Mansfield Hollow Worth a Visit Any Time of Year
The morning of Feb. 10 was bright and sunny, with temperatures rising into the 30s and heading for the 40s. As I pulled into the parking area at Mansfield Hollow Lake and State Park, I found a dozen or more ice fishermen already set up on the lake.
Their lines had been dropped through holes in the ice into the depths of the lake. Some stood over the holes in quiet hopefulness, while others sat on chairs enjoying the sunny day. I was soon joined by 10 members of The Last Green Valley for a winter hike through the park and around the lake. It was a perfect day to enjoy one of our region’s most cherished outdoor recreation locations.
I have been to Mansfield Hollow several times to hike and paddle. My first visit was for a Walktober paddle organized by Betty Robinson, co-founder of Friends of Mansfield Hollow. I’ll never forget that paddle: It was the first time I saw a bald eagle in The Last Green Valley.
We had paddled the entire lake and stopped near a small island when suddenly an osprey flew from a tree. It was carrying a wriggling fish in its talons and, to our surprise, in hot pursuit flew a bald eagle. Eagles obtain their food by catching it, scavenging it or stealing it. This eagle was practicing the art of thievery. For several minutes we watched in awe as high above us both osprey and bald eagle twisted up and up toward the thermal winds. The osprey was hoping the winds would aid his speedy escape. Off they soared toward the south, the osprey never dropping the fish.
During our Feb. 10 hike around the lake we saw a pair of adult bald eagles roosting in a dead tree where the Mount Hope River flows into the lake. My guess was they were hoping to snag any fish the fishermen might leave on the ice. I hope to return to the area soon and explore more to see if this pair has a nest near the lake.
The management of Mansfield Hollow is a unique three-way partnership between a federal agency (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) a state agency (Department of Energy and Environmental Protection) and a private nonprofit (Friends of Mansfield Hollow).
Mansfield Hollow Lake, also called Naubesatuck Lake, was created by construction of a large dam by the USACOE completed in 1952. The flood control dam holds back the water from three rivers, the Natchaug, Mount Hope and Fenton and created the large lake enjoyed by many for recreational purposes. The lake is 450 acres and the flood storage area for the entire project is 1,880 acres.
The dam is a rolled earth-fill dam with stone-slope protection. The spillway is 690 feet of concrete. The entire dam is 12,420 feet long and there is a paved walkway along the top of the dam that is popular for walking, biking and jogging. The west half of the dam is about a mile long and the east half is almost two miles long. Parking for walking the dam is at Mansfield State Park and the commuter parking lot on Route 6.
Below the spillway the Natchaug River flows for another mile into the Willimantic Reservoir, providing drinking water for Windham. Below the reservoir the Natchaug continues for three miles where it joins the Willimantic River to form the Shetucket River.
USACOE owns 2,472 acres. DEEP leases about 2,300 acres of it for recreation and natural resources management. The property includes a large bluff surrounded by pine trees overlooking the water. There’s a pavilion, picnic tables, fireplaces and a large field used for softball, volleyball and other sports. The lake has a large boat ramp and there are plenty of parking, drinking water and sanitary facilities.
There are several hiking and cross-country skiing trails maintained by the Friends of Mansfield Hollow, and an excellent trail map can be downloaded and printed from the DEEP Mansfield Hollow website.
The lake is a very popular fishing area. Certainly, the ice fishermen and bald eagles we saw are proof of quality fishing. There are many fish species in the lake, including black crappie, pumpkinseed and bluegill sunfish, largemouth and smallmouth bass, yellow perch, brown bullhead, chain pickerel, white sucker, American eel, golden shiner, carp and rainbow, brook and brown trout. Fishing is good for largemouth bass and fair for smallmouth bass. The lake also provides good fishing for yellow perch and chain pickerel.
Northern pike are also present, having been reintroduced to the lake in 1992. The northern pike, a native of northern Europe, the northern United States and all of Canada, grows to lengths of more than 40 inches and may weigh more than 30 pounds. In Connecticut, pike often reach 10 pounds and occasionally exceed 20 pounds.
According to DEEP, northern pike have been in the Connecticut River since the mid-1800s. DEEP’s Fisheries Division began stocking several additional areas with these impressive fish, known for their fight on the line, including Bantam Lake in early 1970s, Mansfield Hollow Lake in 1992, Quaddick Reservoir and Pachaug Pond in 1999, creating successful fisheries.
Northern pike breed in late winter to early spring, when the water is still around 40 degrees. DEEP Fisheries managers monitor key marshes and coordinate water levels with USACOE personnel to keep these areas flooded to increase the northern pike fishery in Connecticut.
Last week, I visited with Bob Sampson at his home in Salem. For more than 40 years Bob has been the outdoors columnist for The Bulletin, and he is well known to readers for his excellent reporting on fishing and hunting. On the wall at his house was the mount of a huge northern pike. I asked him about it, and he said he caught it in Mansfield Hollow. I asked Bob about it in an email and he wrote back that northern pike was “the largest I’ve ever caught. I personally have caught 50 or so pike over three feet long, and that was 43 and 1/4 inches long and 23 or (24) pounds. It was late summer, so it wasn’t fat and full of eggs or could and should have been closer to thirty pounds.”
To find out more about the Friends of Mansfield Hollow, I contacted Debbie Tedford, an outdoor recreation enthusiast and friend who has been involved with the organization for many years. She told me the nonprofit organization began around 1981 when Betty Robinson, Hillard Bullard and other members of the Appalachian Mountain Club were upset with a governor’s money-saving proposal to close Mansfield Hollow.
According to its bylaws, the mission of FMH is to “help preserve, maintain and enhance Mansfield Hollow and trails for the benefit of the general public, to solicit and raise funds, educate the public about the resources, needs and value of the park, to be a source of information about the park.”
Tedford said they work closely with DEEP and USACOE, and some of their projects have included obtaining a grant to construct a pavilion at the picnic area, providing a map of the hiking trails for the kiosk, maintaining the red and yellow blazed trails and, when requested, providing DEEP with tools needed to maintain Mansfield Hollow. Current activities and information can be found on their Facebook page at Friends of Mansfield Hollow.
For information on Mansfield Hollow Lake and State Park, I suggest checking out DEEP’s website. A Google search of Mansfield Hollow will get to the website, or you can type in: http://www.ct.gov/deep/cwp/view.asp?A=2716&Q=325236
The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor is blessed to have many beautiful state parks and USACOE project areas. Our woods and water resources make this region rich in outdoor recreation opportunities. Mansfield Hollow is one of my favorite locations. I know I’ll be back soon.
Thanks to the folks at DEEP, the USACOE and Friends of Mansfield Hollow this important natural resource is being cared for, enjoyed and passed on to the next generation.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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