DEEP: Letterboxing Clues for Nassahegon State Forest

Connecticut State Forests - Seedling Letterbox Series Clues for Nassahegon State Forest

{State map showing location of Nassahegon State Forest}

Nassahegon State Forest -
 the 24th State Forest

{Letterbox Stamp for Forest #24}

Nassahegon State Forest, located entirely in the town of Burlington, is approximately 1,352 acres.  This forest was originally designated in 1926 to protect the watershed for the state fish hatchery, now called the Burlington Trout Hatchery.  Nassahegon State Forest was considered part of Nepaug State Forest until 1942. 

The forest is a major part of what gives Burlington its attractive rural character.  Nassahegon is actively managed for forest products, wildlife habitat and a variety of recreational activities, including hunting, hiking and birdwatching.  For example, it contains miles of Blue-blazed Trails.  Besides these benefits, available to all who visit the State Forest, the forest continues to provide a protective buffer for Belden Brook, its tributaries and associated springs.  These are the water sources for the state fish hatchery, which remains as an important area landmark. 

The Burlington Trout Hatchery provides fishing stock for close to 360 different water bodies, including everything west of the Connecticut River.  It is one of two fish hatcheries run by DEP, with the other being in the Quinebaug Hatchery Ponds in Plainfield.  The Burlington hatchery produces hundreds of thousands of fish annually—in the most recent season, the hatchery yielded approximately 200,000 adult fish, 400,000 fry, and 29,000 fingerlings, totaling over 100,000 pounds!  Brown trout, brook trout, rainbow trout, tiger trout and Kokanee salmon are all reared at the facility.  The hatchery was established in 1925 and, 80 years later, is still serving the state.  It runs on a gravity water system, which means there are no electrical costs for water pumping. 

Description: The letterbox lies close to a Blue-blazed Trail off Punch Brook Road, across from the Burlington ball fields. 

Your hike will take you into the woods for about 1,700 feet – for a round trip distance of 3,400 feet or about two-thirds of a mile.  Winter may restrict parking, as there may be little room to park off of Punch Brook Road.  Please do not block the DEP gate.  Also, note that it can be dangerous pulling back onto Punch Brook Road when leaving.  Visibility is limited and cars do speed, especially from the east.  If you park in the town recreation area lot, be careful walking across the street to the State Forest.  Bright orange clothing is recommended for hunting season, October to December.  Ticks are common here most of the year, and you should check your clothing frequently.  Look closely – the ticks can be very tiny, and light-colored clothing is recommended!  The end of your letterbox search will involve walking through some woody debris (“slash”).  You are advised to not wear shorts or sandals, and to choose your steps slowly and carefully! 

Finally, while it is not essential to have a compass to find your objective, one may prove helpful. 

Clues: At the junction of Route 4 and Route 69 in the center of Burlington, go east on Route 4 for several hundred yards and take a right at the “Y” onto George Washington Turnpike.  Go past the fire station and post office (on your right), and continue past Cornwall Road and Belden Road.  Keep going and bear all the way to the left when the roads split (sharp uphill curve).  The road is now Punch Brook Road.  You will see the town ball fields on the right and the “Nassahegon State Forest” wooden shield sign on the left.  Park off of the road in the area of this wooden sign and the gate.  It may also be possible to park in the town’s “Nassahegan Recreation Complex” across the street, and walk across to the forest gate.  (Yes, the spelling is different.  Apparently, there is some disagreement between the town and the state as to the best way to spell this word). 

Walk past the gate and down the forest access road for about 100 yards (about 120 normal-size adult steps!).  You will come to a 4-way intersection of trails. 

While at the intersection, look left and behind you at the immature forest.  You will see a dense thicket of native trees, including pine, oak, birch, cherry, maple, and many other species.  This area was a mature red pine plantation until the 1980s.  The trees were dying from exotic insect attack and were harvested for their wood.  All the trees you see now regenerated naturally! 

One of the objectives of the DEEP Forestry Division is to increase the amount of forestland throughout the state in which the forest cover is largely made up of younger trees.  These younger forest stands add to the diversity of wildlife habitat, and lead to a forest that is healthier overall and better able to withstand natural disasters.  When the forest contains trees of a variety of ages and species and consists of a variety of forest cover types, potential disasters such as hurricanes or insect and disease outbreaks are less likely to be as devastating. 

This desirable forest condition comes about only after long-term planning and then active forest management over many years.  The area you are visiting today has been actively managed for decades.  It is, indeed, a working forest.  The trails upon which you will be walking are actually skid roads created to access the forest for timber harvesting and other forestry activities. 

From the very center of the 4-way trail intersection, continue walking straight ahead (heading north). Walk about 40 steps (100 feet) and look directly left. Through an opening recently cut in the black birch saplings, do you see a slightly shorter pine tree that looks different from the taller white pines around it? This is a pitch pine. Both species of pines are native to Connecticut. Note the dark, flaky bark on the pitch pine. If you search the ground around it, you may find some of its rounded pine cones with prickly spines. This is different from the white pine cones, which are long and narrow with no spines.

Pitch pine is part of a unique, disappearing ecosystem that includes about a dozen State Endangered, Threatened and Special Concern species, the "Pitch Pine Sand Plain" or Sand "Barren". For this reason, there is a new concerted effort to manage Nassahegon State Forest to favor pitch pine and its associates.

