Fall at the Farm
Spring Manor Farm Trail
This trail follows the river along the west side of the University of Connecticut's Spring Manor Farm in Mansfield. Public access is allowed only along the trail. There are scenic views of the river and the farm valley, and a variety of habitats for wildlife observation. The white-blazed trail extends one-and-a-half-miles between Mansfield Depot and Merrow Meadow Park. The going is easy, but stay alert for the white blazes when the trail leads between the wooded riverbank and the farm road. Avoid being detoured by ATV trails. The Willimantic River Greenway Midriver Trail includes this trail, linking north to Merrow Meadow Park and south to Lynch Landing.
From Route 32 in Mansfield, travel west on Route 44 for one-tenth mile. Immediately after crossing the railroad tracks, turn right into the former Mansfield Depot restaurant's parking lot and park at the back of the lot.
See Midriver Map
The trail begins on a farm road leading from the rear of the parking lot. Note that the railroad track is in active use, so be safe and avoid these tracks. At first, the farm road goes downhill to an old coal tipple on the right, where trucks once waited for coal to be dumped from railroad cars overhead. On the left is a view of a quiet backwater, which was once the main river channel. During the 1955 flood, the river’s channel was rearranged, and the main flow is now on the far (Coventry) side.
The farm road leads uphill to a fine view of level fields extending along the river valley. Spring Manor Farm was created in 1885 when George Huntington Reynolds bought the farm where he had worked as a boy. A successful engineer, he created a gentleman's farm for summer vacations. The elaborate stone walls and farmhouses were built at the time. The old farm buildings remain from the 1920's -1960's, when Mansfield Training School residents worked there, producing milk and vegetables for the school. The University took ownership when the school closed in 1993, and now uses this prime farmland to grow hay and corn for livestock. Note that the houses are privately owned, and the farm buildings and livestock pens are not open to the public.
Into the Woods
Near the top of the hill, turn left onto a trail into the woods. Follow a ridge through a hemlock woods, with the river below. When the trail comes to a hay field, follow the blazes along the edge and back out to the farm road. Turn left onto this road, then left again into a gravel area. Follow white arrows past a gray shed on the right. Watch for the white-blazed trail into the woods; avoid the ATV trail. Beyond a grove of tall pine trees, the trail goes downhill and crosses a moist meadow overgrown with shrubs and goldenrod. This area is very attractive to bird life.
The trail soon emerges at the edge of the river, where an island divides the river. The trail turns right to go along the top of the bank with scenic views of the island below. You may want to descend along a stone wall to the river for a close look at water life, including signs of beavers gnawing on trees. The trail climbs uphill and turns left onto a dirt road, passing old farm buildings, before returning to the woods, where there are views through the hemlock trees of the river far below. Weaving in and out along the edge of woods and field, the trail passes along the edge of two fields divided by a row of tall pine trees. At the corner of the last field, do not follow the ATV trail to the left. Instead, turn right to follow the edge of the field out to a utility pole by the main farm road.
Water and Time
From this road, there are scenic views of the valley and hillside pastures and pine groves. A red-tailed hawk may be circling above the fields. The hillside has been pasture since Reynolds cleared the farm in the 1880's. He also found a hillside spring. During his life at the farm, water from Spring Manor's spring water was bottled and shipped by rail to New York City. Named "Tolland Water" (for Tolland County), it was promoted as "highly efficacious in the cure of kidney and liver troubles, rheumatism, gout and dropsy." Turn left onto the farm road, which leads past a tan stone building and downhill to a river meadow. Wells under the brick structures draw water from a deep aquifer of sand and gravel under the river valley. Deposited by a melting glacier around 15, 000 years ago, the sand and gravel now hold a large quantity of water that is the main supply for the University. The wells are not accessible to the public, so please stay on the trail.
Before you reach the wells, watch for a white arrow on the pavement indicating a right turn onto a trail leading uphill across a field. In a grove of autumn olive shrubs, be alert for a left turn to reach the massive stone wall marking the boundary of Spring Manor Farm. A trail continues into the woods of Merrow Meadow Park and down to the park's riverside trail, which leads along the river for a half-mile to Merrow Road.
Thanks to Ann Galonska at the Mansfield Historical Society.
Photos: 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.).