Mountain Laurel Loop

HIGHLIGHTS An undulating forest path leads you through tunnels of mountain laurel, past babbling brooks and through a colorful wetland area. Mountain Laurel, the state flower, blooms in mid.-June to early July. A small nature museum is on the grounds.

DIRECTIONS: At the jct. of Rte. 6 and Rte. 69 in Bristol, take Rte. 69 north for 2.5 mi., take a right onto Shrub Rd. and follow for .4 mi. to the Barnes Nature Center on your left. Parking is at the Center.

Walking Time: 1 hour

Level: Easy 1.2 miles roundtrip.

TRAIL DIRECTIONS: There are four trails on this 70 acre preserve. The Mountain Laurel Loop includes the best of each circuit. On this walk you will take the red trail to the yellow trail to the white trail to the blue trail which brings you back to your starting point. Trails are open dawn to dusk. No pets, bikes, or motor vehicles are allowed on the trails. Please do not pick or damage any of the plants.

WALKING DIRECTIONS

Before beginning your walk visit the nature museum. Here you will find displays of animals found in Connecticut, a reptile exhibit, animal room, and a small nature library.

To begin your walk, face the nature center building, bear right and follow the red trail past a small pond into the woods. In five minutes you will enter the "mountain laurel tunnel" that wends its way through the forest adjacent to a babbling brook. Mountain Laurel, a large evergreen shrub with shiny leaves is Connecticut's state flower that blooms in mid.-June to early July. This hardy evergreen edges much of the red and yellow trail as well as parts of the white and blue trail.

The much smaller evergreen also found here is called Sheep Laurel and can be identified by its dull green linear leaves. Sheep Laurel has dark pink flowers that are a little smaller than the magnificent delicate pink blossoms of Mountain Laurel.

Cross the brook on a sturdy wooden bridge and continue following the red trail through the mountain laurel tunnel. At the junction of the red and yellow trail, take a right onto the yellow trail and continue this serpentine walk through pink clouds of mountain laurel in mid.-June and early July.

In a short time, you will reach a mixed hardwood forest, continue following the yellow blazes along a narrow footpath. At the split in the trail, bear right and follow the yellow blazes up a gradually ascending hill. A staired path leads you to the summit of Pigeon Hill that overlooks Coppermine Mountain. The name of the hill is derived from the time when this area was a favorite feeding site of the Passenger Pigeon. This handsome bird, that resembled a morning dove, use to travel in flocks of millions in the 1800's. Sadly, the species became extinct with loss of habitat and by hunting. The last passenger pigeon died in 1914.

Continue following the yellow blazes on an elevated path. Dry hillsides, like the one that you are traversing are perfect habitats for an oak forest, which we see here. Oaks are divided into two main categories, red and white oaks. The ridge that you are traversing is called a glacial esker. It was formed millions of years ago when glaciers covered this area. Cracks or tunnels in the ice filled with sand and gravel, leaving ridges, such as this one when the ice melted.

At the junction of the yellow and white trail, take the white trail. This undulating pine scented path is edged with mountain laurel, sheep laurel, the smaller of the two evergreens, and wild azaleas.

Soon you will reach a bog and wetland area with a series of bridges. Each season the wetland area offers a colorful display of flowers and foliage from the brilliant yellow of spring's marigolds to autumn's fire colors. Red maples, and yellow birch are the predominate trees found here. One of the most common wetland plants found here in the spring is skunk cabbage that gets its name from its distinctive smell!

As you meander through this wetland, you will cross two bridges. After crossing the third bridge, turn left onto the blue trail. This section of trail follows Falls Brook through a mixed hardwood forest. Walking through the forest look for shagbark, hickory, and oak trees whose nuts provide food for the wildlife of the center. You will also see white pine trees and paper or American white birch trees easily identified by their peeling, chalky white bark. In the summer, the trail is edged with a variety of ferns, including the cinnamon fern with its rusty brown center spore stalk.

As you approach the Nature Center you will notice a meadow to the right of the trail. In the summer the meadow is full of sun loving plants like stag horn sumac and blackberry bushes that provide berries for wildlife found here. Follow the blue blazes to the Nature Center where this loop began.

Special Notes: More Nature Centers to Explore in Litchfield Hills Flanders Nature Center, Flanders Rd., (off Rte. 6), Woodbury, CT. The center has several unique trails to explore including a Geology Trail and a Botany Trail, best walked in the spring. The Pomperaug Valley Garden Club has carefully maintained the Botany Trail since 1964. The Pratt Center, 163 Papermill Rd. (off Rte. 202), New Milford, CT. This 193 acre nature preserve has a hiking trail to the top of 1200 ft. Mount Tom. Sharon Audubon Center, Rte. 4, Sharon, CT. The Center has several good trails to explore including the Lucy Harvey Trail, the Bog Meadow Trail with a wooden boardwalk and the Fern Trail. A small natural history museum is on the grounds. Sunny Valley Preserve, 8 Sunny Valley Lane, New Milford, CT. A working farm on 1873 acres with 10 miles of trails. All trails open dawn to dusk.