DEEP: Letterboxing Clues for Goodwin State Forest

Connecticut State Forests - Seedling Letterbox Series 
Clues for James L. Goodwin State Forest

{Map of State showing location of Goodwin State Forest}

James L. Goodwin State Forest -
 the 28th State Forest

{State Forest Letterbox Stamp #28 - Goodwin Forest}

James L. Goodwin State Forest includes over 2,076 acres in the towns of Chaplin and Hampton. This land, then a tree farm, was given to the people of Connecticut in 1964. Mr. Goodwin dedicated this gift of land to furthering conservation education, with a particular focus on forestry and the forest environment. This is one of the forests where hunting and trapping are prohibited. Fishing for bass, bluegill, and bullhead occurs on the three ponds of the forest (Pine Acres Pond – 130 acres, Black Spruce Pond – 18 acres and Brown Hill Pond – 14 acres). Canoeing is allowed but swimming is not.  

The forest also contains the Goodwin Conservation Center.   The Goodwin Conservation Center is an environmental education facility owned and operated by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. We offer programs for the public, schools, and educators.  The number for the Conservation Center is (860) 455-9534.  

In addition, there is in the forest an extensive trail system, a butterfly garden, a seasonal museum, and youth group campsites. Additional information may be obtained from the DEEP recreation headquarters at Mashamoquet State Park off Route 44 in Pomfret or at the DEEP Eastern District Headquarters on Route 66 in Marlborough (860-295-9523).   

Education Center
Hampton, Connecticut

{Photo of Goodwin Conservation Center}  

The Goodwin Conservation Center 
was a gift to the 
people of Connecticut from James L. Goodwin, to be used for 
education about "general, wildlife, and forest conservation."

Description:  The letterbox lies just inside the wood line on the backside of a recently reclaimed field.  Estimated roundtrip time is 1 hour.  Most of the route is along trails on which you could drive a vehicle - however vehicle traffic is restricted in this area.  If you have a compass, take it – it will help you out with the clues.  And, make sure you check for ticks as there is no hunting in this area and there is a heavy deer population.

What caused this black birch’s root system to become exposed?

{exposed roots of a black birch seedling}  

Follow the clues and find the answer.

Clues: Your journey will start at the Goodwin Conservation Center.  The Goodwin Conservation Center is located at 23 Potter Road, off of Route 6 in Hampton, 3.0 miles east of the intersection with Route 198 and 1.4 miles west of the intersection with Route 97. There is a James L. Goodwin State Forest brown shield sign at the intersection of Rt.6 and Potter Rd. Turn on to Potter road.  About 400 feet down on the right you can park across from the conservation center.

From the educational center you should be able to see an open sided pavilion on the east side of Potter road. Just past this pavilion you will see a green steel gate. Go through this gate and follow the path around the south side of Pine Acres Pond. 

Pine Acres Pond was created in 1933 when a dam was built on Cedar Swamp Brook in order to flood the existing swamp. The normal surface of the pond is 568 feet above sea level. The surface area of the pond is approximately 130 acres, with a maximum depth of 7 feet. Wetlands and several small intermittent brooks feed the pond. Drainage from the pond is southward into Cedar Swamp Brook and then into the Little River system. The pond has a watershed of 1,055 acres, almost entirely wooded, with land surfaces sloping gently to moderately to the pond. 

Follow along the earthen dam and cross both foot bridges located on the east side of the pond. As soon as you have crossed the second bridge take a right and head through the narrow strip of spruce trees.  Then, take a left and head north until the path splits.  Look for the three-sided cellar hole. 

As you stand in the left back corner, think about the last human who resided here.  Why did they leave?  How long ago did they leave?  What did the building that once sat atop this foundation look like?  

Local lore will tell you that on a cold January night you may smell wood smoke, like it was coming from a chimney that long ago has crumbled.  Does the last resident return from his or her travels from time to time, for a cup of hot coffee and to sit around a warm fire? You come to your own conclusions.

One thing for sure is that there are new residents inside the old foundation that have found the brush pile a nice cozy place to take shelter.  What else has happened here during the intervening years?  

Think about your own home and what will happen when the last human resident leaves and nature reclaims it.  How many years will it take?  Will somebody stand in the spot where you now live and think the same thoughts as you are now? 

