With warm weather on the way, more and more people are getting outside to explore southeastern Connecticut’s numerous – preserves and hiking trails. If you are new to the area or new to hiking in general, finding the right trail can be challenging. Most hiking guides and references list the length of the trail, but don’t offer additional descriptions of terrain or elevation changes, which can make choosing the right hike difficult.
The Avalonia Land Conservancy is launching the Avalonia Trail Finder on April 1 to “know before you go.” Avalonia Trail Finder (ATF) is a web-based tool that lists every trail on each Avalonia preserve, along with difficulty levels, mileage, terrain, photos, and detailed descriptions of what to expect. This will allow people to make informed decisions and find the hike that is right for them.
ATF was envisioned by Chuck Toal, Avalonia’s former Director of Development who retired in 2020, and Dale Wilson, a Navy Medical Officer, stationed in Groton. Wilson contacted Toal in October in response to a volunteer request. Toal needed a volunteer to describe the trails, and Wilson, new to the area, was excited to get outside and explore his new home. Every weekend, he laced on his hiking boots, grabbed his notebook and his camera, and picked another preserve.
Wilson said, “Embarking on this endeavor, I admit I did not know much about the Avalonia trails. I have plenty of experience hiking throughout the United States and in other countries; yet after hiking all of the Avalonia trails, I honestly admit that some of the most serene hikes of my life have been on these trails.”
Wilson continued, stating how impressed he was with Avalonia’s diversity and beauty. “From the shorter hikes of Town’s End or Wequetequock Cove to the more challenging, long trails of TriTown Forest, I am proud to say that my boots have walked every mile of Avalonia trails and my eyes have captured their beautiful charm. Not a single trail disappointed and I am looking forward to hitting the trails again.”
Five months, more than 40 preserves, and dozens of miles later, Wilson finished his research. Together with web developer Kent Fuller and GIS mapping expert Mike Goodwin, Toal and Wilson created ATF.
Toal stated, “Trail Finder was a perfect project for Avalonia with over 100 preserves and miles of trails. It can be intimidating for a first-time visitor to know which new trail will match their needs. With Trail Finder, it makes it easy to “know before you go.” Dale was just the right volunteer to take this project on. He is an experienced hiker, well organized and has good writing skills. I am always amazed at our talented volunteers who so generously and willingly give to the organization and the community.”
Toal and Wilson’s enthusiasm was echoed by Kim Bradley, who not only serves as the President of Avalonia’s Board of Directors but also works for the CT Trail Census as the Program Coordinator. “The Avalonia Trail Finder is an exciting step toward making our preserves more accessible to anyone interested in exploring, no matter what experience they are looking for.” Bradley continued, “Avalonia is serving as a model for Land Trust and Conservation organizations across the state in developing trail data and information that can be incorporated into the state-wide Connecticut Trail Finder. Connecticut Trail Finder will serve a state-wide trail manager approved resource compiling trails information from CTDEEP, state agencies, municipalities, and land trusts in an easily accessible website.”
The Avalonia Trail Finder will launch on April 1, 2021 and can be found by visiting https://avalonia.org/preserves