On the Metacomet trail, hikers from Avon and Connecticut can see some of the best the area has to offer. One can enjoy panoramic views of the Farmington Valley, hear the rushing sounds of the Farmington River through the Tariffville Gorge or view the names of once-quarantined smallpox patients recorded on "hospital rock" in Farmington.
But while many of the trail's famous landmarks are on protected property, as much as 40 percent of it runs through land susceptible to development or other changes in use.
So the Connecticut Forest and Park Association is working to strengthen the arrangements that protect the 63-mile trail corridor through towns such as Suffield, East Granby, Simsbury, Bloomfield, Avon, West Hartford and Farmington. Recently the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving granted the association $165,000 to bolster the effort.
The association helped establish Connecticut's blue-blazed trails in 1929 and today helps maintain the networks and works to protect them.
Ownership interests along the trail include private individuals and homeowners, towns, land trusts and businesses and a municipal corporation — the Metropolitan District Commission.
“It’s a real diverse mix of ownership,” said Eric Hammerling, executive director of the forest and park association.
Much of the trail is allowed to travel through private property by “handshake agreements,” Hammerling said.
Now the organization is working on formalizing those arrangements. In some cases that might involve more formalized but non-binding agreements while in others there may be chances to work with on permanently protecting pieces of the trail, he said. For example, the organization is working with the Simsbury Land Trust to permanently preserve some areas adjacent to the trail.
“It’s a pretty intense effort, working with town planners, individuals, land trusts and land owners,” Hammerling said
The grant will allow the non-profit to develop a conservation plan for each community over the next three years. It will involve meetings, agreements, mapping and securing further grants for trail maintenance.
“We’re hoping this result in better protection of the corridor,” Hammerling said.
The Metacomet’s connections go beyond its 63 miles of off-road path. Portions run through areas rich in state history, and it's named for the 17th-century Native American chief Metacomet, also known as King Philip or Metacom. Legend has it that he sent smoke signals from a “cave” on top of Talcott Mountain and arranged to have Simsbury burned to the ground in 1676 during King Philip's War.
The trail is part of the 215-mile New England National Scenic Trail, much of which was granted federal national trail designation in 2009.
Residents can help preserve the trail by volunteering, reporting misuse and mostly respecting private property, Hammerling said. See more at the association's Web site.
And ultimately the users benefit.
“The key project outcome is the protection and public enjoyment of the lands and ridges that are connected by the Metacomet Trail,” Hammerling said.
Steven Troop, a Canton resident and avid hiker, said the trail is a valuable asset and he would like to see the state further support the effort.
"As an avid hiker of the Metacomet Trail through north-central Connecticut, I feel that the state of CT should allocate funds toward the protection and maintenance of the trail that goes through various parcels of private property along the way," he said.
For Troop, the Metacomet and other trails are more important than ever and offer a great way to unplug.
"The trail offers many people the opportunity to get back in touch with nature and be exposed to our natural ecosystem, which is so vital in today's overwhelming technological society," Troop said. "As I hike along the Metacomet Trail, I feel the stress from our modern society just roll off my back and fade away down the trail. People need the opportunity to unplug from the fast paced digital telecommunications world that we live in today and find peace within themselves, which can be accomplished through hiking on the Metacomet Trail, as I have experienced myself on many occasions."