Take a ride along an old river road in Tolland and stop for a walk along the river in the Nye-Holman State Forest or the Kollar Wildlife Management Area. First stop is by the Route 74 bridge between Tolland and Willington. On the west side, enter Connecticut DEEP's Nye-Holman State Forest, where a mile-long gravel road offers an easy walk. Ebenezer Nye established his homestead on this land around 1720, and also Nye's toll bridge, which spanned the river to link the Tolland stage road with West Willington. The land remained in the Nye family's hands until Alice Holman Hall donated it to the state in 1931 for use as a demonstration forest. Majestic evergreen trees remain from past forestry projects.
Because this part of the river is ideal habitat for trout, the Connecticut DEEP designated it as the Cole W. Wilde Trout Management Area. This catch-and-release area extends three miles upstream from the bridge and offers year-round fly-fishing. You may see fishermen wading in the river as you follow the road along the wooded shore to a view of the river meandering through a wet meadow.
The park road then turns away from the river and climbs past a private drive before it ends at Route 74. Return to the parking lot along the park road and perhaps enjoy a picnic at one of the tables. The upper park road and private drive were once part of the old river road. As more settlers arrived in the early 1700's, the river road was extended north to new homesteads. Today, it is interrupted by Interstate 84, so you must take a detour to travel the rest of this old road.
From the bridge, drive west on Route 74. Just past its junction with I-84, turn right onto North River Road. At the bottom of the hill, North River Road joins the route of the old river road. Look on the left for an old cape with a large center chimney that was built during the Revolutionary War period. It is thought that this was the site of a turnpike tollgate, which was opened only after a toll was paid. The Center Turnpike (part of a route from Hartford to Boston) was established by the Ct. Legislature in 1826. It came east from Tolland Green along today's Route 74, then turned onto present-day North River Road. About a quarter-mile past the old house, the turnpike turned right to cross the river. Park along North River Road there, and walk along the former turnpike (now a path) down to the river. Although the turnpike was abandoned in 1853, the bridge's stone abutments remain on either side of the river. It was known as the Red Bridge, so perhaps it was a covered bridge. Where the daily stage once rumbled by, there is now a pleasant spot to sit by the river or try your luck at fly-fishing.
The river road continues north for another half-mile, where the pavement ends at a gate. Turn left onto Babcock Road and park in a lot on the left. Walk past the gate into the 900-plus acres of Connecticut DEEP Kollar Wildlife Management Area, which extends along the river for two miles. It is mostly wooded, but areas have been cleared for ruffed grouse habitat. NOTE: Hunting is allowed there except on Sundays, so plan accordingly. Follow the old river road as it passes by farms that are returning to forest. After a half-mile, the old road approaches the river and the site of the Scripture Bridge (probably named for the family that lived across the river in Willington). Although the bridge was not rebuilt after the 1938 hurricane washed it away, the stone bridge abutments are still intact in the river bank. Where horses, wagons, and cars once crossed, there is now a peaceful spot to sit by the river.
Walk down to the river's edge on the right, where you can see and hear Roaring Brook flow into the river on the opposite side. The Nipmucks and other tribes camped in this area, known as Owwaenunggannunck "here people go to catch salmon." During an annual spring gathering, they caught salmon and shad that came up the river to spawn. Dams now prevent these fish from returning this far up the river, but the Cole W. Wilde TMA offers good trout fishing between this spot and Route 74. From the bridge site, an old road leads left along the river to informal trails on the steep hillside above the river. To the right an informal trail leads back to North River Road.
Thanks to Deborah Nye Corgan, Shirley Rau, Isabel Weigold, and the Tolland Historical Society for their contributions to this Ramble.