King Riverside Conservation Area
The town of Tolland purchased the development rights to this 174-acre riverside property in 2006. Although it remains private property, public access is allowed along the river. The rest of the land will be conserved in a natural state, but public access will not be permitted except by prior arrangement. A public-access trail along the river leads to Newcomb Brook (three-fourths mile). Return to the parking lot on the same trail. This trail is part of the Willimantic River Greenway Midriver Trail.
From the junction with Rt. 32, drive west on Rt. 195 across the Willimantic River. Turn right onto Dimock Road and pass the church building. Look for a "Public Access to River" sign and turn right through an opening in a stone wall. (The road past this opening is a private driveway.) Park in the open area by the stone wall. Make sure that you are not blocking access to the farm field.
See Midriver Map
From the parking area, walk downhill to a chain across the old road. Walk past the chain and, after about 175 feet, watch for a wet spot in the road and the trail entrance leading into woods on the right (currently marked with yellow blazes). The road beyond this point is not part of the riverside public access area, so be sure to turn onto the marked trail. Cross a footbridge over a small brook and walk through the woods to the river's edge.
Turn left to follow the trail upstream. This section of the river is known to canoeists and kayakers as the "Rock Garden," because of many large glacial boulders stranded in the river, which can be a paddler's despair or delight. The trail runs close the river's bank for a quarter of a mile, then climbs to a high point. Pass two large trees that have fallen across the river. Then the woods trail ends where it meets the old road. Turn right on the old road to stay in the public access area, and stand next to a large rock at the edge of the bank.
Across the river is the site of the former Peck's mill in Willington. The river was dammed in the mid-1700's, and a mill was built on the mound across the river from this rock. When the leaves are off the trees, you can see the mound across the river, as well as a stone bridge abutment that is just upstream of the fallen trees. The Pecks took the town of Willington to court to have this bridge built. After it was completed in 1792-3, Tolland customers had easy access to the mill. Peck's mill had a varied history of ownership and production (including a "cloathing works"). It was still in business in 1841 when Marvin Peck complained about the mill pond flooding his fields upstream. The current owners (no longer Pecks) agreed to keep the pond's water level within eight feet of a hole drilled in the large rock on the Tolland side. Look for a one-inch-wide hole in this rock, imagine eight feet down the bank, and you have an idea of how high the mill pond came up on the bank.
A short trail leads from the rock down to the water's edge. Here you can enjoy a scenic view of the river and its rock garden extending around a bend upstream. Also, you can see why this was a good site for a mill: the dam would have blocked a narrow section of the river and backed up water into a broader area just upstream. The mill ceased operations in the mid-1800's, and the bridge was discontinued in 1873. The mill site now belongs to the Town of Willington, but there is no public access to it by land. A canoe/kayak landing just below the fallen trees offers a chance to explore the old mill and bridge site.
To continue along the trail, follow the old road upstream along the river, past majestic trees and over small brooks. This road was once part of a continuous riverside road extending from the north edge of Tolland south into Coventry. Look for a clearing on the right, and walk to the river's edge for a view of one of the largest boulders in the rock garden. This is a pleasant spot with the river disappearing around the bend and a high bank on the opposite side hidden behind hemlock trees. Continue north along the old road through a mountain laurel grove to Newcomb Brook. The trail now leaves the King Riverside Conservation Area and crosses a bridge over the brook to continue to River Park. See Midriver Trail for notes about the trail to River Park. Otherwise, turn around and retrace your steps to the King Riverside Conservation Area parking lot.
Thanks to Charlie King and Isabel Weigold for their assistance.
Photo: V. Wetherell
This Willimantic River Greenway Parks and Trails Guide was produced by the Willimantic River Alliance and WINCOG. Information in this guide reflects conditions and features as of Spring, 2008. Since conditions change over time, the Alliance is not responsible for changes at this site. This guide was funded with support from the The Last Green Valley (formerly known as the Quinebaug-Shetucket Heritage Corridor, Inc.)