Go into the open field just behind the rear wall of the foundation.  Put your back to the foundation and walk to the northwest end of the field.

In this field, invasive non-native shrubs such as autumn olive and honeysuckle and scattered young trees such as ash and cherry were cut using heavy-duty brush cutting machinery.  Non-native vegetation was treated with an herbicide to prevent re-sprouting.  Wildlife biologists initiated these efforts recently to maintain and improve habitat for wildlife.  In the future, this field will be mowed every couple of years, to maintain the grass cover and to prevent the woody growth from invading back into the field. 

Without the kind of habitat management activity we see in this field, this open field would naturally grow back, until it eventually became a mature forest, through a process called natural succession.  Open fields and other types of early successional areas (such as seedling/sapling areas, grasslands and shrub-scrub wetlands) are created through natural disturbances such as wild-land fires, flooding, tree diseases, insect infestations, and damaging storms.  They can also be created and maintained through man’s activities, such as farming, mowing, prescribed fires and the like.

Open fields are characterized by little or no tree growth, and they contain a mix of grasses, herbaceous (broadleaved) weeds and wildflowers.  Fields that contain patches of young trees and shrubs along with grasses and weeds are called old fields, because they are further along in the successional process.  

Both open fields and old fields provide a diverse combination of food and cover that is extremely important for wide range of wildlife.  Since both of these types of open areas are open to full sunlight, they support a vast array of insects which provides an important food source for fast growing songbird nestlings and turkey and grouse poults.  Plants such as milkweed and wild bergamont thrive in the full sun and provide food and cover for butterflies such as the monarch.  The thick grass is ideal cover for white-footed mice and meadow voles, which in turn feed predators such as hawks, owls, foxes and coyotes. Leaves, grasses and seeds provide a varied and abundant food source for rabbits, small mammals and birds.  Old fields also contain sun-loving, tree species such as red cedar, birch and cherry, and shrubs such as gray and silky dogwood, which are also valuable to wildlife. 

Because of development, natural succession, and man’s influence over such natural disturbances as fire, there has been a steady net loss of all types of field habitat in Connecticut.  As a result, many of the species that depend upon field habitat have also declined.  Species such as the box turtle, bobolink, indigo bunting, woodcock, blue-winged and chestnut-sided warblers, American kestrel, and hognose snake are among those that use open and old fields, and so have been affected by this loss of habitat.  

The maintenance of fields such as the one you are walking through is an effort to help redress the decline of open field habitat.  You might note, trees along the edge of this field have also been cut.  This increases the amount of sunlight on the ground and helps encourages the growth of lush vegetation throughout the whole field.  

Enter the woods off of the northwest end of the field.  Within the first 100 feet you should find three black birch trees that have root systems that are partially exposed. These trees are approximately 75 feet apart from each other and form a triangle.  Locate the tree with the exposed roots on the northeast point of the triangle.  Look under the root system for the letterbox. 

Can you now tell what caused the exposed roots?  You might think about whether this area may have been an open field at one time, or perhaps even a stand of trees that were then cut down.  Think about the foundation you just saw – how would they have heated that house?  When firewood is cut, what is left behind?  And what then would happen to those stumps and twigs and sticks from the trees cut for firewood?  Perhaps you have noticed that, sometimes, birch seems to really like to germinate in a small pocket of soil, such as in a rock or a stump, and that, as it grows, its roots will run down the sides of that rock or stump and into the rest of the soil around that rock or stump.  Do you think that might have happened here?  If so, what happened to the stumps that once were here?

Learn more, earn a patch: You have learned about the Goodwin Conservation Center and Pine Acres Pond, reflected on the past, present, and future uses of homesteads, and walked through a field in which a wildlife habitat management project has been implemented to maintain and improve habitat in this field.  You have learned about the importance of field habitat and of other early successional areas.  You have also discovered how some trees come to have exposed roots.  

This is one of 32 letterbox hikes that are being sponsored by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s Division of Forestry. When you have completed 5 of these sponsored letterbox hikes, either from this series or the Centennial Series, you are eligible to earn a commemorative State Forest Centennial patch.  After you have completed five of these 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.  Enjoy!  Contact DEEP Forestry

The Letterbox Page

Content last updated July 29, 2015