On the Letterboxing Trail in The Last Green Valley

On the Letterboxing Trail in The Last Green Valley

For folks looking to get outdoors with family, friends, or just a solo hike in nature, let me suggest a letterboxing activity as a fun way to explore. If you have youngsters and would like to spark their interest in nature, then the enticement of an outdoor treasure hunt just might pique their interest.

The first I learned about letterboxing was from my son. We were hiking one of the nearby, blue-blazed trails when we noticed what looked like a small plastic lunch box tucked into a stone wall. Since that day I have spotted them on several occasions when out hiking in the region.

This fall, thanks to the efforts of TLGV Volunteer Ranger Kim McLean, we established the first TLGV Letterboxing Trail. For many years Kim has been active in Girl Scouts of Connecticut and Camp Laurel in Lebanon, where she discovered the fun of letterboxing. Having led Walktober and Acorn Adventure letterboxing programs for TLGV, Kim offered her help to establish a letterbox trail for The Last Green Valley.

With the help of TLGV partner organizations and Kim’s letterboxing friends she organized eight letterbox locations in The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. The locations are French River Park in Webster, Westville Dam in Southbridge, Goodwin Forest and Conservation Center in Hampton, Owen Bell Park in Killingly, Creasy Park in Coventry, Lebanon Historical Society in Lebanon, Mohegan Park in Norwich and Lauter Park in Willimantic. Getting a good mix of locations for the first letterboxes on the trail was important to TLGV. We wanted to include locations, such as Norwich, Willimantic, Killingly and Southbridge, that would be walkable for families, while also mixing in well-known spots and hidden gems.

Kim, her husband, Geoff, and four volunteer carvers from Connecticut and Massachusetts put in more than 60 hours creating the letterboxes, finding the best places to locate them and creating the clues.

For those of you who are uninitiated in the world of letterboxing, it is an active, fun outdoor hobby that is part orienteering, part art and crafts and a lot of problem solving in a hunt for a small “treasure” or cache somewhere in the outdoors. I spoke with Kim to learn more about it and decided I will venture forth on the trail as soon as I can.

Kim told me letterboxing first started in 1854 in Dartmoor England when a guide named James Perrot placed a bottle along the banks of Cranmere Pool, one of the most inaccessible and difficult-to-reach locations in the park. He put his calling card in the bottle so visitors could contact him and leave their own card. Eventually a tin box replaced the bottle and folks began leaving self-addressed postcards for the next person who found the box to mail back to them.

Letterboxing has grown slowly over the past 166 years into an intercontinental hobby with thousands and thousands of boxes placed throughout the world. The hobby first gained attention in the United States when a 1998 article in Smithsonian Magazine featured letterboxing in England.

Like all hobbies, there are a few things you will need to participate in letterboxing.  A blank sheet logbook, ink stamp and ink pad, a compass and of course the clues for where to find the box. When out letterboxing you use the clues from the website, and sometimes a compass to locate the box. In the box will be a logbook and ink stamp specific for the box. You use the stamp in the box to mark your logbook indicating that you found the box, then do the same with your stamp on the logbook located in the box. The act of acknowledging your presence to those who placed the box and also those who find the box after you is part of the charm of this fun hobby.

Here at TLGV we’ve tried to make it easy for you to start letterboxing and have created a starter journal we will mail to you for free if you call us at 860-774-3300. Box locations and descriptions with clues for how to find them are available for the TLGV Letterboxing Trail on our website at: https://thelastgreenvalley.org/explore-the-last-green-valley/recreation-guides/letterboxing/

What Kim really likes about letterboxing is the search leads you to places that are special for the folks who placed the box. She finds it is a great way to discover new places of beauty to return to again.

There is a large community of hobbyists involved with letterboxing and one of the most popular websites for clues to letterbox locations as well as general information on how to get started is called Atlas Quest. The website is https://www.atlasquest.com/ with general information about the hobby at https://www.atlasquest.com/about/. I used the website to discover a letterbox has been placed only 1.3 miles from my house in Putnam in a stone wall at an old cemetery. The last time someone visited it was just four months ago.

Another website Kim suggested is Letterboxing North America and it can be found at https://www.letterboxing.org/. Similar to Atlas Quest, this website also has thousands of letterbox locations and great information.

To get started in letterboxing you’ll need to come up with your individual trail name and purchase or create an ink stamp of an image you want to use. Some folks carve their own stamps and the Atlas Quest website has links for purchasing the needed equipment. If there is a local hobby shop near you check them out to see if they have letterboxing kits. Each letterbox has its own stamp and logbook. So you’ll need to get a logbook of your own for stamping the symbol used for each box you find. With your individual stamp you’ll leave your mark on the letterbox logbook thereby leaving your personalized calling card for others to discover. The TLGV website has a 15-minute video with Kim describing letterboxing and shows you what the stamps look like and her logbook. She also demonstrates the process and takes us on a short walk to discoverer a letterbox location.

For some the next step in the hobby is to craft your own letterbox for others to locate. That requires a bit more investment of time in addition to the box itself, stamp, and logbook. I was able to easily find letterboxing kits online and several have tutorial videos.

The top three states in the United States for letterbox locations are Massachusetts, then Connecticut, followed by New York. Clearly there are lots of opportunities for getting out and having letterboxing fun in our region. To entice the letterboxing hobbyist we created the TLGV Letterboxing Trail Challenge. Here’s how it works:

  • Visit 4 or more of the TLGV Letterboxing Trail locations and find the letterbox.
  • Stamp your journal and the journal inside the box. Write the date next to the stamp in your journal too.
  • Take a photo of the stamp in your journal and post the photo on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter and mention or tag TLGV.
  • Then send us an email with your address so we can send you a patch.

Follow those steps, and we will send you a TLGV Letterboxing Trail patch.

A modern offshoot of letterboxing is geocaching. It is still a treasure hunt with clues but employs the use of a GPS (global positioning system) device to locate the cache or box.

There are many fun ways to get out and enjoy the outdoors. The Last Green Valley has an amazing network of exceptional trails. I know I’ll soon be adding the trail of letterboxes to my list of outdoor activities here in The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. I hope you’ll join me on the trail so we can work together to care for, enjoy, and pass it on.

Bill Reid is the Chief Ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. He has lived in and explored the region for 40 years and can be reached at bill@tlgv.org

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