Connecticut State Park / State Forest
600 acres in Morris, CT
Parking: Small lot near 315 West St Morris, CT
Trail Map Trails: 2.5 miles Rating: ★★★★☆
Camp Columbia is the former site of the Columbia Engineering school the property is split into two parcels the historic park (72 acres) and the state forest (528 acres). The main feature is one of Connecticut’s stone observations towers that remains from the dining hall.
The trails were first established here in 2008 and seem to be an afterthought between the main attraction of the tower and the active forest management in the state forest parcel. The trail is a 2 mile loop which I followed counter-clockwise. The trail starts off on a former road/cart path that is wide and easy to follow. Though now it is poorly maintained with branches down all over and is often an active stream. The long gradual uphill climb required zig zagging to find dry footing.
Eventually the trail took a hard left through a stonewall and entered a rolling one mile section that was pretty picturesque. The remainder of the trail, while a nice forest walk, was uneventful. I either missed the orange trails marked on the map or they don’t exist anymore. The forest had undergone extensive timber harvesting that was done in part to curb “illegal trails” created by ATVs.
Letterboxing – Seedling SeriesClue:
Using a map, find the junction of Route 109 and Route 63 in the small village of East Morris. You can follow 63 North from Middlebury and Watertown, or 109 West from Route 6 in Thomaston. There will be an “Xtra Mart” Citgo at this 4-way stop. Go west on 109 1.1 miles to the center of Morris. At the junction of Routes 109 and 61, continue on 109 West. After another 1.5 miles, you will pass Camp Awosting for Boys on the right, immediately followed by the junction with Route 209. Go another half-mile past 209 and take a left onto Todd Hill Road. There will also be a green street sign for “Town Garage” at that turn.
On Todd Hill, you will immediately pass an old cemetery on the right. Follow Todd Hill Road a total of 4/10-mile and take a left onto Munger Lane. Drive slowly, the turn comes up quickly. If it is winter, go 1/10 of a mile up Munger Lane – you will find that the snowplow stops at about that point. If it is warmer weather, drive a total of a quarter-mile down Munger Lane. You are advised not to attempt driving the unmaintained portion of the road in winter. Also, you should also not block the road when you park your vehicle.
Your entry to the woods will be a total of a quarter-mile down Munger Lane, on the left or east side of the road. This is about 75 feet from where the pavement ends. As a landmark, there is a maple tree that forks about 5-6 feet up with a yellow “Connecticut State Land” tag and a metal wire wrapped around it 2-3 feet from the ground. Look at the woods road going steeply up into the woods by this tree. Follow this road on foot!
You will be going easterly, up hill on this steep road. There will be decaying stumps on both sides of the trail. This area was harvested over 10 years ago as part of DEEP’s suspended fuelwood program. Through this program, the Forestry Division previously issued permits annually utilizing a lottery 2-cord lots. Firewood trees were usually smaller trees close to the road that have been selected for removal to thin the woods and create more growing space. Healthier and higher quality young trees will fill this growing space. Most of the area you are walking through was previously marked and cut through the firewood program.
From Munger Lane, you will follow this trail about 225 feet as it winds around easterly, then southerly. Eventually, this trail “T”s at another woods trail. Go left. Follow this trail and after about 100 feet, notice the beech on the right with carved names and initials. Healthy American beech has smooth, gray bark that is often a temptation for carving messages, but you should not do it! Beech has very thin outer bark and little protection for the living cambium layer underneath. Carving on beech damages the trees and makes them more susceptible to insect and disease attack, as well as disfigures a beautiful tree.
Continue down this trail for a total of 500 feet (from the “T”) as it heads downhill. Look around and notice some of the large and impressive living oak trees. Then notice some of the species of smaller trees in the understory. If you know Connecticut’s trees, you may recognize that most of these smaller trees are not oaks, but primarily yellow birch, sugar maple, and beech. Where are all the young oak trees?
Just past where the trail makes a sharp left, you see an old stone wall. Follow until you are at a gapway in the wall. Look left at a forked shagbark hickory next to the wall. Can you tell how the species got its name?
Yellow birch, sugar maple, and beech comprise a forest type that foresters know as “northern hardwoods”. This forest type is more common in northern New England. Unlike oak trees, the northern hardwoods species are tolerant to shade and therefore can exist here in the understory beneath the older oak trees. These species also do well on soils with a lot of moisture and are more competitive in this area than oak.
Foresters know that, if the old oaks were to disappear, this growing site will become occupied by beech-birch-maple. That is, this happens unless something were to occur that dramatically disturbs the area, such as a clearcut or fire. Oak establishes itself in areas of great disturbance, which could explain its establishment here about a century ago.
This is just one small example of how you can view an area differently when seen from the eyes of a forester, who uses science and history to understand the forest we have and what the forest is likely to be in the future. Even so, you still get to enjoy the beauty around you!
At the gap in the east-west oriented stone wall, look left. This section of the wall is only less than 100 feet long. Go 80 feet down the wall on the downhill or north side. Stop about 10 feet from the end and look in the wall adjacent to a small 3-4-inch yellow birch growing on a white quartz rock. You should find your prize there!
A rich history can be found on the DEEP website.
- DEEP – State Forest Management Plan for Camp Columbia 2012-2022
- Peter Marteka – A Visit To The Ruins Of The Storied Camp Columbia In Morris (2014)
- CTMQ – Camp Columbia State Park (2011)
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January 6, 2020
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