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}

The Nassahegon Letterbox is currently missing.  The clues are still posted so that you might enjoy the hike associated with the clues.  However, until it is replaced, there will not be a letterbox to meet you at the end of the hike.

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 DEP 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 (80-100 feet) and look directly left.  Do you see a slightly shorter pine tree, at the back edge of the small grassy trail-side opening, 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 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. 

Continue down the trail about another 80 steps or 200 feet, noting along the way that most of the young pine trees you see are white pine (Feel the needles—they will be soft to the touch and occur in groups or “fascicles” of 5). Look just ahead on the left side of the trail.  The pine with dark, rough bark is another pitch pine.  Behind it is a Scotch pine (or Scots pine).  The Scotch pine is not native to this country.  Do you see the upper half of the Scotch pine?  Is it yellow or yellowish-red?  That is an easy way to identify a Scotch pine.  Notice how short and scraggly the needles are, compared to other pines.

Continue another 285 feet (115 steps) to the “T” in the trail.  At this dead-end of your first trail, note the dense thicket of mountain laurel directly ahead.  This is 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 tree with the single blaze on it is a red pine.  At first glance it looks very similar to the pitch pine.  This is a species mostly eliminated from our state in the 80s and 90s by an exotic insect attack.  Only scattered trees remain.  Do you see how this tree differs from the other types of pine you’ve seen? 

From where you are standing, you should be able to see examples of five types of conifers, or evergreen trees, four of which are species of pine.  The larger tree on the right side of the White-Dot trail, closer to you than the blazed red pine, is another hemlock.  You should also be seeing more pitch pines and eastern white pine.  Many of the larger pines with smoother bark are white pines. 

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 on the trail that you have been following.  From the intersection with the White-Dot trail on your left, go directly ahead, northward, another 40 steps or about 100 feet.  Next, turn right, getting off the main woods trail.  Go almost due east (at a right angle to the trail).  A small double hemlock will be on your left and a short stump on your right.  As you begin walking, a 20-foot high dead tree stem will also be on your right.  You will have to step over some small debris (logging slash).  This is a sampling of what work as a forester is like! 

After about 30 steps, or 75 feet, you will be following an old skid trail left from the logging of a few years ago.   You will still be heading due east.  After another 30 steps, you will be at a subtle intersection of skid trails.  Look straight ahead, still facing east. There is a very dense patch of white pines, about 10-20 feet tall, with a bowl-shaped or U-shaped edge.  There are also some hardwoods in the vicinity. 

In front of this thicket is a small patch of about 3 hemlock saplings, 6-8 feet tall, 35 feet in front of you.  These are next to some slightly taller birch saplings.  Look behind and underneath this patch of hemlock! 

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 nearby 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

The Letterbox Page

Content last updated on April 11, 2014