April 25, 2016 12:02PM
By Richie Rathsack
WALLINGFORD — Just ten steps onto the trail, a large garter snake darted back and forth, upset with my interruption of its sunbathing on a warm spring day.
Signs of spring permeate the Tyler Mill Preserve, making for a beautiful but muddy excursion into nature. I set out on a more ambitious trek through the property than on my previous visit, starting in the parking lot at Vietnam Veterans Memorial Park and making my way through the northern and southern red trail loops traversing trap rock, a swamp and several stream crossings.
Bryan Bettencourt and his wife, Tricia Dowcett, checked over their mountain bikes in the parking lot. The Cheshire residents have been coming to the preserve for more than a decade to bike, run and hike.
“There’s such a variety here,” Bettencourt said of the terrain. “It doesn’t get old.”
From the trail kiosk, I set out to the right on the green trail, which runs along a large field until it reaches the tree line and connects with the red trail. The field offered a wide-angle view of white fluffy clouds swirling gently against the blue sky.
The red trail spans two loops, with a marked trail connecting the two. The northern trail runs around Tamarac Swamp, higher on the west side and rides on the edge on the east side. The southern loop includes rocky hills and small, meandering streams along with the Muddy River.
Blue jays cackled loudly as I made my way through the first half of the north loop. Through the trees, I could spot a large swampy area down below. Small, purple flowers lined several parts of the trail. With spring wildflowers blooming, several large bumblebees frequently buzzed along the trails.
The red trail runs along a dirt road for a while until it splits. On my left, the trail continued along the road for the north loop and to the right, a red trail leading to the southern loop. I made off to the southern loop.
With all the rain, I expected a lot of mud. Trail conditions were better than expected, but I still managed to find several slippery, muddy spots, particularly on the southern trails. Several insects took an interest in my head, defying the repellent I sprayed on before my hike.
The southern loop begins with a gentle ascent — not too steep but enough to get the blood pumping — before turning downward towards the Muddy River. Making my way through the lowland areas, I stopped to inspect several vernal pools. Dark black tadpoles swam about in several of the pools. I spied a quick movement out of the corner of my eye, catching the reflection of a red tail hawk soaring overhead.
Passing through several small streams, I came to the much larger Muddy River, which runs throughout the preserve. The red trail crosses the river twice. Both crossings make for magnificent views. The second crossing is near the raceway and foundation of the old Tyler’s Mill. Throughout the lowlands, plant life was springing up everywhere. Fern fronds were unfurling. Trout Lilies, trillium and jack-in-the-pulpits blooms seemed to be everywhere.
I made my way back to the north loop, which continues down the dirt road from the split, past several more open fields. Several birds frolicked on the edge of the field line including nuthatches, robins and a red shouldered hawk.
Once the trail breaks from the road, it heads down through a pine grove along the edge of the swamp. I could see the swamp water stirring but couldn’t quite make out what was causing the motions. This part of the trail has the swamp on one side and a ridge on the other.
The wind kicked up a bit, causing the forest to seem to groan. Almost like it was stretching out after a long winter’s nap. I eventually made my way to the yellow trail, which then took me back to the parking area, which is where I ran into the Cheshire couple.
Though the town’s Conservation Committee mentioned an abundance of deer causing eating vegetation in the preserve, unfortunately, I did not see any deer during my journey. I saw some deer tracks, but horse tracks seemed much more prevalent than deer tracks, at least near the trails I took.
The hiking app on my phone logged the trip at a little under four miles, taking about two and a half hours at my leisurely pace. Before heading out on my hike, I stopped by the Wallingford Public Library to pick up the Tyler Mill Conservation Area Interpretive Trail Guide and a trail map to take along. Just ask the nice people at the reference desk about them.
Miles of trails run throughout 1,000 acres of land owned by the town of Wallingford. The property features rocky hills, the Muddy River, swamps and open fields. Popular for hiking, mountain biking and fishing.
The preserve can be accessed through several locations, including Vietnam Veterans Memorial Park on East Center Street and a dirt road leading in from Northford Road on the northern side or Bertini Park on Woodhouse Avenue on the south side.