One of the things I love about hiking is a beautiful simplicity; you set off down a trail and you follow it until you’re finished. In this ideal, the trail is your guide, an undemanding companion indicating the way forward, leaving you to your thoughts and the scenery. Some trails are really like that; most are not.
Since returning home at the end of September from a backpack on the Pacific Crest Trail — an easy-to-follow, good guide of a trail, at least on the section I undertook — I have not had much time for hiking. But for the time-strapped hiker, short, local trails exist, places to get outdoors with a minimum of travel and planning. In that spirit, earlier this month I set off to find Redding’s Westway.
According to The Book of Trails published by Redding Land Trust, Westway is the town’s “longest north-south linear trail.” It follows “ledgy uplands” just east of Route 7 and the Norwalk River, linking several parcels of open space. Now, I had been on Westway before. Three years ago, in late summer, I hiked the Rock Lot and Scott Preserve, the southernmost of the parcels. They offered varied scenes and I made a note to walk all of Westway one day. The day arrived this month.
Nov. 12: The mystery of the Huckleberry Swamp
I parked on Charlie Hill Road, intent on exploring Westway’s two most northerly parcels, and perhaps wandering into Topstone Park. The distances would not be great, and I set off without poles or pack, just a granola bar in my pocket and The Book of Trails in my hand. This felt strange. I didn’t feel like a hiker, so I felt like somebody just nosing around someone else’s neighborhood. It didn’t help that the first Westway parcel — tiny Marchant Farm — was clearly little used. The trail beside Blackman’s Pond Brook was rough and partly overgrown, though the brook itself was pretty in the fall sunshine.
A connector trail led me, none too smoothly, to Steichen Preserve, better known as Huckleberry Swamp. I like swamps, and was looking forward to this one. The Book of Trails mentioned a waterside path (off Westway) and a sign at the Preserve entrance pointed to “Huckleberry Swamp Boardwalk.” I hiked on expectantly. But this trail was a lazy guide, leaving much of the work of navigation to the bewildered walker. It may be just that autumn leaves had covered the trail, but the way forward was visible only as haphazard white blazes on trees, and soon — still far from reeds or swamp water — these too vanished.
Back at my car, I decided to try Huckleberry Swamp from its other, west side. There, on Chestnut Woods Road, The Book of Trails showed another entrance and another trail leading to water. I drove, ever so slowly, along Chestnut Woods searching for that entrance and trail, but finding nothing, settled for a view of the swamp from the roadside. Later, at home, I did some googling and discovered, on the History of Redding website, that the Preserve is closed and “the boardwalk along the swamp has rotted and fallen into the water”.
Nov. 15: Saddleback and Windy Hill
On Sunday, between my efforts to reach Huckleberry Swamp, I did wander into Topstone Park, but not on Westway. Instead, I scaled Topstone Mountain — all 700-plus feet of it — in search of Big Views. I found good views, of the park pond to the east and across the Norwalk River Valley to Ridgefield. Midweek, escaping my desk for a cool, sunny afternoon, I returned to Topstone and, this time, Westway.
In Topstone Park, Westway means Saddleback, a mile-long trail that takes the walker over hills and past a swamp to Old Redding Road. Near the start, Topstone Mountain is seen through trunks and branches a half-mile to the southwest. Saddleback is well used and clear of obstructions, and it left me free to enjoy my thoughts and the sunshine hitting the forest floor and the swamp reeds.
I had conjured up an image of Windy Hill — the fourth parcel of a north-south Westway walk — to suit my wishes. It would be a bare summit, caught by the west wind. I could not have been more wrong! Windy Hill Preserve began on the easy track of Fire Tower Road, but then forsook the track for a rough, intermittently marked swampside path. The hill itself — bare or otherwise — lay outside the Preserve and I saw none of it. Sunset was not far off, and where the blazes vanished for a stretch, I thought of giving up and turning back. But the Preserve is small, and soon more blazes appeared, and after them Seventy Acre Road.
I didn’t have time for the Rock Lot and Scott Preserve, the last miles of Westway. The 2-3 miles of Westway that I had walked had proved singularly diverse. Was it great hiking, a beautiful simplicity? No, but that’s not the point. Westway, and many trails like it, are local and accessible, and even offer a whiff of adventure.
More Redding Hikes:
Redding’s Little River
Aspetuck Valley Trail and The Rock Lot & Scott Preserve
Rob McWilliams is a local resident. Taking a Hike appears monthly. Contact Rob at McWilliams Takes a Hike blog and Facebook. He’d love to hear from you.