Open Spaces / For serious hikers, Brett Woods worth the trip
Published 9:00 am, Tuesday, August 2, 2011
In 1869, a London publishing house, D. and A. Macmillan, sent Mr. George E. Brett to New York City to open a new branch. This he did, and upon his death in 1890, his son, George P., assumed leadership. Young George soon convinced Macmillan to let him run an independent American company, and in 1902 brought the Macmillan mark to prominence with the publication of Jack London's "Call of the Wild."
Why am I telling you this? Because in 1908 Mr. Brett chose Fairfield for his home, and began assembling a 260-acre estate in Greenfield Hill. He died a happy man in 1936, shortly after he and his son struck publishing gold with "Gone with the Wind." The family then broke up the estate, donating a remote eleven-acre tract to the town in 1941. There it sat until 1971, when the Town began to acquire surrounding parcels like a patchwork quilt, creating the 185-acre conservation area now known as Brett Woods.
Brett Woods is tucked into the farthest northwest reaches of town where two-acre zoning is the rule and horses outnumber children. But it's a lovely drive "in the country" to reach an extensive trail system in a forested area largely untouched for upwards of two centuries.
There are several access points, but only three with parking. The closest from the center of town is at the end of North Street as it continues left off Redding Road. The other two can be reached from Gilbert Highway, off Route 136 along the Weston border, at North Street or Treasure Road.
Expect a serious hike, and prepare accordingly: good footwear, water, a snack, and in the summer, sunscreen and insect repellant. It's also a good idea to hike with a partner. I never hike without binoculars, but that's your call. It is entirely possible to get lost in Brett Woods, so I strongly recommend taking the Open Spaces Guide map. I found the map quite accurate, and the trails themselves mostly well-marked and in excellent shape. You may encounter horses; move slowly and keep a respectful distance.
The southerly trails pass through wetlands, but the town has thoughtfully provided boardwalks to help you navigate through. A significant feature within Brett Woods is a network of beautiful stone walls, remnants of colonial "long lot" divisions and later agricultural usage. Glacial activity left plenty of stones for building material.
On a recent visit I entered on the east side from North Street, which used to cut through the property, but now the old roadbed is a trail. I went north to follow the "yellow" two-mile peripheral loop trail, the longest of a well-developed 5-mile network crisscrossing the area. A power transmission line cuts a swath through the property, but disappears from view as soon as you cross through. Two parallel ridges rising within Brett Woods make for varied terrain and interesting views.
The north end of the yellow trail bends around a private house and stable with an access road to the outside world. I was hoping to meet the inhabitants of this odd property, but no one was home but the horse.
On the way back down the western segment of the yellow trail, there awaits the secluded Brett Woods Pond. There is a simple bench here, inviting you to have a Thoreau moment at the pond's edge: sit and watch dragonflies skimming the mirrored surface; listen to the cicadas, the bullfrogs, and the birds; feel the warmth of the sun and the breeze on your face. Sooner or later the spell will be broken by a passing jet -- a 21st-century reminder that there's more hiking to do.
Or you can wait for the next jet.