Continue down the trail and you will find a double pitch pine on the left edge of the trail, which is more convenient for your close examination. There is also a single pitch pine just ahead of there on the right side of the trail. Most of the young pine seedlings and saplings in the vicinity, however, are white pine. The bark on young white pine is very smooth, and feel the needles—they will be soft to the touch and occur in groups or "fascicles" of 5. A pitch pine has needles in groups of 3 and they are more rigid and sharply-pointed at the tips.

About 50 feet past the double pitch pine, there is a dead pine on the left (further into the woods) with rough bark below but smoother orange-ish or yellowish-red bark high in the tree. There is also a smaller live tree of this species on the right side of the trail. This is a Scotch pine (or Scots pine), not native to this continent. The really short needles compared to other pines and the yellowish-red bark in the upper part of the tree tells you a Scotch pine from others.

Continue ahead until you come to a "T" in the trail and have to go right or left. Note the dense thicket of mountain laurel directly ahead. Laurel is an evergreen of a different type, and provides the Connecticut state flower. If looking for your letterbox in June, you may find it in full bloom!

Also, take a close look at the sprays of hemlock foliage overhanging the trail intersection. If you examine the underside of the short, flat needles, you may see the white cottony egg masses of the hemlock woolly adelgid. Or, you may see evidence of another less-publicized exotic insect, the hemlock elongate scale. The scale will appear as a tiny elongated tan or brown fleck attached to the underside of the needle. In some areas, this insect is causing greater damage to hemlock than the notorious hemlock woolly adelgid. At this site, at present, you are more likely to see the scale than the adelgid.

Turn LEFT at this "T". After walking 75 feet, look for the 10-inch diameter eastern redcedar on the right edge of the trail. This is another native species of conifer. Redcedar is actually not a true cedar, but a juniper. It commonly grows in abandoned fields. It is not tolerant to shade, so in this growing forest canopy, this redcedar will eventually die from lack of light. For now, the trail edge provides enough sunlight to keep it alive.

Continue following this trail west to northwest for about 132 steps (330 feet) from the "T". You will now be at an intersection with the White-Dot connector trail (you will see a blue blaze with a white dot in the center on trees). It is a part of the Blue-blazed Trail system. Look left down the White-Dot trail. The first larger pine on the left edge of the trail, about 25 feet away, is a red pine. Another red pine is on the right edge of the trail another 25 feet down. This is also a rough-barked pine, with hints of red coloration in the bark. Note that the needle tufts are softer and more symmetrical than the pitch pine. Needles of red pine are in groupings of 2, although no needles may be within your reach. These red pine were spared the insect attack that took so many of our plantations of this species throughout the state starting in the 1970s. Do you see how this type of pine differs from some of the other pines you’ve now seen?

From where you are standing, you should be able to see examples of a number of conifers, including up to 4 types of pine. Many of the larger ones with smoother bark are white pines, and this, by far, is most of the pine you see at Nassahegon and most other forests in the state: eastern white pine.

Conifers are important to the diversity of our Connecticut forests, as most of the state’s forests tend to revert to hardwoods (broadleaf species).  Conifers provide an important form of winter cover for wildlife that hardwoods cannot, because conifers maintain their needles all year.  They also help provide for a greater diversity in food resources.  Some wildlife species require conifer trees as a primary food provider. 

And now on to your box!  Stay straight on the trail that you have been following. This trail is now officially the Blue-White Dot Trail (Do not take the left on the White Dot Trail, stay straight on the same old roadbed you have been following).  After 275 feet from the point where the Blue Trail joined your hike, bear right at a “T”.  Go 75 feet and look for the “Forest Thinning” sign on your left (brown sign with yellow lettering). The sign is “outdated” in that the thinning took place more than a decade ago.  However, it is interesting to see how quickly new growth naturally returns to populate the ground and how quickly the crowns of overstory trees will meet to begin closing the canopy. The forest is dynamic and resilient!

Your objective is hidden less than 10 feet behind the sign, buried in a logging slash “cave” on the ground. 

Please leave the box well concealed and not on top of the ground or in plain view for anyone just passing by.

Before leaving, you might look at the young pine trees in the area and see if you think their growth has increased since the logging in about 2001.  Branches in pines grow out in whorls (circles) along the main stem.  Age of a white pine can be easily determined by counting these whorls of branches!  The space between each adjacent set of whorls represents one year’s growth.  Can you see an increase in distance between whorls in the past several years’ growth?  If so, that accelerated growth is in response to the increased sunlight from the thinning out of mature trees around them.  This is one way that a timber harvest benefits the younger generations in the forest.

 Learn More, Earn a Patch:  Your walk has led you through a working forest, and introduced you to many of the conifers found in Connecticut forests.  Although you may not have been aware of it, you are also witnessing how a healthy forest creates a great buffer and “filter” for improved water quality downstream—in this case, for Belden Brook and its tributaries and associated springs.

To learn more about the Burlington Trout Hatchery, consider making a stop while you are in the area.  The hatchery is open to the public from 8:00am to 3:30pm daily for self-guided tours.  For more information on the hatchery and its fish, call (860) 673-2340.  Directions to the Burlington Trout Hatchery.

This is one of 32 letterbox hikes in the new, second series of boxes, called the “Seedling Series”, sponsored by the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Forestry.  Take 4 additional sponsored letterbox hikes to earn a commemorative Connecticut Forestry Centennial patch.

When you have completed the five hikes, please contact us and let us know what sites you have visited, what your stamp looks like and how we may send you your patch.  We will verify your visits and send the patch along to you. Contact DEEP Forestry

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Content last updated on June 30, 2017