By Jana Seitz
Pullquote: I had come in peace, to find an entry point on the Appalachian Trail for an autumnal stroll, and left having found the Housatonic.
I realize I’m late to the party, but not having grown up around here I had no idea the Housatonic River existed. I “discovered” it quite by accident, and have not been the same since. Can’t eat, can’t sleep. What other wonders are out there waiting for me? I only just scratched the surface of New York, then BAM, Connecticut!
New York seems to avoid looking Connecticut in the eye, skirting around her and passing through only when necessary. Do I detect a tinge of competition, an innate rivalry? If yes, the seed was planted long ago and actually involved the Housatonic, which posed a natural barrier to east-west travel. The CT/NY border was hotly contested and remained in dispute until after the Revolution. At issue were significant mineral deposits, high-quality iron ore and the limestone needed to refine it, and several cuts through the Hudson Highlands to the Hudson River Valley. Colonial roadways used the shallow fords to cross. Then covered bridges were built in the 19th century, two of which still stand at Bull’s Bridge and West Cornwall.
My story begins at Bull’s Bridge. I had come in peace, to find an entry point on the Appalachian Trail for an autumnal stroll, and left having found the Housatonic, returning every day for a week to explore.
On the first day, I met a through-hiker named Twin (not his real name…Appalachian Trail hikers are given trail names by other hikers…this guy hiked so fast that other hikers thought he must have a twin). He dubbed me “trail angel,” the only angel status I’ll probably ever achieve, and all I did to deserve it was fetch him water from a pump and give him my lunch. Only 8% of through-hikers go north to south, and markers are often difficult to see as most are on the other side of the trees. I got my wings just as I heard the noon bells of Kent, bringing me back to the cold truth that I was only a mile from town.
My second Wilderness Fantasy was interrupted by the sight of two Rumsey Hall buses on an adjacent road, a friend’s son going to soccer. Then I mistook two men with leaf blowers as through-hikers. Although the Wilderness can swallow you up quickly, you’re never that far from civilization on the Connecticut and New York sections of the Trail. (I did the same thing in Scotland my first day on the John Muir Trail, letting my imagination run wild. I swear I heard bagpipes and smelled heather only to realize I was in someone’s yard…a HUGE yard, but a yard nevertheless.)
I did my due diligence before my next trips to learn more about the river, and I can’t wait to paddle it come spring.
The Housatonic flows 149 miles southward from Pittsfield, Mass., to its outfall on the Long Island Sound at Milford Point in Stratford, Conn., dropping 959 feet in elevation on its way. I’ve only dissected the 17-mile section from Kent to West Cornwall, but it’s as chock-full of surprises as Christmas morning. Its beauty has attracted settlers from all walks of life through the ages. On the west bank, it is home to the Schaghticoke Indian Reservation, established in 1736, and a strange-bedfellow neighbor, the Kent School, founded in 1906. On the east bank are Kent Falls and Housatonic State Parks boasting waterfalls, hiking, fishing, and camping.
I’d avoid the crowds on weekends and summer, but on school days it’s all yours. The Schaghticoke were a branch of the Mohicans whose word “Us-ia-die-nuk” (meaning “river of the mountain place”) became “Housatonic.” I also found a honey hole in Falls River Village, three miles up the river from West Cornwall: a 70-foot drop from the dam, built in 1913, for hydroelectricity and recreational use.
It’s a grand adventure, only 60ish miles from Rye. In the words of Thoreau, “It is pleasant to have been to a place the way a river went.”
Bull’s Bridge: Take 684 North to 22 North to 55 East, right to Dog Trail Corners Road, left to intersection of Route 7 in Kent. Park in lot over bridge on right and walk back across. There’s a Canoe Portage Trail to your north, a short walk to the river above the falls. But the best is south of the road, marked by a trailhead sign. Excellent maps can be found at www.hikethehudsonvalley.com and www.berkshirehiking.com.
West Cornwall: There’s a small parking lot just before you cross the covered bridge, or cross bridge and park on the road.
Falls River Village: Located three miles north of West Cornwall on Route 7. Just after you cross the river and pass the high school, turn left on Beebe Hill to Main. Turn right on Water Street to Housatonic River Road and follow it to its end at a parking lot at the top of the Falls River Dam. There is a path to the Trail, and the stroll along the raging water is amazing.
The Housatonic River from Bull’s Bridge
Covered bridge at West Cornwall
Falls River Village dam flow
The Housatonic downstream from Bull’s Bridge