BARKHAMSTED — Members of the Friends of American Legion and Peoples State Forests (FALPS) got an early morning start on Saturday, July 18 to lead a hike on the Overlook Loop trail through Peoples State Forest.
During the hike, group members educated residents on the history of the area’s trails, nature, and founders.
Beginning the 1.5-mile trail at 9:00 a.m., FALPS leaders took a small group of eight hikers past the Veeder Boulders (the trail’s largest glacial erratics) and up the path to two large rock outcroppings, complete with expansive views of Riverton, the Farmington River, and part of New Hartford.
Ginny Apple, a member of the FALPS program committee, provided a host of facts about the forest and its trails for attendees, particularly when it came to the Veeder Boulders at the beginning of the hike.
Apple detailed how the boulders had been picked up by glacial ice and dropped far from their source after being loosened by glacial meltwater. The rocks are named after Curtis Veeder, a machinist, and inventor who invented the cyclometer, a counting device that allowed bicycle riders to measure their distance traveled. Like the boulders, many of the trails in the forest are named after residents active during the time of its founding.
Apple and other FALPS members pointed out graffiti that some visitors had vandalized the boulders with, but which volunteers had recently taken steps to cover or erase.
The start time and distance of the hike were strategic to avoid the summer heat and encourage more participation, according to Apple.
“It’s short, but we thought we’d do that for our first hike back because we saw a lot of families that have been out in the forest, more than ever before,” Apple said. “We’ve never done our hikes this early, but because of the heat we thought it was a good time.”
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic a few months ago, FALPS had largely put a hold on programming since late February.
Normally the group holds around two events a month, including a couple of hikes a season.
With the July 18 return from the organization’s scaled-back events, participants were excited to get back into nature and learn about the forest’s history, all with precautions in place.
Attendees stayed six feet from one another and wore masks when social distancing wasn’t possible.
Despite the pandemic, FALPS volunteers have still completed projects in recent weeks including building a boardwalk just off of Greenwoods Road near Beaver Brook Road and most recently regenerating a pollinator garden in Matthies Grove. The garden includes benches and wooden cookies for visitors to walk its paths as stepping stones, as well as flowers like Daffodils and Narcissus to attract pollinating insects, birds, and butterflies.
Paul Hart, a FALPS member and the first to arrive at the hike’s starting point in the Big Springs Youth Camping Area, said that hikes like Saturday’s have drawn people not only from the local towns but also other parts of the state.
“I know in years past we’ve gotten people from all over the state, but mostly Northwest Connecticut,” Hart said. “It surprises me. I think we’ve even had people from Wolcott, down by the Waterbury area. Peoples Forest is pretty well known.”
Alongside the facts and guidance along the trails, hikers were also on the lookout for a moose that had been spotted in the area in recent weeks. While the animal wasn’t sighted on this week’s hike, one particularly eagle-eyed participant did notice a moose track off the side of the trail.
FALPS volunteers often replace maps in the trail boxes and clear up local trails of litter, fallen limbs, invasive species, or overgrown brush to keep the paths clear and usable for all who wish to visit Peoples State Forest.
“The state doesn’t have a lot of money to put into the forest anymore, so our group is helping out with that,” Apple said.
For more information about FALPS including upcoming events and news related to Peoples State Forest go to their Facebook page.
All photos by Cady Stanton