A 2021 Monthly Guide to Exploring The Last Green Valley
New Year’s Day is Friday and each of us will welcome 2021 in our own way. I will be happy to see 2020 in the rearview mirror. The challenges this past year were unprecedented in my lifetime, and, even with the turn of the calendar year, the months ahead will continue in our “new” normal with economic uncertainty for many and health and safety concerns for all.
Despite the challenges of 2020, the year did bring my family unimaginable joy with the birth of twin grandsons July 19. My son and daughter-in-law live in the Midwest and due to the pandemic we have only seen the babies in video chats. In the year ahead I will finally hold them in my arms.
With optimism and anticipation for a new year of possibilities, here is my list of monthly adventures for 2021. Perhaps it will provide you with ideas for your explorations of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor.
Regular readers know of my love for winter outdoor activities. For me, deep snow means strapping on snowshoes and exploring. There are many excellent trail locations in our region for a snowshoe hike, but for the beginner it is best to stick to easy trails. The Air Line Trail is perfect for snowshoeing because it’s a wide open and level trail. I have ridden horses, biked, hiked and snowshoed on the Air Line Trail, and I know some who enjoy it for cross-country skiing. For information and maps for the Air Line Trail State Park, go to the CT DEEP website:
For many folks the winter means indoor activities. It’s a perfect time of year to visit one of our region’s many museums. A visit to the Slater Memorial Museum in Norwich is on my list for this winter, and I look forward to sharing it with my wife too. The museum is open on a reservation basis on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. Check out their website for additional information at: https://www.slatermuseum.org/visit/preregistration
The first day of Spring is March 20, a Saturday, and marks the Vernal Equinox in the northern hemisphere. Many days in March find “old man winter” still clinging to his throne, but there is no denying the slow advance of the warming sun. March is a changeable month weather-wise yet 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 and look for skunk cabbage as it peaks its bloom up through the soil and snow. This unique plant is the first to emerge, creating its own heat to literally melt its way through the frozen ground. The Last Green Valley’s Spring Outdoors program begins March 19, and it’s a great way to explore the season. You’ll find dozens of adventures on our website when we get closer to the Vernal Equinox.
April brings opening day for trout fishing season, and here in The Last Green Valley we are fortunate to have several excellent fishing lakes, ponds, rivers and streams, including a trophy trout stream in the Natchaug River. The Quinebaug Valley Trout Hatchery in Plainfield raises thousands of fish for stocking throughout the state. Anglers will be interested in looking at the information on stocking and locations on the CT DEEP website:
May signals the start of paddling season for me. The water is warming up and that means comfortable and safer paddling conditions. TLGV frequently hosts paddles, including June’s traditional Summer Solstice sunset paddle at one or our region’s larger lakes. Paddlers will want to check the TLGV website for paddle information. You are also welcome to contact me specifically with paddling questions. I would be happy to suggest locations for getting out to enjoy our region’s paddle recreation resources. Check the TLGV website for paddle information and guides at:
June is busting out with opportunities to get out, enjoy and experience our many communities and events. One event I hope to attend this year is the Juneteenth Celebration in Norwich. For more than three decades the Norwich Chapter of the NAACP has celebrated Juneteenth, marking June 19, 1865 when slaves in Galveston, Texas, learned the Civil War had ended on April 9, and they were now free. Look for more information on this celebration in early June and check out the Norwich NAACP website at: https://naacpnorwichbranch.org/
The heat of summer usually kicks in around the time we gather as a nation to celebrate our Independence Day on July 4. Hopefully, this year we’ll celebrate with family gatherings and community sponsored events and fireworks displays. My favorite events in July are the July 4 Boombox Parade in Willimantic, The East Woodstock Congregational Church Fourth of July Jamboree, and the fireworks in Putnam and Killingly. In 2020 these family fun celebrations were curtailed due to the pandemic, and I hope we’ll all be back enjoying them this coming summer.
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 typically ends in August and that is when sweet corn season kicks in. There is nothing quite like fresh picked corn from a local farmer’s market or farm stand.
Keeping to the theme of fresh locally grown, August and early September is when vine ripe tomatoes become a regular part of my diet. A fun event we like to attend is the Killingly Great Tomato Festival. I hope we’ll be able to celebrate this event in 2021 and heartily suggest it as a great community event with family-friendly activities such as a parade, music, food and tomato-related contests. Look for information on this fun event, typically held in early September. Sept. 18 also kicks off the 31st annual Walktober throughout The Last Green Valley.
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 Walktober. In addition to hundreds of walks offered, Walktober also highlights many community events and festivals happening during the glorious foliage season. A wonderful 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-long fair.
One of my favorite holidays is Thanksgiving and a traditional meal with all the fixings. All the foods you’ll need for your Thanksgiving feasts can be found at local farms and farm stands. For many years Ekonk Hill Turkey Farm has been providing exceptional free-range turkeys, and many of our region’s farm stands provide all the vegetables you’ll need to round out a great traditional meal. The TLGV website list many of our region’s farms to help you complete your Thanksgiving meal. Check it out at:
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. If you’re looking for a family fun way to get in the holiday spirit, I suggest a visit to Old Sturbridge Village for their Christmas by Candlelight program. During December weekends, the historical village is sparkling with candlelight, festive music, and opportunities to explore our New England Christmas and holiday season traditions.
For local shopping opportunities in December or any time of the year, visit TLGV’s online Explore guide or call us for a copy. The latest edition will be out in early 2021 but the website is regularly updated. Visit https://thelastgreenvalley.org/explore-the-last-green-valley/explore-guide/
There you have it, a whole year of experiences, place, and opportunities for getting out and enjoying our beautiful region. I hope you’ll join me and together let us care for, enjoy and passing on to the next generation our very own homegrown National Park – The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor.
Bill Reid is the Chief Ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. He has lived in the region for 40 years and can be reached at email@example.com
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