“The woods are lovely, dark and deep
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”
The poet Robert Frost lived in Massachusetts, not Connecticut, but he knew well the joys of a New England forest in winter, as his poem “Stopping in the Woods on a Snowy Evening” reveals. He surely would have appreciated Rocky Glen State Park and the trail that runs from the heart of Sandy Hook all the way to Paugusett State Forest, along the banks of the Pootatuck River, a total of about 10 miles.
If you have promises to keep and miles to go before you sleep, Al’s Trail may be perfect for your bite-sized winter nature walks. In just 20 minutes, you can see a dam on the Pootatuck River, old feldspar and gold mines and a dried-out riverbed, along with a perfectly dreamlike winter landscape. You can do it all on your lunch break, and still have time for lunch.
It’s come to be a regular ritual for me, from summer through fall and now into winter. (I must thank the Newtown Forest Association’s Bob Eckenrode and Aaron Coopersmith for introducing me to the trail.) Each season brings new surprises in the hills. In autumn, the leaves are fiery and gold. If you don’t mind spending the full hour, you could hike quickly to the overlook and back -- it’s less than a mile each way. There you’ll see a section of the Housatonic River Valley perfectly framed, and you may even catch a few eagles soaring overhead -- the ridge is near eagle nesting areas.
Named after Al Goodrich, the trail is relatively new compared to many other Connecticut walkways. Goodrich began mapping the area in 1997 and blazed the trail in 2002 with Pat Barkman. (You can read a little about the history of Al’s Trail on its surprisingly detailed website.) Al passed away in 2004, but a wide variety of Newtown groups and nature lovers still maintain the trail.
The portion you’ll see if you follow my lead is just north of Church Hill Road -- head up Dayton St., past Fig’s, and you’ll find the trailhead next to the old Dayton Street Bridge across the river.
But Sandy Hook has a multitude of great walking and hiking opportunities. The Lower Paugussett offers the Zoar Trail, which takes you 6.5 miles along the banks of Lake Zoar, offering occasionally steep but never strenuous climbs and a beautiful waterfall. Upper Paugussett’s trails offer seclusion and that “deep woods” feeling (unfortunately, they’re off-limits during the winter, due to hunting and some eagle nesting grounds.)
They’re all lovely. But for me, nothing in Newtown -- at least, nothing I've seen so far -- tops the Al’s Trail jaunt through Rocky Glen State Park.The photos above were all captured in only about 15 minutes. The amazing thing about Al’s Trail is that despite the seclusion you’ll feel, you’re never far from town. Sometimes you may even catch the sight of a chimney, or a passing car in the distance -- but then turn your head, and you’ll be taken back into that dreamy winter world, a million miles away.
But I'm still a neophyte when it comes to Newtown's trails. So for you experts out there, tell me: where should I head next?