Joshua’s Trust: Utley Hill Preserve

Location: Columbia, CT

Links: Joshua’s Trust; Trail Map PDF; Joshua’s Trust Facebook Page

Date: Thursday, February 7th, 2019

Time: 11:00 am – 1:30 pm

Hike Duration: 3.5 miles, 2.5 hours

Weather: Overcast and wet; 35-40 degrees F

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Our lunch with a view

I’ll admit, I was concerned about being underwhelmed with this hike when we were first researching and planning it. Many of the Joshua’s Trust properties seem to be on the smaller side, and I wasn’t sure that 4 miles of trails would feel like enough of a hike for us.

Which Dennis pointed out is pretty amazing when we really think about it. When we first started hiking on a more consistent basis (almost weekly) a couple years ago, 4 miles was more towards the maximum end of our range. Now our first thought is, that seems kinda short!

I’m happy to say, this hike was far from underwhelming. And yet, not overwhelming either. It was a nice blend of moving and exploring. Nothing too strenuous, but still interesting. The trails were squishy, even appearing to be small brooks themselves in some places.

There’s something so satisfying about playing in the mud. Dennis likes to reminisce about riding his ATV through the muddy woods, kicking up mud, the smell of it permeating the air. And I remember barefoot traipsing through the garden after a hurricane one summer, sinking up to my knees in the mud, the feel of it on my skin.

Mud hiking is just as fun, especially with the right footwear. Being able to walk through trails of water, feeling my boots sink in the mud, hearing the suctioning sound as I lift my feet after sinking in, smelling the wet earth.

It’s a delight for the senses. A reminder that nature isn’t just something to observe, but something to be in relationship with. Not just something to learn about, but something to experience.

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My favorite footbridge

Historically, the streams in this area provided power for a series of mills. We began by crossing the coolest footbridge, created by large flat stones. And then followed the western side of Utley Brook, where most of the mill ruins can be found.

This called for some minor off-trail exploring so we could get up close and personal with the ruins and the brook!

The sound of the brook was almost deafening, causing Dennis and I to have to stop and raise our voices if we wanted to talk to each other. A stark contrast to the silent quietude of the woods and swamp that make up the rest of the trails.

There are a few designated “viewpoints” on these trails. Two along the brook where the mill ruins are and two that look out over the swamp. It was at one of the latter ones that we were able to find a good rock to sit on and enjoy our lunch, next to a small beaver dam.

After lunch, we spent some time exploring around the swamp. Then followed the blue and yellow trails to continue the loop back to the beginning.

I was reminded on this hike that it’s not necessarily the acreage of the property or the length of the trails or the height of the overlook that make for an exciting hike. It’s the hiker’s mindset that makes the difference. The sense of adventure and playfulness. The willingness to explore and also to sit in awe of the magnificence of the natural world.

And you can have that mindset hiking the Appalachian Trail or hiking a state forest; walking the trails of a small nature sanctuary or taking a stroll through a city park; working in your garden or even sitting in your own backyard.

“In every walk in nature, one receives far more than he seeks. For going out…is really going in.” ~John Muir

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