Jan – Bennett’s Pond

There are no hard-and-fast rules for what makes a hike versus what amounts to just a walk. Many adventurers have called their punishing foot-journeys “walks”. Take John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club. He wrote a book called A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf. And there is nothing to say that a “hike” must be on the long, tough, or  wild side. I could say “I hiked around Stew Leonard’s this morning”, just to emphasize that my circuit of the bagels, beef, and bananas felt a bit harder than usual. All this is a long-winded way of getting to my point, that normally I would rank the outings described in this month’s column as walks, somewhat short of my own subjective criteria for a hike. Before Christmas, you see, I had minor surgery done on my hand. It was bandaged up over the holidays, and any outing involving scrambles, stumbling, or a long absence from my sources of sympathy at home was out of the question.

Instead of hiking, I took short, gentle walks. I enjoyed two of them in particular; and in this season when cold and snow can limit our ambitions, I thought you might like them too:

Trail markers at Bennett's Pond SP

Trail markers at Bennett’s Pond SP

(1) BENNETT’S POND, Ridgefield: In late December, I drove through the early light to get to Bennett’s Pond in time for sunrise. It was my first ever visit to the State Park. I did not know what to expect, but the trails looked short and easy on the map, and the park website promised wildlife. Two nights earlier I had filmed a bobcat in my backyard, and was in a wildlife frame of mind. (If you would like to see my Lynx rufus, the video is on Facebook – “McWilliams Takes a Hike”, December 29th post, no login required.) My walk at Bennett’s Pond began on a stony trail through gray, jumbled woods. It was well below freezing, and I wondered why on earth I had got out of bed for gray woods. But birds began to twitter and flit, and soon wooded hills appeared through the tree trunks. Then the trail came down to the pond and I knew exactly why I had not stayed under the covers.

After the dim woods, the pond brought light, sky, and a view. Exquisite brown reeds and grasses sprouted from a film of ice fringing the water. The lower slopes of Wooster and Pine mountains rose steeply behind the pond. Geese barked and trumpeted; ducks took to the air splashing; swans sat on placid, sky-reflecting water. I followed the trail along the side of the pond, and wondered how it came to be that I was discovering this place only now, after 16 years in the area. I was so pleased with the discovery that I returned with my wife on New Year’s morning. We admired the view of the Danbury hills from what we thought must be the site of tin foil-magnate Louis D. Conley’s long-gone hilltop mansion. We enjoyed the big, open field on the way down to the pond from the hilltop. Then, out in the pond, we noticed something I had failed to see two days before – beaver lodges. This was something to come back to with binoculars the next time a wildlife frame of mind came over us.

(2) SAUGATUCK FALLS, Redding:

The Saugatuck River below the falls

The Saugatuck River below the falls

I had watched a brook flow into one end of Bennett’s Pond. According to maps, it flows out the other end into a marshy area of southwest Danbury between Route 7 and Starrs Plain Road. There, it joins the young Saugatuck River. The Saugatuck sets off southeast, and after a few miles tumbles over Saugatuck Falls. I liked this riverine connection between the walk my wife and I took on New Year’s Day and the one we set out on less than 24 hours later. The trail to Saugatuck Falls begins as easy as pie. A wide, flat track leads to a footbridge with an attractive view of the river, upstream and down. For us, the waters were reflecting the brightening dawn sky. The trail then skirts a meadow – a rare and always welcome change of scene in our unending woods – and wheels back to the river. There, the Saugatuck flowed free, frozen only for a few inches along its rock and gravel margins.

The last few hundred yards to Saugatuck Falls are actually a little awkward. The hills come right down to the bank, and the trail wanders over and around their bouldery flanks. It was not ideal for a walker wishing to balance with a bandaged and still-tender hand. But we made the falls before 8 a.m., and watched their modest chute of white water tumble into a dark pool beside stands of hemlock. It was not a bad reward for a mere walk.

If you go …
  BENNETT’S POND SAUGATUCK FALLS
PARKING Bennetts Farm Rd, Ridgefield, 0.75 mi from Rte 7 Saugatuck Falls Natural Area entrance on Rte 53, Redding, opposite John Read School (space very limited)
DISTANCE 2.33 mi. Under 1.5 mi.
DURATION 1 hr. Under 1 hr.
MAP AND ROUTE Map from ct.gov/deep. We walked the Green trail, and a short section of the White. Map at entrance. Follow the Falls Trail, out and back.

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