Where Winter Meets Spring: McLean Game Refuge

In Connecticut, late winter and early spring combine into a strange limbo season. Fewer days dip into truly frigid temperatures, though some nights still drop down into the painfully cold range, leaving evidence of thin sheets of sidewalk ice and frozen windshield wiper fluid in the morning. Even fewer days come close to anything you might call warm, but there are moments – when the wind dies down and the sun shines – when you can almost remember what summer feels like. Snow hasn’t fallen in a while, but it might – this is New England, after all, and we all remember at least one April blizzard – and rain clouds line up neatly on the calendar in the weekly forecast, even as the sky alternates from vivid azure to the palest baby blue. Those trees that stay green all year look even greener in their stark surroundings, and the bare branches on the other trees allow for glimpses of streams deep in the woods. It’s easy to wish for a more defined winter, or yearn for the arrival of June, but if you’re trying to accept the confusion of this season – and even appreciate its subdued beauty – I suggest a visit to McLean Game Refuge, a wildlife sanctuary with trails through wild swaths of Granby, Simsbury, and Canton.

The sanctuary was established in 1932 on land belonging to George P. McLean, the former Connecticut governor and U.S. senator. The year before, he had written in what is now an oft-quoted paragraph of his will, “I want the game refuge to be a place where some of the things God made may be seen by those who love them, as I loved them, and who may find in them the peace of mind and body that I have found.”

Over the decades, McLean Game Refuge trustees acquired adjacent properties, and the space dedicated to conservation grew. Today, it stretches over 4,400 acres, and more than 20 miles of forest roads and trails wind through it. It envelops parts of three distinct landscapes – Connecticut’s central valley, traprock ridges, and western highlands – and visitors to the refuge will see ponds, wetlands, forests, and meadows. Within its boundaries, dozens of species of flora and fauna are protected.

On a recent walk, I explored a small section of the refuge, technically just minutes from the center of Granby but a world away in spirit. It was an easy walk, along the mostly flat trails around and between Trout Pond and Spring Pond. I followed paths carved between tall pines, over small bridges and past brooks, leading to historic cabins and thoughtfully placed benches. 

The options here feel endless, with trails that loop and branch out from one another, providing opportunities for anything from a quick stroll to a journey deep into the wilderness. There are bears out there, and coyotes, as well as numerous other animals large and small, so it’s important to read the signs and follow the rules; but the only wildlife I saw on this chilly day were a few birds wheeling high above me in the pastel sky.

Tips:

If you want to visit this part of McLean Game Refuge, there are convenient parking areas on Salmon Brook Street and Canton Road (the latter is very small, just enough for one or two vehicles.) There are many other access points in other areas, so it’s worth checking the map before you go.

The refuge is quite large and there are many trails, so while there are signs posted throughout the woods, it’s also a good idea to download or print out the map to take with you.

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