Van Wie Preserve: A Walk in the Cold

Article & Photos by Jonathan Katz

Van Wie PreserveDid you know that Branford Land Trust trails are open all winter? Around the last half of January we got a week-long cold snap, nights in the single digits, days below freezing. That Sunday, in brilliant sunshine with just a dusting of fluffy powder on the ground, I took a walk at the Van Wie Woods. The temperature was about 30 degrees, just cold enough to keep anything from melting.

Van Wie Pond was drained and the new dam was a work in progress. The old dam had gone missing, its former site surrounded by mounds of dirt, flanked by two big excavators dwarfing a mini-bulldozer. The new dam-to-be was a trapezoid line of rebar set in concrete. The rocks on the bottom of the pond jutted out of the ice, and a swan sat behind a rock, neck high and graceful, body uncharacteristically big, none of it hidden below the surface. Seeing the heavy construction helped me understand why the dam was so dam expensive.

Ilsa Gable BridgeVan Wie has always been obscure to me, the trails sometimes hard to follow. I’ve found myself bushwhacking, sometimes in the wet. So I took the newly blazed “Pink Trail” starting to the right of Red Hill Road, just beyond the dam. The big, fresh magenta blazes were unnatural against the grays and whites of the woods in winter. The path was rigorous, mostly side-hill, and I watched for ice under my feet. Nobody had been there since the snow fell and I had the trail to myself. At one point I went straight up the hill instead of continuing right, and crossed a path at the top. I saw other walkers in the distance. So I quartered back down the hill and picked up the pink markers again. With the leaves down you could see a long way through the woods in winter. Concealed structures became visible: stone walls, big rocks, and a house, right there!

The pink trail merged with the blue trail and I followed that, up and down, descending to the Ilsa Gabel Bridge across the biggest stream at Van Wie, the one that drains the pond. The bridge had been washed downstream—by Tropical Storm Irene, I think—and was relocated last year. The snow cover on the boards was untrodden. My tracks were first. I crossed, enjoying the year’s first appearance of real, heavy ice in the stream bed, solid and thick.

Van Wie MeadowThe Blue Trail opened and became easier. Abruptly I arrived at the edge of the meadow, thinly planted with bird houses. I realized I’d seen this before, from the other direction, walking north from 146 on the Hoadley Creek Preserve early in the fall. Then the field had been full of birds. This day I saw one chickadee. I skirted the edge of the meadow, and came to a BLT sign marking a woods road. The path ran straight and easy, but passed a couple of big snapped and uprooted trees, reminders of the recent violent weather. Those storms hit the woods very hard. The trail took me directly back to Red Hill Road, a hundred yards from my car.

The Blue Trail at Van Wie is harder than the wide, groomed trails at Supply Ponds and Young’s Pond, and the Pink Trail is a scramble. Both are delightful walks in the cold, when the ground is covered with gleaming snow and nobody else is around.

• Click here to view the Van Wie Trail Map



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