Places to Explore in 2022 – Part 2

Places to Explore in 2022 – Part 2

In my column last week, I shared my 2022 bucket list of places to explore our region’s amazing natural resources. Some of the hiking and outdoor locations I want to explore this year are new to me and others are locations I have not visited in several years but hope to return to in the months ahead.

The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor was designated by Congress back in 1994 because of its unique mix of natural, cultural and historic resources. Many people think of our beautiful green spaces, but this is also a place where the span of history can be found, dating back thousands of years to the native peoples here long before the colonists arrived, to the American Revolution and Civil War and into the industrial age. That history helps make this region special and it is worth exploring.

I am familiar with most of the cultural and historical sites within The Last Green Valley. Unfortunately, I have not had the chance or opportunity to visit all of them. This year there are several on my list.

I became aware of the history of Samuel Slater when I first moved to the region in the late 1970s to work at Old Sturbridge Village. Considered by many as the “Father of the American Industrial Revolution,” he built the first successful textile mill on the Pawtucket River and soon expanded his operations to include towns in The Last Green Valley, notably in Webster, the town he founded. That important story is being told at new museum in Webster called the Samuel Slater Experience (SSE).

Take a quick look at their website and Facebook page and you’ll get a sense of the scale and advanced exhibit technology at SSE. The museum is “dedicated to educating about Samuel Slater, the Father of the American Industrial Revolution, through an engaging and immersive experience. The Samuel Slater Experience comprises more than twenty unique, immersive exhibits that make the history of the American Industrial Revolution and its people come alive.”

The museum is still in the process of opening but some of my colleagues have been to programs hosted by SSE and have urged me to visit. SSE is offering preview tours and you can sign up on their Facebook page, so I took advantage of the opportunity and signed up for a preview tour later this month. It is not too often a new museum opens and I look forward to visiting and sharing with you the Samuel Slater Experience. Here is their website. For tickets go to their Facebook page, click on their Dec. 23 post about Preview Day and then the link to purchase tickets for the January previews.

During Walktober 2021, TLGV offered four different hikes at locations where a Civilian Conservation Corps camp had been located. Inspired by author Martin Podskoch’s book “Connecticut Civilian Conservation Corps: History, Memories and Legacies of the CCC,” TLGV colleague Kyle Gregoire and I led hikes to the former camp locations, explored the work the corps did in the region, and enjoyed the outdoors on beautiful autumn days. Today we know these locations as the Natchaug Forest in Eastford, Nipmuck Forest in Union, Brimfield State Forest in Brimfield, MA, and Pachaug Forest encompassing several towns including Voluntown, Sterling, Plainfield, Griswold, North Stonington and Preston. I plan on returning to these locations for future hikes, but this year I have my sights on visiting the CCC Museum in Stafford Springs.

The museum is closed for the winter and has been available for tours during weekends and advanced bookings. Information on the museum can be found at Martin Podskoch’s website. I look forward to it opening in 2022 and will book a visit. The Civilian Conservation Corps played a critical role in the planting of trees and building infrastructure that today includes some of the most beloved outdoor locations in the region. The museum is located in the former Administration Building of Camp Conner. It has many photos, displays of artifacts from CCC camps and informative displays.

There is another museum close by that tells the important story of our region’s Native Americans, that I first visited soon after it opened in 1998. This year I plan to make a return visit to the Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center in Mashantucket. The museum brings to life the story of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and serves as a major resource on the histories and cultures of Native Americans in the northeast and on the region’s rich natural history. With a complex of more than 300,000 square-feet, the museum includes permanent exhibits and temporary exhibit galleries, an auditorium, classrooms, research center, gift shop and restaurant.

One of the highlights of the museum is the permanent exhibition of a life-sized Pequot village. The museum website describes it as a place to observe the daily life in a recreated 16th-century Pequot village, pre-European contact. “Walk among the trees, wigwams, and people who are cooking, talking, weaving and working. Hear natural sounds and smells and aromas of the woodlands and campfires. All the figures were life-cast from Native American people; the traditional clothing, ornaments, and wigwams were made by Native craftspeople.” The museum is on winter hours right now and open Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and will return to more visitor hours later in the year. Information can be found at the website.

Another important cultural institution is the Windham Textile and History Museum, also known as the Mill Museum. Located in Willimantic and housed in the historic former headquarters of the American Thread Company, the museum is a nonprofit educational institution housing the museum exhibits, a library and archive. “The museum preserves and interprets for the general public the history of textiles, the textile arts, and the textile industry, with special emphasis on the experiences of craftspeople, industrial workers, manufacturers, inventors, designers, and consumers. The Museum also promotes a greater understanding of the major trends and changes in technology, the economy, immigration, society, the environment, and culture that shaped the history of textiles, the textile arts, and the textile industry in Connecticut, New England, and the United States from the colonial period to the present.”

I have visited the museum a few times and consider it to be one of the more important museums in our region. They accomplish so much with a dedicated staff and volunteers. They also help to interpret the remarkable experience of the immigrant populations coming to eastern Connecticut during the industrial era. It has been a few years since I have been back and hope to make a visit this year to explore again the life and work of the people and interconnected mill communities of eastern Connecticut and beyond.

The best way to learn more is to check out their website and Facebook page. There are events coming up both in person and on-line. Contact them for their winter hours and to learn more about current and upcoming exhibits and programs.

The new year is here and with it a full range of opportunities to explore our region – The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor, full of natural beauty as well as fascinating cultural and historical sites and museums. I hope you’ll join me this year as we enjoy, care for, and pass on this place we call home.

Bill Reid is the Chief Ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor and can be reached at 860-774-3300 and bill@tlgv.org.

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