Hyde Park - Ridgetop Section
Stafford Springs, CT
Take a hike in the upper section of Hyde Park in Stafford Springs. This two-mile loop trail climbs steeply to a level ridgetop with lookouts over the Willimantic River valley.
From the south: Follow Rt. 32 (Main Street) as it crosses the railroad tracks and turns left around the Holt Fountain. In 500 feet, turn left onto Spring Street, which immediately crosses an arched bridge over the Middle River. Drive past the Stafford Historical Society museum and the church on the right, then uphill on Highland Terrace. After this road goes downhill, turn left into a parking lot across from the former middle school's brick building. The Woodlawn Trail sign is at the back of the lot.
See Headwaters Map
Before 1911, Hyde Park was Julius Converse's 150-acre estate, Woodlawn. His home was across from the parking lot on the site of the former middle school. The mineral springs that Converse (and others before him) parlayed into a health spa are on the other side of the school in the riverside section of Hyde Park. To explore the upper part of this park, follow the blue-blazed Woodlawn Trail as it climbs from the parking lot up a steep wooded hillside. Along the way, you will pass an old ski slope on the left, which has now grown up into forest. When the trail meets an old farm road, turn right to continue climbing up the hill past private spring-fed wells on the right. The old road comes to an opening in a stone wall, and you have made it to the top. A picnic table offers a good spot to take a rest before continuing on the trail, which now circles around the level ridgetop.
Turn left to follow the trail along the stone wall and pass through an opening in a large stone wall, which is about eight feet wide. It is clear that this land was formerly used for farming, but the purpose of this massive wall is still a mystery. The trail bends to the right through mountain laurel toward a lookout on a clifftop ledge, where there are fine views of the steep-sided Willimantic River valley and the ridge across the valley in Willington. Step carefully at the lookout. The ridge drops almost straight down to Route 32 and the river below. When John Adams came to Stafford Springs in 1771 to try the mineral waters, he rode his horse up the hill to enjoy this view, too. At that time, he noted that "the Horizon is chiefly Wilderness." Since his visit, the valley and hills were cleared for farming, then returned to forest as the rocky fields were abandoned.
Around the Loop
The trail continues on a route parallel to the edge of the ridge with side trails to more lookout points. A side trail on the right leads to a large vernal pool, which hosts wood frogs in early spring, when they gather to meet and mate. Their loud "quacking" call sounds like a flock of ducks. Later in the spring, it is filled with spring peepers. After winding past boulders deposited on the ridge by the last glacier, the trail turns right at the south boundary of the park. It soon comes to a stone wall marking the west boundary, and turns right once again. When the trail reaches the old farm road and the picnic table, follow the road back downhill. Just past the wells on the left, look for the left turn onto the blue-blazed trail. Do not continue down the road, which leads to private property.
After you return to the parking lot, you may want to visit the mineral springs in the riverside section of Hyde Park. You can walk down from the school site, or drive back to the museum along Highland Terrace past many historic houses built during the late 1800's and early 1900's.
Thanks to Ingrid Aarrestad for her 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.).