Enjoying the great outdoors on National Trails Day

By Kevin Hotary - Staff Writer
Colchester - posted Tue., Jun. 7, 2011
Eric Zembrzuski biked the Airline Trail with grandsons Zachary (left) and Ryan. Photos by Kevin Hotary.
Eric Zembrzuski biked the Airline Trail with grandsons Zachary (left) and Ryan. Photos by Kevin Hotary.

A 1987 report issued by President Ronald Reagan's Commission on Americans Outdoors suggested that all Americans, within 15 minutes of leaving their home, should be able to start hiking on a local trail.  Six years later, to help raise awareness of the more than 200,000 miles of hiking trails scattered throughout the country - and to celebrate the many personal and societal benefits of maintaining and using these trails - the American Hiking Society, together with other outdoor-oriented organizations and businesses, launched National Trails Day. 

Held on the first Saturday of June, National Trails Day is a day devoted to enjoying the great outdoors, and is celebrated by more than 1 million hikers, bikers and horseback riders annually. National Trails Day events are held in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Guam, The Virgin Islands, and Canada.

Last Saturday, June 4, the Parks and Recreation Departments of Colchester, East Hampton and Hebron joined forces for the sixth straight year to host a National Trails Day celebration along a 10-mile length of one of Connecticut’s most popular trails, the Airline Trail. 

Aimed at enticing people to get outside and sample everything that the Airline Trail has to offer, the event was also used to educate, as various groups set up activity stations along the route where hikers could learn about everything from bicycle safety to the various types of birds and mammals common to Connecticut.

Master Wildlife Conservationist Allen Petell manned a station featuring the pelts of fur-bearing animals found in Connecticut.  Starting with small mink pelts and leading up to foxes, coyotes and Fisher cats, hikers could touch or even hold the pelts.

“This is a good way to help people identify animals, and to give kids a chance to see them up close without confronting live animals. It’s a good way to educate them,” said Petell, who dispensed advice to the many hikers who questioned him about animals they had seen near their homes or on the trail.

Cecile Perraud asked Petell about a large black snake she had seen on the trail. Perraud came out specifically for the Trails Day event, but walks the trail frequently, starting in Hebron and going about 5 miles before turning back. “One of these days I’ll go all the way to East Hampton,” Perraud said.

Just down the trail from Petell, Kathy Culhane, from the Colchester Garden Club, was dispensing information on local flora - in particular, invasive species that choke out native plants, harming the biological balance. With charts filled with photos of the invasive plants and lists to hand out, her hope was “to get people to look around their property to see if they have any invasives, and to hopefully get rid of them,” she said.

Eric Zembrzuski was biking the trail with his grandsons, 6-year-old Ryan and 10-year-old Zachary.

“This is nice. They do a nice job. We make it a half-day for the three of us,” said Zembrzuski, who bikes the tail frequently, but made sure they all came out for the Trails Day event. He said he was looking forward to next year, when there will be four in the group, as they will be joined by his young granddaughter.

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