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Monday, January 11, 2021

Hiking Hartman Park - Lyme, CT

Living on the preserve means I venture to other hiking areas a little less. It's far too easy to walk out the door and down the road than loading up the dogs in the car and driving to a trailhead. But, as much as I appreciate this large swatch of wilderness that stretches past our home, a change of scenery is always good. It was a sunny Sunday in January, temperatures topping in the high 30's and low 40's. A bright sunny day, not a cloud in the sky and a light breeze at best. January in New England can go either way and this kind of weather on a winter Sunday with limited daylight hours means you pack up the car and head somewhere worthy. 

I had been to Hartman Park a dozen times and joked with Adam I had a bit of "PTSD" from a December visit years ago. While hiking in the park, Olive and her hiking buddy (Thule the golden retriever) took off after a deer and that was the last we saw of them for about five hours. Hartman Park is sort of in the woods in the middle of nowhere and after spending hours following the trail and calling their name, asking any hikers if they had seen this dynamic duo (always no), I was beyond hysterics. The sun was starting to set and snow was falling and I left the park to go grab some bacon for a bacon burn. My parents left their hours to head to the trailhead to search the roads while we ran to the store and as they pulled up to the trailhead, our two lost dogs were there waiting for a ride home. 

Thankfully, Olive's recall is now 100 percent and I could laugh off that terrifying hike in the woods when I envisioned going home without my dog. We loaded up the dogs and a few essentials and headed over the bridge to my hometown of Old Lyme. From there, we followed Grassy Hill Road to Gungy Road. We pulled up to the busy trailhead a little surprised by the number of cars at this preserve tucked away in Lyme. We found a parking spot and headed out into the park. 

I love this park for a few reasons. First, it's quieter than your state parks and is tucked away in the woods.  It's also pretty big and offers a ton of trail options from short loops to longer day hikes. It is scenic from the start, offering views along the trail of the beaver dam, the powerline clearings and overlooks. The trails are very well marked and labeled and placards along with the heritage trail detail some of Connecticut's history. We decided to do the red trail to the orange trail, a 3.2-mile park that takes you along the pond, up to the northern part of the park, and then along the orange trail which is part of the heritage trail.

It was Adam's first time here and he loved the hike from the start. The red trail starts off by bordering the pond and beaver dam and we spent some time checking out the dam and the various lodges (the large pile of trees and debris poking out of the water). We were pretty impressed by the amount of freshly "cut" trees and the damming around the pond and agreed this would be a fun place to take the kids to show them a beaver dam and to point out the beaver gnawed trees. 

The red trail eventually leaves the border of the pond, continuing north where we headed east along the red and green trail. We stopped for photos and water breaks and took in the views. One of the perks of winter hiking is the expansive views through the woods without the foliage. We took a right/headed south along the yellow trail which shortly ended onto the orange trail. We took another right/heading west along the orange trail past the various historical markers on the trail. If you continue following the orange trail, you will eventually reach the purple trail which borders the red trail and will take you back to the parking area. 

A Bit About Beavers

You probably won't see a beaver during your hike as they are nocturnal critters. Seeing the impressive dams and lodges around the trails, I did some digging around to learn a bit more about these adorable elusive little creatures.  So why do beavers build dams?  To put it simply, they need a deep enough body of water to guarantee access to their above-water lodge which offers the beaver family protection throughout the winter. A minimum water level of 2 to 3 feet is required to keep the underwater entrance to beaver lodges from being blocked by ice during the winter. They build large dams to block water flow and flood the pond. Within the now deepened pond, they build lodges to provide protection for the young in summer and for the entire colony in winter. Lodges are large structures that are easy to spot, ranging from 15 to 40 feet across and protruding 3 to 6 feet above the water. Entrances are located underwater while the living space located above the waterline and is lined with dry plant material. 

The trail is very well marked, making it a great spot for unsure hikers or those who are not confident in their navigation skills. It's quiet compared to many of the state parks but busy enough where you will see a few other hikers or mountain bikers along your hike. There is a large "group" area at the beginning of the park with several benches and a bulletin board. There are maps posted here as well as at the gate in the parking area. I highly recommend taking a photo of the map or downloading/printing a copy to take with you. 

About the park
The preserve covers 302 acres. Hartman Park is part of a larger network of trails and the network of Hartman Park, Walbridge Woodlands and the Young Preserve were combined to form the "Lyme Corner Trails". Hartman Park offers a walk along the 2.9-mile "Heritage Trail" which points out historic landmarks like old foundations and stone walls tucked away in the preserve (more information on the Heritage Trail here).

Parking: Parking areas (one main one) at around 122 Gungy Road in Lyme, Connecticut. There are other small parking areas dispersed here and room for about 20 cars.

Dogs/Kids/Bikes: There are definitely kid-friendly parts of the trail and kids will love checking out the beaver dam. Dogs are welcome in the preserve. The park is also popular among mountain bikers and is included in NEMBAs group rides.

Favorite Route: 3.2 miles and 265 feet of elevation
Travel north along the red trail, east along the red and green trail, south on the yellow for a short segment before traveling southwest on the orange trail, finishing along the purple trail back to the parking area. 

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