12 Things To Do in 2018 in The Last Green Valley

Monday is New Year’s Day and each of us will welcome 2018 in our own way. I was never one for making resolutions. As the year winds down, instead of making future resolutions, I’ll look back over the previous year to remember the things and places I enjoyed. With that in mind, here is a list of monthly things I enjoyed in 2017 or plan on doing in 2018. Perhaps it will provide you with ideas for adventures you might also consider right here in The Last Green Valley.

January

Winter is here, so it’s time to get outdoors and enjoy the snow. One of my favorite winter activities is snowshoeing, and there are many excellent trail locations in our region for a snowshoe hike. The Airline Trail is a perfect location. The relatively easy, wide open and mostly level trail is a good location for those new to snowshoeing. I have ridden horses, biked, hiked and snowshoed on the Airline Trail (and I know some who enjoy it for cross-country skiing as well). For information and maps for the Airline Trail State Park, visit the Connecticut DEEP website at http://www.ct.gov/deep/cwp/view.asp?a=2716&q=479336&deepNav_GID=1650

February

February can be icy and cold, so you might as well go with it and get over to Putnam for the Fire and Ice festival Feb. 10. The streets of downtown Putnam are host to the largest, single ice block carving competition in the U.S. and you can watch the live ice carving and chocolate sculpting contest. From 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., fire torches will be lit, and live fire shows will be featured. This is one of my favorite events in Putnam and brings new meaning to wintertime fun.

March

The first day of spring is March 20 and marks the Vernal Equinox in the northern hemisphere. Most days in March are still wintery. While the month is hopefully more “in like a lion, out like a lamb,” in recent years it has been “in like a lamb and out like a lion,” with deep, freezing cold later in the month. Needless to say, it’s a changeable month weather-wise, but still provides great opportunities to experience the outdoors and witness the emerging spring season. In March, I like to find a wetland area to explore because that is where spring first starts to emerge. I’ll look for skunk cabbage as it peaks its bloom head up through the soil and snow. This unique plant is the first to emerge and can create warmth to literally melt its way through the frozen ground. If I am lucky I may even hear the first peepers of spring. The Last Green Valley’s Spring Outdoors program is a great way to explore the season.

April

For many of my outdoorsy friends, April 14 is already circled on their calendar. Being the second Saturday in the month makes it opening day for trout fishing season, and here in The Last Green Valley there are several excellent fishing lakes, ponds, rivers and streams. One river in particular, labeled a “trophy trout” river, is the Natchaug, which runs from Eastford to Windham. In 2017, the DEEP stocked the Natchaug with “catchable” trout of at least 12 inches in 25 locations. Anglers will be interested in looking at the information on stocking and locations at http://www.ct.gov/deep/cwp/view.asp?a=2696&q=467456&deepNav_GID=1632

May

For me, paddle season starts in May when warmer water temperatures mean more comfortable and safer paddling conditions. Paddle enthusiasts will want to check out the Willimantic River Festival May 19. I know I’ll be there and have attended this fun river festival many times. The event includes a river paddle of more than 7 miles from Eagleville Dam in Mansfield to the Airline Trail Landing in Willimantic. There is a fee for paddlers which includes a free shuttle between the launch and landing location. The festival includes craft and food vendors and live music. Look to the Willimantic Whitewater Partnership website, https://www.willimanticwhitewater.org/, and Facebook page in early spring.

June

June is busting out all over with opportunities to get out, learn, enjoy and experience our communities and outdoor resources. One event I have not had the chance to visit, but hope to this year, is the Juneteenth Celebration in Norwich. For the past 29 years the Norwich chapter of the NAACP has celebrated Juneteenth, marking the date of June 19, 1865 when slaves in Galveston, Texas, learned the war between the states had ended on April 9 and they were now free. In Norwich, the celebration is at Brown Waterfront Park and is a family-friendly, entertaining event with awards given to deserving community members, live music, eclectic and informative vendors and lots of fun. For more information, go the Norwich NAACP website at http://norwichbranchnaacp.org/

July

The heat of summer usually kicks in around the time we gather as a nation to celebrate Independence Day on July 4. Most people celebrate with family gatherings and barbecues, and some will enjoy community sponsored fireworks displays. One of the most fun and interesting Fourth of July events I have ever attended is the Boombox Parade in Willimantic. The parade began in 1986, after the town was unable to get a marching band for the Windham Memorial Day Parade. Five weeks later, the “Boom Box Parade” tradition began with WILI radio playing marching band music on the air and marchers carrying boom boxes all turned to WILI. Who needs a band when you can have an entire parade playing music – loudly? WILI morning radio host Wayne Norman serves as grand marshal. It is always fun and worth a trip.

August

For me, August means the start of the fair season with both the Lebanon and Brooklyn fairs kicking off. The Lebanon and Brooklyn fairs are homestyle country fairs with lots of local flavor and family fun. I have enjoyed both of them, and for the past few years TLGV has participated at the Lebanon Fair with an information booth.

For some reason August usually has me humming the old tune from the musical “South Pacific”: “I am as corny as Kansas in August, I am as normal as blueberry pie.” Blueberry season wraps up in August, but that is when corn season moves into full gear. There is nothing like fresh sweet corn from a farmers market or farm stand. No grocery store purchased corn for me.

September

Keeping up the fresh, locally grown food theme, September is when gardens are really popping and certainly when fresh vine picked tomatoes become a regular part of my diet. A fun event I have enjoyed is the Killingly Great Tomato Festival. I heartily suggest it as a great community event with family-friendly activities such as a parade, farmers market, music, food and tomato-related contests. Look for information on this fun event in the summer, it is typically held the second Saturday of September.

October

Our region is ablaze during October and it is the perfect time of year to experience the great outdoors with a walk or hike during TLGV’s annual Walktober program. In addition to hundreds of walks offered, Walktober also highlights many community events and festivals happening during the glorious foliage season. By far, my favorite October event is the Roseland Cottage Fine Arts Festival in Woodstock. Hundreds of craft vendors from throughout the Northeast are on hand for the weekend fair.

November

The Last Green Valley is home to several Christmas tree farms, and I have been to many of them over the years. Allen Hill Tree Farm in Brooklyn is a favorite of mine for getting a great tree and enjoying amazing views of the beautiful Quinebaug River Valley. In 2018, I plan on visiting Gray Ledge Tree Farm in Plainfield and checking out its operation and trees. One of my favorite November events is the Putnam Holiday Dazzle Light Parade — always the Sunday after Thanksgiving and truly a dazzling event. Another fun holiday parade is the Norwich Winterfest Parade on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. For parade lovers, two parades celebrating the holiday season back-to-back is a treat.

December

December is when I look to my local stores for finding the perfect holiday gift for family and friends. Many of our downtowns have specialty shops that you just can’t find in large malls and department stores. As much as possible, my gift buying money stays local. If you’re looking for a great way to get in the holiday spirit, I suggest you visit Old Sturbridge Village for their Christmas by Candlelight program. During December weekends, the historical village is sparkling with candlelight, full of festive music and opportunities to explore our New England Christmas and holiday season traditions.

There you have it, a whole year of experiences, places and opportunities for getting out and enjoying the natural and cultural resources here in The Last Green Valley. I hope you’ll join me in 2018 in rededicating our commitment to caring for, enjoying and passing on to the next generation this beautiful place we call home – The Last Green Valley.

Bill Reid is the Chief Ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. He has lived in the region for more than 35 years and can be reached at bill@tlgv.org