On the Trail

The Natchaug Trail

By David Raczkowski


I’ve been working and playing on the Blue-Blazed Hiking Trails for the past four decades. After so many years of being active outside, I’m slowing down and realize my days spent on the trail are numbered. I’m so appreciative that I can still get out on the trails for three or four hours a day, six days a week. Sometimes I focus on trail work and other times I just need to move down a trail. Some days I leave the hand saw and clippers at home because my body just needs to move more.

Find the complete map in the Connecticut Walk Book, published by CFPA and Wesleyan University Press.


What has kept me on the trail is my passion for trail running. In 1984, I started the NipMuck Trail Marathon and served as its race director for 27 years. Back then it was held in June when there was plenty of mud, hence the capital “M”. This year’s race, organized by the Shenipsit Striders, will be on October 1st. A well-maintained trail is essential because a few elite trail runners can average an eight or nine-minute mile. Runners make split second decisions while their main focus is on the trail five feet in front of them. It also makes the trail easy for hikers to follow. Along with the Willimantic Athletic Club, the Shenipsit Striders have provided funds for 15 footbridges, which have held out quite well over the decades. There are also some great steps on some steep sections at Boston Hollow. But I am not able to do races anymore because I can’t make the cut off times, which are put in place so the volunteers don’t have to wait around for slower racers like myself to finish.

Most of my time is spent on the roughly 60 miles of trails in the Natchaug and Goodwin state forests near my home. My main focus is on the Natchaug and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) trails, but I also work on the horse and bike trails. I even got permission from the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to work on the snowmobile trails. These are all-access trails, so you don’t need a bike, horse, or a snowmobile to enjoy them.

I’ve been wandering in the Natchaug State Forest since moving here some 30 years ago and know it like the back of my hand. To me, it’s paradise. The forest has a subtle beauty. Regardless of the season, I always stop once or twice when I’m out to take photographs. I have little motivation to go on a vacation or to visit another part of the country; I rarely even leave Windham County. The Natchaug forest is great for trail running. Its trails offer some challenging technical footing but lack extreme elevation changes. This is also a place where your inner hermit can be nurtured if you’re craving solitude.

I stay in the Goodwin Forest during deer hunting season because hunting is not allowed. There are plenty of places to explore at Goodwin as well, but come January when deer hunting season ends, I’m grateful to get back into the Natchaug State Forest.

Part of my maintenance over the past few years has been to make seats and benches along the trail. As I get older, it gets harder to pass one of these benches and not sit down to rest. One of my goals is to take a nap on one of these seats. I haven’t fallen asleep yet, but have come close plenty of times.

One of the trails I maintain is the CCC Trail, which I often hike more than once a week. There is a nice stretch along the Natchaug River and a picnic area on the opposite shore, just off

Route 198. The CCC Trail has both north and south connections to the Natchaug Trail. The river is just a couple of feet away from the trail, except when it floods. Then, the river and the trail become one. The CCC Trail originally only headed south from the picnic area, but in 2015, with CFPA’s approval, I built connections to the Natchaug Trail at both ends.

The northern section that connects to the Natchaug Trail is especially dear to me. It passes the picnic site where my parents would take our family on summer Sundays six decades ago. From the trail I can see a boulder by the river I would sit on when I was 10. When I turned 16 and got my driver’s license, I would explore the other side of the river where the trail now goes. I remember a white pine grove where the trees were four inches in diameter. Those trees are now eighteen inches in diameter.

There are times when I totally get off trail and just wander in old growth forest between areas that have been logged due to gypsy moth infestation. After loggers finish their work, it looks like the land has been destroyed, but within a year or two, the undergrowth comes back. It can take a couple of decades before I can walk through these woods off trail. But I know that the timber harvest helps to keep the forest healthy, and thankfully there is still plenty of old growth forest left for me to explore.

I hope I have a few more years of being able to wander through this forest. I say “wander” because I usually make up my route as I move along. As fatigue begins to set in, I’ll consider heading for home. But after resting for a moment—and realizing it’s just too nice to go home so soon—I’ll get a second wind and stay out a little longer. I move slower and slower, but still manage to get to where I want to be. For me, this place is my home, and this home gets sweeter all the time. I know that someday, when I go to that big trail race in the sky where there is no cut off times, I’ll be thinking about and celebrating my long history with this wonderful forest.

Dave Raczkowski is a retired occupational therapist who, for the past 10 years, has used forearm crutches he modified to compensate for knee arthritis. Watch his YouTube videos, “Running on Trails with Forearm Crutches.”


Learn more about the Natchaug Trail


This article was pulled from the 2023 Spring edition of Connecticut Woodlands. Read more articles about conservation in Connecticut in the latest edition of Connecticut Woodlands.

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