Borough blazes trail

Officials to debut 22 kilometer path on hike

Naugatuck Mayor N. Warren ‘Pete’ Hess, left, Tax Collector Jim Goggin and Hess’ dog, Beau, stop in front of a waterfall along a trail in the Naugatuck State Forest on Aug. 31. The trail, which the borough has been working on since the winter, is part of the 22 kilometer hike that Hess will lead on Sept. 24. –LUKE MARSHALL

Naugatuck Mayor N. Warren ‘Pete’ Hess, left, Tax Collector Jim Goggin and Hess’ dog, Beau, stop in front of a waterfall along a trail in the Naugatuck State Forest on Aug. 31. The trail, which the borough has been working on since the winter, is part of the 22 kilometer hike that Hess will lead on Sept. 24. –LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — At the top of the borough-owned land on Andrew Mountain Road, the vast skyline is marked with trees, not buildings, and there are no sounds except for the wind rustling through the trees and the birds chirping.

“It’s like we are in the middle of Maine up here,” said Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess last week as he and Tax Collector Jim Goggin led a reporter on a tour of the land.

The open space parcel, which borough officials refer to as the Andrew Mountain Road Active and Passive Recreation Area or the Andrew Mountain park, is part of a trail the borough is blazing that runs from the Naugatuck State Forest to downtown.

As part of his mayoral campaign in 2015, Hess said he wanted to link many of the trails in the borough, including in Andrew Mountain park and Gunntown Passive Park and Nature Preserve and the Larkin State Bridle Trail, to create a comprehensive walking experience.

Of all the properties the trail runs through, the 146-acre park on Andrew Mountain Road needed the most work.

The borough purchased the property for $750,000 in 2012. The borough plans to use 100 acres for passive outdoor recreation, including the hiking trail, and most of the remainder for athletic fields, a dog park, and a community garden.

The borough began clearing the land for the trail in December, Hess said. The mild winter allowed workers and volunteers to continue through most of the winter.

It was not easy work, however. Since lying fallow for so long, the former farm land had begun the process of returning to the dense forest that surrounded it. Tall grass, dense shrubbery, and young trees standing more than 10 feet covered the land. It had been impassable by vehicle and a difficult trek on foot.

There is still work to be completed at the park before the borough begins to lay out the athletic fields or install pavilions, Hess said. However, the trails have all been cut out and are walkable.

The entire length of the trail from the state forest to downtown is 22 kilometers. That length is not by accident.

The borough has been working with Mission 22, a nonprofit organization that works to raise awareness of, and end, veteran suicide in America. According to the organization, each day 22 veterans commit suicide.

“It’s important that people realize that veteran suicide is a huge problem and every day 22 vets commit suicide. I think it is a fact that is not well known in the general public. People need to be aware of it so the problem can be solved,” Hess said.

The full trail will officially open on Sept. 24 when Hess will lead a hike with 22 veterans, each carrying a 22 kilogram pack. The hike will start on Old Highway off of Hunters Mountain Road, head into the state forest and end downtown where Mayor Pete’s Downtown Festival will be taking place.

“So there will be people there to greet the veterans coming in on the hike. There will be a bagpipe band leading the way,” Hess said.

The hike is free and open to the public.

“There is no required contribution. It is just to raise awareness. If people want to make a contribution, they will have the ability to do that,” Hess said.

Hess is asking people to register for the hike. People can sign up for the hike downtown, at a location to be determined, at 9 a.m. The hike will begin at 10 a.m. Those going for the hike will be bused from downtown to the trail.

Hess warned people that the hike is not going to be an easy one.

“No one should come on the hike unless they are a seasoned hiker because it is on some difficult, steep terrain. It requires some hiking ability and stamina. It is beyond a hike for the average hiker,” Hess said.

Goggin, who is helping plan the hike, said there will be areas for people to drop out and be brought back to their vehicles. However, there isn’t a place to do that in the first five miles, which is some of the most difficult terrain on the hike.

“The first five miles you are either in it or you are in trouble. There is no way out for five miles. If you are two and a half miles in someone is going to have to carry you one way or the other,” Goggin said.

The trail goes through all the major parks and trails in the borough, Hess said. There are two portions of the trail that require hikers to walk on roadways: stretches on Andrew Mountain Road and between Gunntown and the bridle trail. The rest of the trail runs through state land, borough land, and borough right of ways, Hess said.

The borough is working to get the trail completely off the road, Hess said.

Hess said if people are unable to make it out on Sept. 24 the trail will be open and marked, with some small changes as the borough works on it. He encouraged residents to explore what is in their own backyards.

“I think that less than 10 percent of the citizens of Naugatuck have any idea how beautiful and how many spectacular spots exist on this trail,” Hess said. “It gives people something to do. It is a great hike. The state forest and town park are spectacular.”