I spent much of my youth exploring the wilds of East Hampton's Hurd State Park. I tossed stones down the seemingly bottomless chasm of Split Rock, listening for their landings. We picnicked in a glade above Carlson Pond, scaled White Mountain and walked the riverbanks watching the mighty Connecticut River flow past.
We were in our own little natural world. What more could there be? Well, last week I discovered there are an additional 334 acres just to the south, a huge swath of tidal grasslands known as George Dudley Seymour State Park. The parcel includes numerous abandoned foundations buried in the New England forest, as well as giant rock outcroppings topped by evergreens just begging to be explored. And to think I'd been missing this all these years.
The park's namesake preserved not only this slice of field and forest, but also seven other state parks and the Nathan Hale State Forest. A rustic bridge spanning a picturesque rocky gorge greets visitors, and it is all that stands between you and the park. Although it doesn't look like much, the bridge is perfectly safe — as long as you hold your breath and run like the wind across it.
The park's main trail is actually a crumbling asphalt road that winds its way through the forest paralleling a gently flowing Axelson Brook. Once visitors get to the bottom of the hill they are greeted by fields filling the horizon to the south and west and huge rock outcroppings reaching for the sky to the east and north.
After passing a marsh with swamp maples emerging from their winter hibernation, you reach a seemingly endless field bordered by the Connecticut River to the west. And it's not just any field. According to the park description, these tidal floodplains are a state rarity, with grass species that date from the 1600s or earlier. To find a piece of land where one can walk where few have trod before is an amazing feat.
A farm road gently cuts through the heart of the grassland, making it easy to walk across. But you are going to want to explore the grasslands as they gently slope to the sandy banks of the river. With a brilliant blue sky above and a strong north wind blowing across the water, the river appears to be magically flowing past.
A neat juxtaposition is being able to look out from the wilds at the civilization along the opposite riverbank. The abandoned Valley Railroad snakes its way along the riverbanks across a rusting trestle. A water tower stands watch over an abandoned factory complex. Beautiful old homes and barns cut out from the forest overlook the river. The farm road ends at a vantage point with distant views down the river.
On my return to the parking area, I skip the broken roadway in favor of following the rocky ridge line and a stone wall adjacent to the brook. And that's the beauty of George Dudley Seymour State Park: Visitors will find there is more than one way to explore this forgotten Hurd neighbor.
Route 66 to the Cobalt section of East Hampton. Turn on Route 151 and take a right on Hurd Park Road at first traffic light. Take a right on Clarkhurst Road and follow to the end. Go here for a map of the park. Peter Marteka can be reached at 860-647-5365 or firstname.lastname@example.org or at The Courant, 200 Adams St., Manchester, CT 06040.