Monday, April 15, 2013

Mountainside Lake, Roadside Shrine

Have you ever seen a place that, on a map, looked so intriguing that you were willing to put some gray matter into figuring out how to get there?  So it was with me once I learned of a 30-foot waterfall in Penwood State Park, and again later when I found that the waterfall flows into a mountainside pond with its own island.

I had to find that mountainside pond, and this is the story of finding it.

 But first I have to show you the roadside shrine that my husband Joe and I found as we were traversing the wooded roads of the Weatogue area of Simsbury, CT, searching for the pond. 

The inscription on the stone says,

This Monument is Erected in Memory of the Fatal wound That Mr. David Russell rec'd at This place By A Cartwheel Running across his body On the 15th day of June 1782 in the 38th Year of his Age.

It was poignant there, on this cool afternoon in early spring, to consider Russell, the June day, and the accident, over 200 years ago, the cartwheel doing its fatal damage.  Someone has planted daffodils at the spot, at the base of a steep wooded hillside ascending the ridge up to its spine in Penwood State Park.

My husband Joe and I wouldn't have found this monument if we hadn't set out to find the mountainside pond.

But before I tell you whether we found the pond, first I have to tell you about how I was obsessed about the waterfall that feeds the pond. 

I learned about the waterfall in Penwood State Park when I read this story by Peter Marteka in the Hartford Courant:

If you read the piece, you may notice that Marteka doesn't say where to find the waterfall, which was frustrating, because I certainly wanted to see it.  Joe and I were able to identify its probable location by looking at this Department of Energy and Environmental Protection map of Penwood :

Lucy Brook flows westward out of Lake Louise--a kettle pond named somewhat grandly for the wife of Penwood's prior landowner, industrialist Curtis Veeder--and forms a waterfall as it descends down a wooded ravine before emptying eventually into the Farmington River.  Joe and I located the top of the waterfall on this map and walked to the spot where it plunged and gurgled into a declivity much steeper than anything we wanted to descend.

And that was unfortunate, because look at this map and you can see that the brook reaches a place where it forms a pond almost as big as Lake Louise itself, complete with an island, nestled somewhere on the shoulder of the mountain's west-facing ridge.  Once I saw that woodland pond on the map, I had to see it in person.  But at the top of the plunging ravine, I didn't feel very brave about following the brook to where it emptied into this nameless pond.

But look at the map,  and you can see that maybe there's another way to the pond. Lucy Brook crosses East Weatogue Street.  Could one find the place where the brook crossed the road and then follow the brook up the side of the ridge, ascending from west to east, in search of the pond?

We had to know.

And that was how, as we looked for the place where the brook crossed East Weatogue, we passed the roadside memorial

And lo and behold, near the memorial, there was the brook, about 18 inches wide, bubbling across a downsloping field on its way to the Farmington.  We parked the car and crossed the road to see whether it was possible to follow the stream up the hillside to the lake.

We had to cross a barbed-wire fence to access the brook from the road, but once we got across the wire, we could see that someone  had mowed wide meadow paths through the woods at the base of the mountain's western flank. 

We followed these broad paths along in a generally upward direction across fields like this one:

You can see the wooded crest of the ridge in the background here.  The stream forms a waterfall as it comes down that ridge and then collects in the nameless pond, which as we traversed this field we still hadn't found.  But what a lovely series of open fields on the way to finding or not finding it.

We passed this spooky little vernal pool.  I bet there are a lot of salamanders hatching in there:

Doesn't this shaded, still, mirrorlike little pool look like something out of Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter?  

 We disturbed a very large turkey on its woodsy brink as we approached.

And then, a few yards after that, there it was, the mountainside pond with the little island in the middle of it.  I never thought I'd be able to reach it given the steep pitch of the waterfall that forms it.  Yet here it was, accessible by approaching it from a different direction.

The gray wooded area extending from the middle of the photo over to the edge of the pond is the island.

While walking these paths we saw our first trout lily of the season:

It was a delightful walk through a lovely and easily accessable series of hillside meadows.  I had to find out about it.  Who's been mowing and maintaining those meadow paths?

When I got home I did some research, and though I still don't know who mowed the paths, I did learn that this piece of property is called Tanager Hill and that it was once owned by a family named Ellsworth.  The Simsbury Land Trust would like to buy it so that its present owner won't turn it into housing.  Check it out:

Worth saving!

I'm blown away that after all that imagining about the mountainside pool, there it was, pristine and quiet and easier to find than I'd ever imagined.

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