Kettletown State Park, 605 acres, located in Southbury and Oxford is a park that I often visit to take our dogs Sophie and Eliza hiking. Luckily Kettletown offers many options for hiking because I never had a dog before that was so particular about when and where she wanted to hike. Sophie is a black Labrador retriever and Eliza is a yellow lab. They both have their preferences, but Sophie is much more determined. When I pointed this out to my mother, her response was…much like my kids!
When we arrive at Kettletown I usually park at the entrance by the ticket booth. Now that Connecticut has the Passport to Parks anyone in a Connecticut registered vehicle can park free-of-charge at all CT State Parks and Forests year-round. We definitely appreciate that! From there we have options: just hike the road in the day-use area or down to the campground (in the off-season), head part way down the campground road and take a left to the Crest or Pomperaug Trail or a right to the Brook Trail. Here is where it gets interesting, if I try to continue down the campground road more often than not Sophie will sit down and refuse to go unless we go to the left and head over to the Pomperaug Trail (blue blazed). Now many people would say I should make her go where I want, but I like to pick my battles and this is kind of fun. Also, I want to see where she wants to go and I like variety! We walk a short distance and have another choice, we often took the Crest Trail, but once I chose to continue on the Pomperaug Trail and now this seems to be “Sophie’s choice”. This trail is a little steeper than the section of the Crest Trail behind the Kettletown campground, but nothing that we have any problem with and there are lots of things to see…and smell along the way. We could continue on the Pomperaug Trail all the way down to Jackson Cove in Oxford, but that would be over a 4 mile round-trip hike so we save that for when we have more time.
The Pomperaug and Crest Trails are considered “blue blazed trails” and they are maintained by the great volunteers with CT Forest & Park Association. Every time I walk through the area on the Crest Trail, that was impassable after the tornado touched down in Oxford and Southbury in May of 2018, I give silent thanks to the volunteers who worked so hard to open up the trail. They really did an amazing job!
If we chose the Crest Trail at the intersection we can make a loop by heading south on the crest then coming to the intersection with the Camp Ground Trail where we take a left and head up to the Pomperaug Trail. This is a beautiful section really because of the lichens on the rocks.
Lichens are a single species of algae and a single species of fungus that share a symbiotic relationship or as I used to say Alice Alga and Fred Fungus live in a Lik(ch)en together. The alga photosynthesizesand the fungus produces the structure or body, the thallus. New scientific research has revealed that the largest and most species-rich group of lichens harbor a second fungus, from a very different group. It is now believed that the scientists got it wrong for 150 years. They now believe there is a third player, another partner fungus…maybe Frank Fungus…as the video What’s in a Lichen? says you have to keep an open mind! Lichens are found all over the world, there are close to 14,000 species and they are very diverse in size, form and color.
Lichens do bring extra beauty to the forest. They grow on rocks and trees and even on the backs of some living insects. They are not mosses, although they are found in similar habitats. Lichens do not have any roots, stems or leaves and unlike mosses their cholorplasts are only contained in the algae on the top surfaces of the plant and not throughout. There are different types of lichens: fruiticose – the lichen thallus is stalked, pendent or shrubby; foliose – the lichen thallus is flat and leafy; crustose – lichen thallus is generally flat and in contact with the substratum – the rock or tree.
Lichens provide nesting material for insulation and camouflage for hummingbirds. Humans use lichens for dyes, clothing and decoration and some Native Americans ate lichen – not recommended, since some are poisonous. Lichens can also be used to monitor air quality. Since they absorb everything in the atmosphere, scientists can extract these toxins to determine the levels that are present.
Kettletown is also interesting for its history and geology. Legend has it that the name “Kettletown” was given to this area because the Pootatucks, Native Americans who first inhabited this parcel of land, traded hunting and fishing rights for a kettle (some report it was a copper kettle, others a brass kettle). According to Southbury History the Kettletown area was purchased three times. In 1919, their original village was covered by water from the Housatonic River when Connecticut Light & Power installed the Stevenson Dam for hydroelectric power and Lake Zoar was created. The State of Connecticut purchased 455 of the 605 acres of Kettletown in 1950.
If you were to continue down the road to the day-use area, before the gate to the youth group area is another blue-blazed trail – the William Miller Trail, named for the former director of CT State Parks, this trail is about 1 3/4 miles and takes about 45 minutes to hike the blue-blazed loop. The Miller Trail is a great place to learn about the various rocks and see glacial erratics, pink garnets and tourmaline crystals.
Sophie and Eliza enjoy the Miller Trail because it is cool in the summer and there are some muddy areas and even a stream with a narrow, 2-pole bridge that Sophie likes to walk over. Eliza prefers to walk through the stream. Since they are always leashed, which is the law and a very good practice for my dogs, fellow hikers and the wildlife, this is a quite a feat to accomplish and I am very proud of them when they both continue to walk and get up the bank at about the same time. Of course, they now know if they get across with no incident they will sit and are rewarded with accolades and cookies.
We will continue on our way back to the road and on cooler days will walk down toward the water. There is no swimming allowed and I highly recommend that you do not allow your dogs in the water due to the blue-green algae blooms that can be deadly to dogs. If you continue up behind the beach to the brook trail you will be rewarded with a beautiful trail along Kettletown brook where the dogs do like to get their feet wet and sometimes take a dip, but we are always aware that further up the path there might be people fishing for trout and probably don’t want to be disturbed. I have been impressed by the nice trout that I have seen people catch there.
So Kettletown is a great park for camping, hiking, fishing, walking your dog, discovering something new, appreciating the beauty of the forest or just refreshing yourself as you sit along the babbling brook. Enjoy!
Kettletown State Park Description and Map
Kettletown State Park Geology
Learn About Lichens US Forest Service
What’s in a Lichen? How Scientist Got It Wrong for 150 Years YouTube 4:13