As might be expected, trail use is up in the Northwest Corner and throughout Connecticut during the current crisis. A report by UConn’s Connecticut Trail Census showed a 77% statewide increase in trail use at measured trail sites in late March 2020 versus March 2019.

In Cornwall, CCT President Bart Jones reports that local trail use has increased but is not nearly what has been seen in other local communities such as Salisbury, where vehicles overflowing the trailhead parking areas have been observed.

CCT’s Cara Weigold also reports a noticeable increase of visitors/followers on the CCT website and social media channels.

Like other organizations, CCT has had to scrap plans for educational events and work project hikes involving larger groups of people. Creatively, however, “self-directed trail clean-up” is promoted on their website, including instructions that “keep social distancing in mind.”

The trail most affected by the current situation runs along the Sharon side of the Housatonic. The Appalachian Trail has been determined to no longer be a viable space to practice social distancing, according to its main management and advocacy group.

In a statement at the end of March, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy posted a stark request: stay away. The statement read in part: “In a time when social distancing is necessary … many have escaped to nature seeking isolation and unpopulated spaces … However, what they’ve found are trailhead parking lots exceeding their maximum capacities, shelters full of overnight hikers, day hikers using picnic tables and privies, and group trips continuing as planned. Popular spots along the Trail have seen day use reach record-breaking levels. Cars line the highways leading to popular day-hiking spots on the Trail. Hiking the A.T. has become, in other words, the opposite of social distancing.”

It is unclear whether the overload of trail users on the “AT” applies to all 53 miles of the trail in Connecticut, but anecdotal evidence indicates use is up considerably in some spots. In contrast, all hiking trails located in Cornwall are open, subject to CDC and CT guidance for public spaces.

Walking and hiking has been a bright spot in people’s lives this spring. The various trails located in Cornwall fall most directly under the management of one or more of the following entities:

   Cornwall Conservation Trust (CCT) trails. This network of trails is scattered across at least nine preserves managed by CCT throughout Cornwall. No motorized use, no camping, no fires.

   Connecticut Forest & Park Association “Blue Blaze” trails. These include in Cornwall the Mohawk Trail and the Mattatuck Trail – both of which travel through a mix of public and private lands. No motorized use. Very limited camping which is now restricted or suspended.

   Connecticut State Parks & Forests trails. These include the network of trails within Mohawk State Forest as well as more informal trails within Housatonic Meadows State Park.

Five common messages from all three groups regarding use of walking/hiking trails:

  • Do not use parks or trails if exhibiting symptoms.
  • Follow CDC’s guidance on personal hygiene prior to visiting parks or trails.
  • Be prepared for limited access to public restrooms and water fountains.
  • Share the trail and warn other trail users of your presence and as you pass.
  • Observe CDC’s minimum recommended physical distancing of 6 feet from other persons at all times.

The situation in Connecticut regarding outdoor recreation is fluid and guidelines may change … or not. (For example, Kent Falls State Park was closed at the beginning of April due to the challenges visitors faced maintaining appropriate social distancing. Best to check websites, social media pages, notices posted at trailheads, and other available resources for the latest information.

A word of advice to anyone using any trail in and around Cornwall: watch out for ticks!                    

—Daniel Hubbard


📸: Cooley Farm Preserve in West Cornwall, owned by the Cornwall Conservation Trust, Inc.