West Hartford resident Jeff Shaw created this ‘outdoor challenge’ after spending countless hours running, walking, and biking around town.
By Jeff Shaw
A silver lining or two from the COVID-19 pandemic for many people has been the ability to spend more time with loved ones – and spend that time outside. Personally, the daily family walk around the neighborhood, quick run through quiet residential streets and parks, or longer bike ride across town, helped maintain my physical and mental, even emotional, well-being.
Not that long ago, driving connected almost all activities; nowadays it’s our feet, pedals, and of course Zoom. While getting outside has been a part of our collective DNAs well before any pandemic, our ability to continue to enjoy our favorite parks, trails or beaches depends upon everyone doing their part to slow the spread: wear masks, socially distance, regularly wash hands and stay home if sick.
We are doing better, but must remain vigilant.
While the benefits of physical activity need no explanation, a secondary benefit of walking, running, or biking are the unexpected sights, sounds, even smells you may stumble upon (pun intended!).
In the fall, those sights are largely the changing colors of the leaves; in spring, the sounds of people waking up from their winter slumbers playing yards games; having tag sales, tending gardens/lawns; and of course in summer, the unmistakable smell of food sizzling on the grill wafting through the air. Even in winter, the smells from bakeries seem to travel farther in the dry air.
To make your next outdoor loop in West Hartford slightly more interesting, keep these sights in mind:
Thank You Essential Workers Signage
It started with hearts in windows; grew to lawn signs and chalk art in driveways. It has bloomed to creative displays of flowers in yards, even heart-shaped grass patterns mowed in lawns. Each day I seem to notice a new display, which brings a smile to my face.
Six months after the signs first appeared, many still remain, and new ones have appeared.
Thank you to all the essential workers!
I’ll defer all local history to town historian Tracey Wilson and Jennifer Matos, executive director, Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society and their colleagues. That said, there are a few lesser known landmarks scattered around town that are worth strolling by:
- Gravestone of a horse named Thomas Jefferson, in the Sunset Farm neighborhood;
- Plaque recognizing the former streetcar line on raised divider on Boulevard between Raymond Road and South Main Street;
- Old West School, the one-room schoolhouse situated at the curve of Sedgwick and Mountain Roads;
- Plenty of historic homes throughout town that have been featured in recent West Hartford Historic Homes Tours and even Armchair History (18 Brightwood Lane is a good start).
Fun Finds Photo Scavenger Hunt
There are lots of random sights to discover across town. We are a creative bunch:
- Tree seat on Sunfield Lane
- Little free libraries (multiple locations in town)
- Fernleigh Lawn Bowling Club on Lancaster Road
- Keg mailbox on Westmont
- Purple lights and still coyotes on Stoner Drive
- Tree faces on Ellsworth Street
- Golf flagstick on Visgrove Lane
- Giant Wall Mural in Elmwood off New Britain Avenue
- Golf ball in curb on Mountain Terrace
Trout Brook Trail
I am one of many who would love to see the completion of the 3.6-mile paved trail that seeks to connect Elmwood to the former UConn West Hartford campus. While three of the five segments are complete, the remaining two are the most complicated, including getting around the I-84/Troutbook intersection as well as constructing the trail to follow the actual Trout Brook from Farmington Avenue/Trout Brook intersection, all the way to Asylum Avenue/Trout Brook (former UConn campus). Even though completion is far off, walking, running or biking through those sections is a safe way to cross town.
The animals are a delightful sight, but once you get beyond the fences, the well-worn, dirt paths take you into the surrounding woods. The trails go deeper in the woods than you’d think, but even a quick loop will likely be an enjoyable change of pace at this local gem.
Canal Road & Trail
Another gem hidden in plain sight is Canal Road, a former service road that connects access into the Reservoir 2 from Hunter Drive all the way to Albany Avenue. Beware, the path morphs from recently paved, to crumbling pavement, to dirt. There aren’t many “escape routes” if a narrowing path makes you nervous (bears, strangers), though most of the scattered homes along the path have an opening to their backyards if you have to bail.
Strolling through Elizabeth Park on a “full bloom June afternoon” is a must-do, as are the summer concert series when they next resume. There are plenty of trails around the gardens as well as the actual car loop and paved recreational trail through the park.
Golf courses (when closed)
When the courses were closed to golf due to the shutdown, they were open for walking/running, and the trails are still accessible prior to 7 a.m. for the early birds. Just another green space to keep in mind when conditions are right.
I hope you discover something new about West Hartford on your next walk, run or bike!
Editor’s Note: A version of this article was originally published in the August 2020 issue of West Hartford LIFE.
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