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Life & Style
It’s Time to Pack a Picnic
The Connecticut River, starting at the mouth of the Long Island Sound, between Old Saybrook and Old Lyme, and up to East Haddam holds foliage the longest, often into the first week or so of November. Experts say this year’s foliage will be late but spectacular. (Photo by Sean D. Elliot/The Source)
Trees starting to get their fall colors along Route 1 in Old Lyme. (Photo by Sarah Gordon/The Source)
Mike Urban loves Founders Park, 100 Coulter Street, in his former hometown of Old Saybrook. “It offers beautiful elevated views of the mouth of the Connecticut River.” (Photo courtesy of Mike Urban)
Connecticut’s shoreline parks, including Hammonasset Beach State Park, the Surf Club, and Salt Meadow, all in Madison, offer great options for leaf peeping, birdwatching, and picnicking. (Photo by Pem McNerney/The Source)
Fall is great time to pack a picnic and head out to watch fall foliage or birdwatch. Pack a picnic before you leave, or pick one up on the way at a sandwich store, cheese shop, or pizza parlor. File photo)
Connecticut has a wide diversity of trees, providing for a wide range of colors in the fall. This chart from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection provides tips on which trees provide which colors. (Photo courtesy of the state Department of Energy & Environmental Protection)
Priscilla Martel of Chester recommends the Essex Riverview Cemetery, 99 Little Point Street, Essex. “I know. But it’s gorgeous,” she says. (Photo courtesy of Essex Riverview Cemetery)
As we head into the cool sunny days of fall, the great outdoors continues to call to us. This can be the best time of year to head out, absent the scorching summer sun and with fewer pesky bugs to deal with.
We are just about to head into what promises to be peak foliage season for the Connecticut shoreline and the lower Connecticut River valley, forecast for Sunday, Oct. 24 to Saturday, Oct. 30.
State Forester Christopher Martin, who is also director of the Division of Forestry, Bureau of Natural Resources, Department of Energy & Environmental Protection, says this year’s foliage season will be different from last year’s, when a punishing drought prompted trees to turn earlier. This year has been warm and wet, which means the trees will hang onto leaves longer and take more time changing. What will remain the same is the remarkable diversity of trees in Connecticut’s forests, he says. Any given acre of woodland in Connecticut can have 15 different tree species.
Something Special in New England
Other parts of the country don’t have the sheer range we do, he says. Out west, for instance, there might be two or three dominant tree species.
“We really have something special in New England and in Connecticut,” Martin says. “In my mind, the beauty of Connecticut is the diversity of the trees that we have, and that’s just all kinds of color associated with the trees, depending on the species...We’re in a transitional area for hardwood tree species; northern hardwoods and your mid-Atlantic hardwoods kind of converge on top of us.”
And because of the variety of terrain, Connecticut has about a month of peak color.
“We tend to take trees for granted,” Martin says. “They are around us all the time. Sometimes they’re a nuisance more than a help because we lose power. But I do think it’s a good time of year to—I don’t want to sound philosophical—but just reflect about the beauty of our state.”
Variety to Delight Bird Watchers
We’re lucky not only when it comes to trees in Connecticut, but also when it comes to the diversity of birds, says Jerry Connolly of the Audubon Shop in Madison. While peak fall migration is winding down a bit, there is plenty of variety to delight bird watchers year round.
“I’m often asked, ‘When does bird migration occur in Connecticut?’ A better question might be: ‘When doesn’t migration occur in Connecticut?’ Not all birds migrate at the same time. Fall migration actually begins in mid-July when shorebirds (sandpipers and plovers) head south after the very short arctic summer breeding season. Their fall migration continues through mid-September.
“Many of those shorebirds will be traveling as far as South America to their winter grounds,” he continues. “They are followed by the songbirds (flycatchers, thrushes, vireos, warblers, tanagers, orioles, and grosbeaks), whose southward migration to the tropics occurs from August through mid-October. Hawks and falcons make their way south from August to Thanksgiving, peaking in mid-October.
“There are also many birds that migrate south in fall to winter in Connecticut—red-breasted nuthatch, horned lark, lapland longspur, slate-colored junco, fox sparrow, tree sparrow, white-throated and white-crowned sparrows,” he adds. “Those birds are just arriving now.”
As for spring migration, the first male red-winged blackbirds begin to return to Connecticut in the second week of February, he says.
“So when is the best time to look for birds? Anytime,” he says.
Where to Picnic?
The Connecticut River, starting at the mouth of the Long Island Sound between Old Saybrook and Old Lyme and up to East Haddam, holds foliage the longest, often into the first week or so of November, says Martin, the state forester. With that in mind, here are some recommendations for places to picnic in the Connecticut River valley, along with a few other spots on the Connecticut shoreline, including one in Fairfield County, which also tends to hold onto fall foliage later in the season, sometimes through early November.
