Summer is a time to explore our ponds and lakes
Last Monday was the summer solstice and the official start of summer. We have a tradition at The Last Green Valley (TLGV) to take in the summer solstice with a sunset paddle, and Monday about 30 of us enjoyed a beautiful evening at Mansfield Hollow Lake. It got me thinking about our individual connections to freshwater sources as I reminisced about some of the locations I loved when I was a kid. It also reminded me of the many lakes and ponds here in The Last Green Valley that are open to the public.
Near the house where I grew up was Garland’s Pond. It was too shallow for swimming and only about 200-feet long and maybe 50-feet across, but plenty big enough for a young kid to explore its watery wonders. In winter, the neighborhood kids (and parents) would meet up to shovel snow off the surface and have a skating party, but it is the summer months I recall the most.
From an early age, either with older brothers or by myself, I would explore its muddy perimeter. In early spring we would find jelly masses of frog eggs and later as spring slid into summer, hundreds of pollywogs (frogs at the larva stage) would be gathered just under the surface along the pond’s edge. We would look to see if they had begun to develop legs and were already metamorphosizing into frogs. We called them pollywogs, but some folks call them tadpoles. If you’re wondering, both words mean the same thing.
Green darner dragon flies cruised the pond’s surface, and a bucket scoop of pond water and mud revealed a myriad of squiggling invertebrates. Noisy green and bull frogs would sing, hidden within partly submerged grasses, then suddenly fall silent when I crept near. I learned to move silently and bring a net if I were to have any luck catching a frog or one of the painted turtles sunning on a rock or submerged log. Eventually I was quick enough to catch a frog by hand, but turtles usually required a net. Sometimes I would bring my catch home and was allowed to keep them a large, galvanized tub with the promise to return them to their aquatic home in a couple of days.
One of my best friends lived a couple of miles from our house and his neighborhood included Hemlock Pond, which was part of a land conservancy property. Hemlock Pond was deep enough for swimming, had a small sandy beach as well as an inlet and outlet stream. I spent countless hours there with my friend, his brothers and the neighborhood kids. We dove off the dock and proved we had swum to the bottom when we emerged with a handful of water plants. We would see who could swim the fastest to a large rock near the middle of the pond and hunted for turtles in the muck of the inlet stream. Daily attire in those barefoot summer days was cutoff shorts and a dirty tee-shirt. We were free to explore the natural world around us, and that pond was the gathering point for many adventures.
I learned to swim at Laurel Lake in southwestern New Hampshire near my grandparent’s home. More than six decades later it is still my favorite place to go for a swim. Laurel Lake is spring fed and about 155 acres with a maximum depth of 50 feet. Several large granite boulders line the shore, and I spent many summer days within its clean sparkling waters. Even now, summer doesn’t officially begin until I am swimming in that lake and soaking in the sun from the floating dock 200 feet from shore. I close my eyes and let the swaying float take me back to earlier days of snorkeling, fishing for perch and catching red-spotted salamander along the rocky shoreline. The smell of that lake and the feel of the fresh water is like none other I have experienced and is well imbedded into my “sensory” bank of childhood memories.
The Last Green Valley is home to many lakes and ponds of all sizes. While we do not border the ocean, Norwich, at the southern end of the National Heritage Corridor, is located at the headwaters of the Thames River. The Thames is a tidal estuary with brackish water that ebbs and flows with the tides. I have many friends who boat, sail and fish in Long Island Sound, but for me it is our local ponds and lakes that provide the attraction.
If you’re looking for a freshwater pond or lake that is publicly accessible you might consider checking out TLGV’s newest edition of the Explore Guide. You can get a copy at many town halls, libraries, and local businesses or by calling the TLGV office at 860-774-3300. If you prefer an electronic version, check out the web version at:
https://thelastgreenvalley.org/explore-the-last-green-valley/explore-guide/ With the online version click on the “select categories” tab and then the categories for “Boating/Fishing” “Swimming/Scuba Diving” and “Swimming/Splash Pads” and then the “Go” tab to populate the TLGV map with specific locations and links to helpful information.
Some of my favorite locations for paddling and water recreation are the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Project Areas. In Massachusetts these include East Brimfield Lake, Westville Lake in Southbridge, Hodges Village in Oxford and Buffumville Lake. In Connecticut these include West Thompson Lake and Mansfield Lake.
Our main stem rivers all have excellent paddling sections with well documented launch and landing locations in the TLGV Paddle Guide. The Quinebaug, Willimantic and Shetucket Rivers have been designated National Recreation Water Trails by the U.S. Department of the Interior. You can find a copy of the paddle guide online at: https://thelastgreenvalley.org/explore-the-last-green-valley/recreation-guides/paddling/ or call TLGV at 860-774-3300 to receive a print copy.
The Explore Guide includes about 30 listings for swimming and splash pads, 60 listings for boating and fishing and about 50 locations for paddling – including all the listings in the TLGV Paddle Guide, though with fewer details. The Explore Guide also lists state and federal parks and forests in the National Heritage Corridor, several of which offer boating, paddling and swimming.
I believe we all have deep connections to the freshwater sources in nature. Not only do we rely on water to survive, but water makes up to 60 percent of our adult bodies and 78 percent for a newborn baby. Water is more than biological to each of us, and I believe it runs deeply into the very essence of our spiritual life on earth.
Summer is the perfect time of year to hit the water and enjoy the many, clean aquatic resources right here in The Last Green Valley. I hope you’ll join me, and together let us care for, enjoy and pass them on to the next generation. Exploring the abundance of life within shallow waters of ponds and along their watery edges with a child just may be a gift that lasts a lifetime for both of you.
Bill Reid is the Chief Ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor and has lived in the region for 40 years. He can be reached at email@example.com
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