I have walked many miles, on many occasions, in the Hartman Park Preserve in Lyme, CT on Gungy Rd. However, I have never hiked any of the neighboring preserves in Salem, just a short distance to the north. That changed last week when I decided to walk the Darling Road Preserve. As its name implies, this preserve is located on Darling Rd and is directly adjacent to the Winslow Property that is owned by the Nature Conservancy. A portion of the Darling Rd Preserve actually abuts Gungy Rd. Altogether these properties are over 100 acres of lush, green, rolling forest. Parking is available either at the Land Trust trailhead (look for the kiosk) or just down the road about 150 yards at the Nature Conservancy entrance.
I chose to start at the Land Trust trailhead and follow the red trail to the north. The beginning of the trail is up and down hill for the first ¼ mile and then seems to level off some. The first thing that will strike you is the vast acreage of ferns that love this preserve. There is a dense canopy of trees about 30-40 feet overhead and a noticeable lack of bushy undergrowth, except for the ferns. You can see an almost unobstructed view hundreds of feet in all directions. That sensation is somewhat unique in this area of Connecticut which seems to have an over abundance of undergrowth. Another feature that is very prevalent in the preserve are the numerous stone walls. At times you will walk along one or back and forth across another. And due to the wide open views in the preserve you will also spot many other stone walls along the way.
After following the red trail for about ¾ mile, I took the orange trail connector that went east for a little less than ¼ mile until it joined the yellow loop trail. The yellow loop is a 1.2 mile circle that includes a short detour out of the preserve onto Gungy Road itself. I chose the counterclockwise direction on the yellow trail. As I finished hiking around the circle, I missed the intersection with the orange trail but quickly turned around when I realized the trail looked too familiar. Additional blazes are needed at this intersection.
Now that I was back on course, I took the orange trail west and followed it to the red trail. I headed south on the red trail toward a landmark identified as the “Big Oak Tree”. At first I thought I might skip this detour, but I am glad I didn’t. The Big Oak was truly awesome. Its trunk must have been at least 6 feet in diameter. I had never seen an oak in SE Connecticut this large! Its branches were thicker than many tree trunks. And the lighting through the high canopy made this tree look even more impressive. I continued along the red trail until it intersected with the Winslow trail and took this for 4/10 mile north until it ended back on Darling Road.
Altogether, this hike was about 3 ½ miles and was a very enjoyable walk in the woods amongst the ferns. Information on this Preserve and others owned by the Salem Land Trust can be found at www.salemlandtrust.org