Exploring The Last Green Valley: Ranger Bill shares bucket list for 2017

There is so much to see and do here in The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor.

In my job, I get to explore many of the natural and cultural wonders of our region, and every year I try to visit and experience each of the 35 towns that comprise the National Heritage Corridor.

Yet there are still a handful of interesting places that I have not visited, and I am bound and determined to get to them in 2017.

Here is my bucket list of a few places I plan to visit this year. I hope this inspires you to get out and enjoy them as well.

We are blessed to have many exceptional museums in our region, from large nationally known institutions such as Old Sturbridge Village to mid-sized museums with renowned collections such as the Slater Memorial Museum.

Several of our towns also have active historical societies with small locally based collections on display in historic houses or in public buildings.

For example, the Brooklyn Historical Society Museum & Daniel Putnam Tyler Law Office has an excellent exhibit about the life of Revolutionary War Hero Israel Putnam.

This past year I learned about a unique museum in Oxford, Mass., the Huguenot Steamer No. 1 Fire Museum.

The museum is operated by the Oxford Firefighters Association and is located in a restored firehouse that includes exhibits and firefighting equipment.

I really enjoy learning about local history and viewing interesting exhibits and artifacts from our shared past. I look forward to visiting the fire museum and its collection of antique firefighting equipment, especially its 1884 Silsby horse-drawn steam engine, Huguenot 1, and 1857 Jeffers Handtub hand-drawn side-stroke pumper.

This equipment and other items on view are reminders of the importance of our local fire departments to our region’s history. For information on the museum make sure to check out huguenotsteamer.com.

Just outside the National Heritage Corridor, but still in our shared watershed, is a museum that I plan on visiting in 2017 for the first time. The Tantaquidgeon Museum in Uncasville is now celebrating its 85th year and is the oldest Native American-owned and operated museum in the United States.

I first learned of the museum from Mohegan Tribal Elder Stephanie Fielding and discovered more when reading Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel’s book, “Medicine Trail: The Life and Lessons of Gladys Tantaquidgeon” in preparation for a column I wrote last year.

I’ll finally make the trip to the museum in 2017 and look forward to visiting this very special place.

Visitors to the museum receive tours led by members of the Mohegan Tribe and experience and view exhibits with exceptional artifacts from the Mohegan and other woodland Indian tribes as well as artifacts from the Southwest and Plains Indian tribes.

For more information on the Tantaquidgeon Museum including information on hours and programs I suggest you check out the Facebook page at facebook.com/pages/Tantaquidgeon-Museum.

Readers of this column will recall my frequent mention of the Nipmuck Trail. I have hiked the entire trail from Mansfield Hollow to Bigelow Hollow in Union and have led hikes and programs on specific stretches of the trail.

The trail that I have not completed is the Natchaug Trail, and in 2017 I plan on hiking its entire 19.2 miles from Hampton to Ashford. I have hiked a few miles of the trail as it winds along the Natchaug River and I look forward to exploring its entirety.

The southern terminus of the trail can be found at the James Goodwin State Forest in Hampton, and the northern end can be found where it joins the Nipmuck Trail in Ashford.

The section of trail that I am particularly interested in hiking is the six-mile section north of Route 44. This section goes along Bigelow Brook, has excellent wildlife habitat viewing areas and also old cellar holes for exploring.

The best resource for information about the Natchaug Trail is the Connecticut Forest and Park Association’s “Connecticut Walk Book – East.”

You can also find information about the Natchaug Trail and CFPA’s interactive trail map by visiting ctwoodlands.org/blue-blazed-hiking-trails/blue-blazed-hiking-trails-interactive-map.

We are blessed to have several state parks and forests in The Last Green Valley. Our tax dollars go to support and maintain these excellent natural resource locations, which provide outdoor enjoyment and wildlife habitat.

If you’re looking to get out and enjoy the flora and fauna of our region, our state parks and forests should be at the top of your list.

I have driven past and through Brimfield State Forest, but have never stopped to hike and take in its beauty. This year I plan to head over to the northwest corner of the National Heritage Corridor for a visit to Brimfield State Forest.

Brimfield State Forest is heavily forested, with more than 20 miles of roads and trails. It is a popular location for hiking, horseback riding, and fishing. There is a recreation pond with pavilion, restrooms, beach, and picnic facilities.

The main entrance to Brimfield State Forest is on Route 20 in Brimfield, Mass., and from here you’ll find easily-accessed roads and hiking trails. Before heading out I suggest you check out the website at: mass.gov/eea/agencies/dcr/massparks/region-central/brimfield-state-forest and consider downloading the trail map that details the miles of hiking trails.

There is much to see and do here in The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. As you look to the year ahead I hope you’ll join me in visiting these unique outdoor resources as well as the museums that bring us greater understanding and appreciation of our cultural heritage.

Come along and together let us enjoy all we have, share it with family and friends, and pass it on to the next generation.

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

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