A ghostly fog rose above the kettle pond as a light rain fell on the barren branches of the oak forest. A great blue heron walked slowly along the shallow banks while the sounds of frogs hopping into the water echoed across the barren December woods.
Welcome to the world of a pitted kame terrace, whose existence has changed little since the last glacier retreated about 14,000 years ago. Except for a time when it was used as a cranberry bog, this hidden gem located behind the Mansfield Library has survived over the centuries while many of its kind have disappeared, becoming gravel pits or part of mining operations.
But here, the kame terrace — basically the outwash from a glacier created when the stream of melting water met the valley it was retreating through — is pitted with a number of wet and dry kettle holes, created when large chunks of ice were buried and then melted. The 22-acre Bradley-Buchanan Woods, where much of the kame terrace lies, was the first parcel protected by the Joshua's Tract Conservation and Historic Trust. Over the years, the land trust has preserved thousands of additional acres across eastern Connecticut.
Although there are several ways to access the area, the best trailhead is off Edgewood Extension where visitors are brought into the heart of the terrace and its kettles. A half-mile yellow-blazed trail will take visitors around the kettles with scenic overlooks and boardwalks. A series of blue-blazed shortcut trails will give visitors a feel of the undulating land where it is easy to imagine a glacier working its way back and forth.
The boardwalk, a soggy journey this time of year, connects visitors to the 57-acre state-owned Echo Woods and its mile-long loop trail through a deep white pine forest. For those seeking a longer hike, the loop trail connects to a walking path along a flood control levee and the trails of Mansfield Hollow State Park.
Those wishing to stay on the glacial tour should stick to the yellow-blazed trail off the loop path. This trail will take visitors down to the banks of Echo Lake and the trust's Pond Lot. The trail goes through a pine forest past some scenic vernal pools.
The visit through Pond Lot brings visitors along the southern shores of Echo Lake along the Hugh M. Hamill Jr. Memorial Trail. Another series of kettles and a peat bog can be seen to the east. The trail winds along a cemetery before reaching the road. Visitors might want to take some time to visit Old Mansfield Center Cemetery, which dates to 1693 and is the oldest burial ground in Tolland County. Mansfield's Revolutionary War hero Col. Experience Storrs is buried here.
Fortunately, not all of our glacial past has disappeared from view. Between the kame terraces, kettle and glacial erratics, there are plenty of opportunities to see our frozen past any time of year.
Route 195 to Route 89 several miles north of the junction of Route 66. Take a right onto Clark Street and left when the road forks. Look for the small parking area and trailhead. Visit http://www.joshuaslandtrust.org/trailmaps/B-BPondLot.pdf for a map of the area. Peter Marteka can be reached at 860-647-5365, at firstname.lastname@example.org or at The Courant, 200 Adams St., Manchester, CT 06040.