NAUGATUCK — The Naugatuck State Forest is home to several beautiful but little known natural landscapes that Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess compares to some of the more picturesque outdoor destinations on the east coast.
Standing at an elevated peak called High Rock, overlooking the Naugatuck River near the Beacon Falls border, Hess, an avid hiker and outdoorsman, said he’s reminded of being in forested areas of Maine or Vermont.
Walking between trees and brush for a couple miles toward the center of the Naugatuck, the mayor comes along a gentle and crystal clear waterfall that flows into a small brook. It is, Hess says, eerily similar to Sages Ravine, one of the most well-known stops along the Appalachian Trail on the Massachusetts-Connecticut border.
These scenes, and several like them, are among the “hidden gems” that Hess wants to polish and make shine in the years to come. He has a grandiose plan for establishing several miles of dirt hiking trails that will travel from High Rock near Beacon Falls, around 146 acres and two ponds at Andrew Mountain, toward borough-owned open space at Gunntown Road near the Oxford border, to the Larkin State Bridle Trail in Middlebury, to Hop Brook or possibly into the Platts Mills section Waterbury and back toward downtown Naugatuck.
Hess says he wants to create recreational opportunities for residents and also to make outsiders and unaware Naugatuck residents cognizant of the tremendous natural resources in the community.
“We have amazing resources that are either completely unutilized or underutilized,” Hess said.
Much of the work for Hess’ plan, the designs for which are displayed prominently along a wall in his office at Town Hall, has already been finished. The Naugatuck Public Works Department, under Hess’ direction, has cleared roughly three-to-four miles of existing trails in the state forest near High Rock and Andrew Mountain that were overgrown with leaves and brush for several years. They are walkable today.
Hess said the plan is to continue to use DPW workers, whom he said have done an amazing job on the project thus far, to complete the work. Additionally, he said, Eagle Scouts are being encouraged to help work on the trail as part of their community service projects, and the borough is applying for state grant money for trail repairs to place kiosks and other amenities along the pathways. Hess said no money for the project will come out of the municipal budget.
In addition to walking trails, the borough plans to create a dog park off Andrew Mountain Road. It will be built upon 146 acres the borough purchased as open space on Andrew Mountain for $750,000 in 2012. Of that, $315,250 was funded by state grant funds.
The borough plans to use 100 acres for passive outdoor recreation — including walking and hiking trails — and much of the remainder for football, soccer and baseball fields.
Former Burgess Alexander Olbrys said he is in the process of creating a community garden near the dog park. He said he is holding a meeting for anyone interested in helping with the community garden at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 8, on the fourth floor of Town Hall.
“Once this is done, it’s going to be a great community area where people can go to the dog park, hike, hang out at the community garden,” Olbrys said. “I think it will be a great way for people to come together and will be a major benefit to the community.”
Burgess Carl Herb, whose family owned property on Andrew Mountain when he was a child, said he has fond memories of playing on the land years ago and learning how to ice skate on nearby ponds. He said he would love for the public to have more access to the property.
Tim Andrew, a retired Naugatuck firefighter, grew up on the land, where his family owns 120 acres of open space. His family has been approached by several developers to build upon it, but they plan to keep the land.
“It’s the most beautiful part of town, there’s no doubt about that,” he said. “The top of Andrew Mountain is, I’ve been told, the highest peak in the New Haven County and, I believe, the third highest in the state. There is a lot of history connected to that property that I think people would like to see.”