Gay City State Park, Hebron
I always have to think a little differently when I have kids coming along on a hike with me. They are not going to be able to go as long as I would and I have to be prepared for frequent stops to examine nature. Gay City State Park in Hebron, CT is a great location for taking kids out on the trail. The park is over 1500 acres and has multiple trails, open fields, a pond for swimming, and remnants of an old town.
In this case we had a 6 and 8 year old with us. These two are use to being out on hikes and even have their own backpacks with their water and snacks. Ok, they are practically seasoned veterans at this point. I hiked in the North Cascades of Washington a few years back with them when they weren’t quite 1 and 3. This helped with route planning, because I knew they could handle doing a little over 3 miles. Based on the group I felt our best bet was to meet up in the winter parking lot right at the main entrance and follow the white Pond Loop trail for a nice family friendly hike.
Once on the trail our little hiking companions started exploring. They love rock hunting; seeing who can find the coolest looking rock. According to the state DEEP website the park has both igneous and metamorphic rock types along with amphibole, garnet, muscovite, and biotite for minerals. I wish I knew my geology better so I could point out what they were picking up. Instead the three adults just weighed in on whether or not we thought the rock was cool also. For the record, we all agreed that the coolest rock found on the hike was a very smooth egg shaped rock that we referred to as the “Dinosaur Egg.”
After about 40 minutes of hiking we came out to the swimming pond and took a snack break on a bench. It was the first day of trout fishing season so as we sat there resting we saw more and more fisherman coming in. It wasn’t warm enough for any swimming so the fisherman had the pond to themselves.
Once the group was ready we headed back to the white trail as it made its way around the northern side of the pond. We crossed a stream and tried looking for turtles or frogs, but they must have all gone back to sleep. The temperatures haven’t been exactly friendly to our cold blooded friends. The trail turned north and had a little bit of an incline. This caused a bit of complaining by the kids, but it was more acting then anything else. We met up with the red Outer Loop trail for a little before splitting back to the white trail and the southern end of the pond.
We crossed the dam at the southern end of the pond and continued following the white trail along the Blackledge River. The real highlight of the hike was the ruins of the old woolen mill along the river. We took turns talking about what we thought the mill might have looked like before it burned down. The one nice thing about doing this hike in early spring is the ruins are very visible because all of the greenery hasn’t grown in for the year yet. This enabled us to get up close and really check things out. Right past the ruins the white trail came to an end and we needed to follow the blue Shenipsit Trail back to the park road.
As we were walking back we noticed a small cemetery along the side of the park road. (And yes, all five of us walked right passed it on the way in and didn’t notice it.) We respectfully walked in and took a moment at each tombstone trying to read it and learn some more about the people that use to live in Gay City. Today all that remains of the city are stone walls, foundations, mill ruins, dirt roads, and a few cemeteries. Essentially Gay City State Park is a Ghost Town, but that is part of what makes it such a great place to bring kids. There are many interesting things to see, explore, and talk about.