connecticut Valley, it's easy to imagine you're standing near the shore of ancient Lake Hitchcock, a large glacial lake which would have filled that entire low area all the way to the distant ridge. That's actually one reason why it looks so flat -- you're looking at the lake bottom, which was covered with many, many feet of sediments, including a lot of clay from which the early settlers were able to make bricks.

Wilcox Park Chimney
The Wilcox Park trail map and the CFPA trail map both show a chimney, which is a handy marker. There is just something about random chimneys out in the woods that hikers like. Since the CFPA map shows a larger area than the Wilcox trail map, I used that feature to orient myself. That was a mistake.  There turn out to be two different chimneys along the hike, and the maps would have made a lot more sense if I had realized that right off the bat.  The first chimney is just off the Metacomet on the yellow trail, right where the Wilcox trail maps says it should be. I completely missed it until I was on my way back.

Unexpected geocache logbook entry

OMG Northeast Utilities, what did you do to the trail??? 
Neither map shows the utility line corridors, although they are the dominant features when you are hiking.  I wish CFPA would add all utility corridors to all their maps. Sometimes they show them, sometimes they don't. It's very useful information.

After passing a couple of these corridors the trail suddenly comes out onto a wide gravel road that rises up from below and then follows the top of the ridge right where the trail had been. The road seems relatively new and I wondered if a subdivision was planned. I noticed a Northeast Utilities land marker and after a bit the gravel highway came out onto the 3rd set of powerlines. Ahh.  A new access road to the powerlines. Why? And did it need to go right along the ridgetop and obliterate the hiking trail?

Looking west at the Barndoor Hills
"Bartlett Tower ruins"

Soon the trail comes to a massive chimney, which the CFPA book identifies simply as the "Bartlett Tower ruins." But why leave it at that, when we have Google to helps us learn more. According to the State Tourism website, this was the site of a grand tower resort in the 1800's that was easily accessible by train and visited by the likes of Mark Twain. "Standing 70 feet high, the tower had guest bedrooms on two floors and an observation deck at its top, surrounded by a railing and open on all four sides. There was a 50-by-70-foot pavilion with tables and chairs, a bowling lane, dance floor, and piano.  Field glasses (early binoculars) and “Claude Lorraine” glasses—whose tinted lenses and convex mirror allowed tourists to view the landscape as if it were a miniature landscape painting—were provided. An attendant on the observation deck pointed out places of interest to guests looking through a telescope. A nearby grove with tables and seats for large parties, swings, croquet, quoits, and a seesaw satisfied the more active visitors... This tower was also more accessible than the first. It was less than a third of a mile from the train station. By 1895, a total of 250,000 people had visited one or both of Bartlett’s towers....Today, if you are looking for a vestige of this bygone era, go back to the beginning—to the stone pillars on the side of this dead-end street —and follow the carriage road’s fading imprint up the mountain."

Maidenhair Spleenwort
Roaming about the woods there at the chimney I manage to get stung by a couple wasps before finding a teeny-tiny fern growing on the side of a rock. This fern was so delicate I needed to place a pen in the photo for scale. I believe it is Maidenhair Spleenwort, which prefers limestone outcrops but may also grow along trap rock outcrops, which are less acidic than most Connecticut rock. 

It's a quick descent to Mountain Road, where the old stone pillars that marked the entry road to the tower still stand trailside.  

Pillars marking the extinct drive up to Bartlett's Tower. 
Backtracking from Mountain Road, I saw an old woods road head out towards the cliffs and followed it along the ridgeline south for quite a ways. It was quite a pleasant walk, but I didn't come out onto the Metacomet Trail like I expected, which also follows the ridgeline. This did not make sense. After a bit I realized there were two parallel ridgelines, with the Metacomet on a higher ridge line to the east, and this one slightly lower. But I kept following the road and after a good spell I finally came back out onto the Metacomet. A very nice loop, that.

Old road along the secondary ridge or shelf
Wood Frog on the red trail
I then took the yellow trail down into Wilcox Park, donated to the Town of Bloomfield by Marion Wilcox. There were reportedly apple orchards there at one time.  I heard Spring Peepers and Gray Tree Frog, but the Wood Frog I saw was silent (they're the ones that "quack" in the early spring).

After arriving back at Wintonbury Road, I continued south back into Penwood State Park on the orange trail.  This trail was very much like the old ridge road I had just been on and quite pleasant. To the west were glimpses of views through the trees, while to the east was a steep slope rising up to some low cliffs, on which the Metacomet Trail was routed. The old roadbed simply followed a narrow shelf of land part way down the ridge. It was a nice way to end the day.

Orange Trail at Penwood - glimpses of views

Orange Trail following a shelve of land along the cliffs (click to enlarge)


  1. I know penwood Park but never tried Wilcox Park.I work in that area so I'll be excited to give it a try.Nice photos and great description of the area!

  2. Another great trip report! Thanks!

    Wait until you see the East Granby section of the trail to see what CL&P has done. I don't know if the work they have done runs along the trail, but I suspect it must at least cross the Metacomet. (I think the beating CL&P took after last year's October snowstorm plays a role).

    I'm also looking forward to when you do the East Granby section, so you can figure it out for me! We started in Cowles Park and went up to the ridge, but the trail down to the river was not that clear to me. We'll be checking it out again soon because they removed the Spoonville Dam over the summer and I want to see the difference.

    Thanks again for great report and beautiful pictures!