“The Preserve” in Old Saybrook, Essex and Westbrook is a nearly 1000 acre forest protected in 2015 after many years of conservation efforts. It had been recognized as the largest remaining unprotected coastal forest between Boston & New York before its recent acquisition. Seventy acres in Essex is owned and managed by the Essex Land Trust with the majority of the rest jointly owned by the state and the town of Old Saybrook. You can access “The Preserve” from the south in Old Saybrook via Ingham Hill Rd off I-95 and in the north in Essex in 2 locations off Ingham Hill Rd off Route 153.
Contained within this forest preserve were numerous forest roads. As part of their effort to make this area accessible as a great hiking (and in some parts mountain biking) destination, the Old Saybrook and Essex Land Trusts mapped and marked a portion of these roads. Altogether I would estimate that there are about 10 miles of blazed trails presently in the Preserve. I would strongly recommend you print out a map before hiking and refer to it often as you walk. Of those numerous forest roads, only a small portion are being used now for hiking. You have to pay attention to your trail and make sure you don’t start walking down one of those unblazed roads by mistake. Another note of caution is that the trails were blazed last fall and new tree growth has hidden some of the blazes. This can be a bit frustrating when you can’t figure out which way to go at a three-way intersection.
The trails in Old Saybrook are primarily the old forest roads which are wide, flat and mostly free of rocks. The Essex portion of the Blue Trail is primarily singletrack with some steep and rocky sections.
I chose to hike The Preserve in two separate days to complete the two main loops of about 4+ miles each. Both of my hikes started at the Old Saybrook trailhead. Day one included the Red, Yellow, Orange and Green trails while day two was the Blue trail all the way up to the Essex trailhead near Essex Meadows and back. Both days were very pleasant hikes in the forest with the only sounds being the birds and the occasional whistle from the Essex Steam Train to the north. There are numerous large stands of ferns throughout the preserve. At the southern end of the Red Trail is the Pequot Swamp Pond. There are a few views of the pond as you walk along this trail. Just beyond the pond is a side loop blazed Green. This spur brings you to an old dam that provides drainage into the pond. Not far from the dam there is an old stone firepit. I suspect this spot, along with a few other firepits spotted along the Red Trail, had been used in the past as prime camping spots for the local scouts. The Red trail is mostly dry with a few locations where standing water has resulted in small sections of trail bypasses.
A unique feature in a few sections of the Red trail is the planked walkways that must have been installed over wet or muddy areas. I would estimate that two of these planked areas measured 12 feet wide by 60-70 feet long. A great effort must have been used to build these structures. While the Red and Green trails are primarily high and dry, I would characterize the eastern portion of the Blue Trail as wet. It follows near a stream/drainage swale which was active during this spring. You may expect to get a bit muddy during rainy periods.
The Preserve is a worthy hike with well-maintained trails and varied topography, none very strenuous. You will not see any majestic distant vistas but will be rewarded with 10 miles of hiking among nearly 1000 acres of glorious forest and ferns.