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Dave Zajac Record-Journal
Hubbard Park visitors get a glimpse of downtown Meriden from Castle Craig during a special night viewing held by the Parks and Rec Dept., Thursday, September 19, 2013. The access road was open to vehicles from 7 and 8:30 p.m. and dozens of spectators packed the parking lot and surrounding area of the tower dedicated in 1900. | (Dave Zajac / Record-Journal)

Amateur hikers have lots to choose from locally

Have you ever looked at the Castle Craig tower, visible along the highway in 691, or the rocky ridge at Ragged Mountain, or the hiker’s bridge across 691 and felt a yearning to travel there? Hiking isn’t just for people who own $200 hiking boots. More scenic than walking on a treadmill, hiking also offers superior exercise because of the inclines. Experienced hikers can attest that hiking works out the abs and all of the leg muscles, especially along uneven terrain.

An amateur hiker in central Connecticut can safely and easily reach many impressive locations, like the summit of Sleeping Giant. The Northeast is paradise for hikers. If you don’t think this is true, drive from Ohio to Missouri sometime. By the time you’ve passed your fiftieth cornfield, you’ll get a greater appreciation for this area.

The Connecticut Forest and Park association and its volunteers put an enormous amount of work into maintaining hiking trails.

“We maintain 825 miles of hiking trails in Connecticut. We have about 115 committed volunteer trail adopters, but our total volunteer corps is much bigger than that,” said Trail Stewardship Director Clare Cain.

Last year alone, volunteers put a total of 18,000 hours into trail maintenance, which includes routine brush clipping by volunteers who choose to adopt small sections of trail as well as larger projects taken on by bigger groups, including sawing and moving downed trees, building bridges or boardwalks in wetlands, and other tasks. All volunteers are trained by the Forest and Park association to help make sure trails meet standards for a good hiking experience.

There are many flat, easy trails in the area that are good for beginners.

In Middlefield, Wadsworth State Park’s main (orange) trail is very well maintained, mostly flat, and has excellent sights to see, including a giant laurel tree and a large stone bridge. The trail even has a couple of benches where visitors can rest and enjoy the scenery. A marginally more challenging detour featuring a few hills that are more challenging to navigate safely will take you to the Little Falls, which stretches majestically to approximately 40 feet high.

A great beginner loop is to take the orange trail, turn left on the blue trail, turn left again on the red trail, and left back out to the park entrance. This entire loop is fairly flat, and the entrance features generous parking that is free, except for when swimming season begins. This is a 20 to 30 minute adventure.

If you’re intimidated about going off the beaten path, try Hubbard Park in Meriden. If you park at the bottom area, there is an excellent uphill walk along a fully paved road up the Castle Craig and back down. From the peak of Castle Craig, a stone tower with a metal staircase inside, you can see for miles in every direction. Set aside an hour and a half for the trip to have time to enjoy the summit.

To see another impressive stone structure, you can take the Tower Path at Sleeping Giant, which is a bit more difficult than the above trails. It is, however, nothing compared to the challenge offered by the blue trail, which includes rock faces at steep enough angles that most hikers will find themselves on all fours to ascend the path.

Safety is important, but don’t let worry about risk stop you from giving hiking a try.

The South Kensington Fire Department sometimes rescues lost or injured hikers at Ragged Mountain, a particularly challenging set of trails. The department advises hikers bring the following: a cell phone, water, a snack, a first aid kit, proper clothing, and common sense. Wear long pants tucked into comfortable shoes — sneakers are fine. Take extra caution when hiking alone, and travel in pairs or groups if you can, especially if you’ve never been somewhere before. Avoid more strenuous hikes — like Ragged Mountain — until after you’re sure you’re prepared. In the event you do become lost or injured, rest assured that a call to 911 will bring someone to help you. If you do need emergency assistance, don’t move after calling 911 — responders will locate you based on your GPS signal.

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