Taking a Hike – Shenandoah National Park

Old Rag Boulders

Old Rag Boulders

My newspaper column – Taking a Hike – was published last week. This month it is about Shenandoah National Park, and in particular a wonderful hike-scramble up Old Rag Mountain. You can find the column at Hersam Acorn (A hike in Shenandoah National Park) and The Hour (Taking on our closest national park).

I started the column by saying we don’t have many national parks near where I live (southwest Connecticut). Even as I wrote, I imagined a particular acquaintance of mine firing back, “Now wait a minute, you have one 7.5 miles up the road, in your own town”. My defense was that Weir Farm is a national historic site, not the same thing as a park even if it is run by the National Park Service and even if it does have a trail or two. My acquaintance, by the way, works for the NPS at Weir Farm.

This little dialog with myself set me to checking what else the NPS has in Connecticut. I found five “parks” on its website, of which I had heard of two (Weir Farm and the Appalachian Trail). What might the others hold for hikers?

The Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail (wow!), to judge from the website, is more an idea than a park, a road route at most for the time being. What about the Quinebaug & Shetucket Rivers Valley National Heritage Corridor then? Any good hiking there? There probably is, but since this “special kind of park” appears to consist of the northeast of Connecticut in its entirety, I doubt the trails have the customary NPS “look & feel”. In fact, the NPS website directs you to a third-party (The Last Green Valley) to find out what to do in this heritage corridor.

This left the New England National Scenic Trail – “From the Sound to the Summits: the New England Trail covers 215 miles from Long Island Sound across long ridges to scenic mountain summits in Connecticut and Massachusetts”. This sounded promising, a whole new mega-trail to explore! But then its route looked strangely familiar, little more than the established Metacomet and Mattabesett “blue-blazed” trails; and indeed the NPS site sends you to the stewards of the Blue-Blazed Trails if you click “Learn About the Park”.

Talcott Mountain on the Metacomet Trail — courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and “Jehochman”

Talcott Mountain on the Metacomet Trail — courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and “Jehochman”

So what does all this mean? (1) The NPS brands projects that it does not really manage (the A.T. itself is a case in point). I am sure this serves a purpose, and the NPS is still probably my favorite government agency. (2) I stick by my opinion that Shenandoah NP is the nearest true national park to home. And (3) I hope to post here soon about hiking the New England National Scenic Trail, although I doubt I will call it that.

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