Connecticut River Valley
The picnic tables behind the Goodspeed Opera House, 6 Main Street, East Haddam, and and Gillette Castle, 67 River Road, East Haddam, are two great places for a picnic, says Colleen Shaddox of East Haddam. Robin Matterflis of Madison recommends taking the ferry from Chester on your way to Gillette Castle “for a little added fun.”
As for what to eat, consider getting take out from the nearby Geltson House, 8 Main Street, East Haddam. Or pack your own.
“I like a sandwich of Italian meats and/or roasted veg on crusty bread. That and some fruit, can’t beat it,” says Shaddox.
Ed Thereault seconds Gillette’s Castle and adds that the small area next to the ferry landing is also a fabulous place to picnic with “the river at your feet and the view of the ferry going back and forth.” Find out how to get there, and hours of operation on the State of Connecticut website portal.ct.gov/DOT/Traveler.
Thereault also recommends Devil’s Hopyard, 366 Hopyard Road, East Haddam, and Salmon River State Forest, Route 16, Colchester—”Both have riverfront picnic grounds.” And, he says, there is the Deep River Landing, a public space in Deep River by the Connecticut River, near the boat dock, with some great views.
Thereault says a fall picnic “wants a thermos of soup. Can’t beat tomato, but a corn chowder, or a chili would be great. A chunky salad of grilled or roasted veggies with feta and a red wine vinaigrette is hearty and filling. Add chunks of cured meats if you so desire. Make it vegan, vegetarian, or omnivore friendly as you need.”
Leslie Singer also recommends Devil’s Hopyard, 366 Hopyard Road, East Haddam.
“Personally, I would stop at Coffee’s (it’s the family’s name) in Old Lyme near Rogers Lake, and choose things from there. They have an amazing take-out menu, all made there, including Whoopi Pies! And Devil’s Hopyard is full of nooks and crannies, but don’t miss the waterfalls,” Singer says. Coffee’s Country Market is at 169 Boston Post Road, Old Lyme.
Melissa Olson Pionzio also recommends Salmon River State Forest, and Haddam Meadows State Park, 20 Parmalee Road, in Haddam.
As for what to pack, she says, “Sandwiches at the Tylerville Market, which is next to Tony’s Package Store, lots of water, chairs and binoculars for river bird watching, and a book!” Tylerville Country Market is at 95 Bridge Street, Haddam.
Sarah Wadle heads over to the Ivoryton Town Green for her picnics, often stopping by first at Angelini Wine on Main Street and then Brickside Pizza, right across the street at 104 Main Street, Ivoryton.
Priscilla Martel of Chester recommends the Essex Riverview Cemetery, 99 Little Point Street, Essex.
A cemetery? “I know. But it’s gorgeous,” she says.
And Marika Kuzma of Madison recommends the grounds of the Florence Griswold Museum, 96 Lyme Street, Old Lyme.
Connecticut Shoreline and Nearby
Both Robin Brace of Madison and Alex Wetmore of Madison recommend Salt Meadow Park, 1362 Boston Post Road, Madison.
“Picnic tables, and a nice short path through the woods with a bench to look over the marsh,” says Brace.
And it is right next to Hammonasset Beach State Park, which is a great place to visit for picnicking or bird watching any time of year.
Valentina DeMayo DaCosta recommends Chatfield Hollow State Park, 381 CT-80, Killingworth.
“Chatfield Hollow always looks spectacular in the fall, especially the marsh walk that they put in a few years back,” she says.
Mike Urban loves Founders Park, 100 Coulter Street, in his former hometown of Old Saybrook: “It offers beautiful elevated views of the mouth of the Connecticut River.”
Kathy Mannix BeBurra and Kesley Smith both recommended Chaffinch Island State Park, 39 Deepwood Drive, in Guilford, noting, “It’s such a beautiful spot and so easy to get to!”
Judy Guard Parda loves the Parmelee Farm, 465 Route 81, Killingworth.
Billy Richmond of Madison recommends Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford, 275 Great Neck Road, Waterford.
“It is one of the best picnic spots on the shoreline, in my opinion,” he says. “Between the mansion, manicured gardens, sweeping green fields, and one of the most beautiful beaches in Connecticut, there are lots of places to have a wonderful picnic.”
Kathleen Coe Roberts recommends Latham Park, 269 Bedford Street, Stamford.
“It’s on a small green on Bedford Street and there are so many restaurants there you’d be able to take out from, a great Irish pub, Mecha Noodle, seafood places, and Italian spots, and also a farmer’s market right near there on Saturdays,” Roberts says. “It has a great downtown energy to it, and there are events on the green including zumba, yoga, open chess, and more.”
Kristina Dorsey of The Day contributed to this story.