After seventeen plus years of driving by the Shade Swamp Nature Trail, curiosity and boredom finally converged and I walked the Blue Trail. Once I decided to take this little hike I tried to recruit my daughters to go along. Their grudging agreement to accompany me was bought and paid for with the promise of a Starbucks Frappawhatchamacallit after the “adventure.” I am glad that I did not research the background of the trail before our excursion, as the first thing we encountered was a series of metal cages with stone enclosures built into the hillside. They were so odd and unexpected. We speculated they were some sort of fancy dog kennels or, perhaps, baby dragon nurseries. Wrong on both counts.
The trail itself is not long and winds through a low swampy area before rising up to provide a great view of the Pequabuck River basin. That is the expanse of marshy wonder visible from Route 6 that I use as my personal rain gauge when it storms and turns the little river into an apparent lake that sometimes flirts with overtopping the highway.
On the way out we stopped to explore the long abandoned cages and found telltale signs of kids adopting one of the smaller structures (looked like a big rabbit hutch) as a makeshift clubhouse. It’s amazing what kids can do with some paint and lots of spare time. In any event, it was worth the short walk and apart from the narrow “gangplank” that crosses a muddy creek there was no drama. I walked the plank first and much to the disappointment of my daughters, did not fall off the edge and knee deep in mud. Sometimes I don’t mind disappointing my kids.
When we got home I went online and found a story about the trail at Connecticut Museum Quest that contained a most interesting tidbit about all those cages—it was a Zoo! I was hoping for baby dragon nursery, but here’s what they have to say about the cages:
The “Shade Swamp Shelter,” a log and shingle structure, is located at the entrance of the 1.5-mile-long blue trail section of the sanctuary. The shelter was built in 1934, by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps. The structure is also on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s worth a little visit to see the workmanship of unemployed young men during the Great Depression. CTMQ Notes: It’s really quite cool, but is right next to Route 6. Not exactly an ideal picnic spot.
The trail then plunges into the forest as visitors pass the ruins of an old roadside wildlife area that existed here until the early 1960s — a sort of zoo for rare and endangered birds and animals. The workmanship of the stone “dens” within the rusted cages is impressive. The state operated an experimental breeding station and year-round zoo of game birds and animals native to Connecticut starting in 1934.
Stay tuned for my eventual visit to the other Shade Swamp Nature Trail just a quarter mile down the road known as the “White Trail.” I have resolved to get to that one before another seventeen years slip away. Oh, lest I forget, some serious thanks go out to the very good and able citizens who cut away most of the trees and branches that completely blocked most of the Blue Trail after the October 31, 2011, snow storm. There is still some work to be done, but the trail is indeed open if you don’t mind climbing over or under one large tree trunk.