BLACK SWALLOWTAILS EVERYWHERE
This is one of a series of walks that were originally written for, or published by, the Norwich Bulletin. Quotes from hikers, birders, others were from the time frame when the article was originally written. The trail details, status, and conditions have been verified prior to posting them here.
Walking in Pachaug State Forest in June means you’ve missed the major Rhododendron bloom but that you’re just in time for the hundreds of Black Swallowtail butterflies that mark the forest roads.
An easy three-mile loop trail using the forest roads loops past swamps, hardwood forest, Hemlock groves and Mount Misery brook. If you do include the Rhododendron Sanctuary you’ll enjoy the walk even if the small late blooming plants have shed their dark pink flowers.
SANCTUARY ACCESSIBLE TO ALL
“It’s beautiful,” Melissa Collelo emphasized several times while talking about the trail through the Sanctuary.
“Very peaceful,” added Will Ridgway her hiking partner. “The path goes all the way out now.”
“It’s great to look at the water at the end, and the boardwalk goes all the way out,” explained Cellelo about the fact that the Sanctuary trail has been extended to overlook Mount Misery brook and made wheelchair accessible.
A walk here is a good place to use the Audubon “Field Guide to New England” because it’ll allow you to identify plants, insects, birds, clouds and anything else that you’re curious about during your visit.
You’ll probably encounter Ebony Jewelwings and Northern Bluets along the path out to the brook overlook. You won’t be able to see them but you can hear the frogs calling from the observation platform.
HIKING THE LOOP
The three-mile loop along the forest roads give you best overview of what is contained in the state’s largest forest. From the first purchase in 1928 Pachaug has grown to encompass over 30,000 acres.
From the Mount Misery campground field start your walk be continuing along Cutoff Road.
Most of the forest here is oak-hickory mix (described on p35 of the Audubon field guide), which is the predominate type in this area. Few of these trees are more than 100 years old and most are much younger.
This forest grew out of abandoned and inactive farms. The land here had once been clear-cut by hardworking Yankees who made use of the wood they harvested while expanding farm and pasture.
Continue past Firetower Road on your left. This road leads to Mount Misery and excellent views of the surrounding countryside.
MISERY LIKES COMPANY
“We use to go the Mount Misery and sit on top all alone,” stated Ridgway. “Now it seems when we go we always meet someone else.”
“People are more into health,” Cellelo contributed. “They like getting out to an area like this.”
At approximately the one-mile point in the walk you’ll come to the intersection with Trail II. Turn right and follow this road east.
The black butterflies that you see rising up off the dusty road as you approach are the swallowtails. Quietly and slowly move up on one and you’ll be able to see the beautiful light blue shading surrounded by white dots that mark the upper wing. The females have larger blue markings than the males.
Shortly after passing Lawrence Road on the left you’ll come to Edwards Pond and Mount Misery brook.
Just past the pond is Frog Hollow Horse Camp. The 18 sites at this campground are reserved for horses and their riders. Exploring the more than 35 miles of trail in the forest is quicker and easier mounted than on foot.
Take the next right onto Trail II. Each section of this hike is approximately a mile long so we’ve completed two-thirds of our walk.
COOL EASTERN HEMLOCKS
Along this stretch you’ll encounter a large tract of Eastern Hemlock. One of the most obvious differences between this and the oak-hickory forest is the clear under story. Hemlock seedlings are one of the few potentially large plants that can tolerate the dense shade that is often present in a major hemlock stand.
This shade is so dense that coupled with the hemlock’s preference for humid locations there can often be a noticeably cooler microclimate present. Golden Crowned Kinglets are frequent nesters in large groves of hemlock.
After leaving the hemlocks you’re nearly back at the Rhododendron Sanctuary. Simply take the next turn to the right, cross the brook and your walk is at an end.
ONE VISIT IS NEVER ENOUGH
“We come here every couple of weeks,” said Cellelo. “Even in winter.”
Once you’ve hiked here you’ll see why Cellelo and Ridgway are drawn back again and again. As the months and seasons change an entirely new tapestry unfolds before the visitor to Pachaug State Forest.
Cellelo said it all, “It’s beautiful.”
From Norwich take Route 165 to Voluntown. From the junction of routes 165, 138 and 49 follow Route 49 North. Turn left onto Headquarters Road just past the handicapped fishing area on Pachaug Great Meadow Brook.
Stop at the headquarters building for a map of the Chapman Area of Pachaug State Forest and then continue along Headquarters Road.