During my travels across the state, I've seen plenty of stone walls snaking their way through the woods – a tangible link to the land's agricultural past before the New England forest reclaimed it.
I've seen lichen-covered walls. I've visted huge walls that were used to pen livestock. There are walls on which ladies walked so they wouldn't get their dresses and shoes muddy on the way to church. From Long Island Sound to the corners of the state, there are thousands of miles of stone walls.
But I've never seen two rock walls side by side like at the Joshua's Trust's Holt-Kinney Woods in Mansfield. Located along the busy Browns Road, the half-mile trail marked with yellow blazes travels through a white pine forest known as Six-Acre Meadow before reaching the stone walls.
The walls, about 30 feet apart, stretch arrow-straight through the woods. From a bird's-eye view, the walls look like long railroad tracks. One can only guess at their use – perhaps cows or sheep were shuttled through the walls from field to field at one time. Or maybe an old road ran between them.
The purpose of the parallel walls "remains a mystery," according to the Joshua's Trust trail description.
The parcel serves as an alternate trailhead to reach Mansfield's Schoolhouse Brook Park, a 455-acre preserve that has nearly nine miles of hiking trails. The Holt-Kinney trail travels through a swampy area and across an unnamed brook before hooking up with the "Bird Loop" trail at Schoolhouse Brook Park.
From here, visitors can explore an abandoned apple orchard or make their way to Schoolhouse Brook, where there are rocky remnants of a glacier's retreat and an old stone dam that once powered a sawmill.
During my visit to the park, I made up my own loop trail, taking the Bird Loop north to the Barrows Trail and then hooking up with the Stone Bridge Trail. All the walkways through the deep forest pass by stone walls and impressive ledges.
There are more hiking trails across Clover Mill Road that follow the scenic Schoolhouse Brook. On the return to my car, I traveled through the trust's Harriet Babcock Preserve, a mirror image of Holt-Kinney without the parallel stone walls.
If you go to Mansfield, give yourself a large chunk of time to explore, because the park is vast. You can make your walk longer by connecting to the Connecticut Forest & Park Association's Nipmuck Trail, which travels north to the Fifty Foot Cliff Preserve or south to Wolf Rock, both about a half-mile from the park. The Fifty Foot Cliff Preserve is 100 acres with a beautiful view of nearby hillsides, Naubesatuck Lake and the Fenton River Valley. A huge boulder and tremendous views mark a visit to Wolf Rock.
November is my favorite time of year to hike. The bugs are gone and ticks aren't as active. The leaves are mostly off the trees, opening the entire forest and exposing all its nooks and crannies. There's plenty to explore and you may be able to solve a stone wall mystery.
To get there, tak Route 195 to Browns Road. Holt-Kinney is located on the right. To visit Schoolhouse Brook Park take Route 195 to Clover Mill Road. Visit http://www.mansfieldct.gov/filestorage/1904/5357/schoolhouse_brook.pdf for a map of Schoolhouse Brook Park and http://www.joshuaslandtrust.org/trailmaps/holt-kinney.pdf for a map of Holt-Kinney Woods.
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