58 Cherniske Road, New Milford, CT 06776 Preserve Acres: Weantinoge Kahn Preserve, 117 Acres; Town Nostrand Preserve, 150 Acres
Roundtrip Distance: 3 miles
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The trail is named for John McNeely, Northwest Connecticut Land Conservancy’s first professional land steward. An expert naturalist, bird rehabilitator, and filmmaker, he worked for the Trust for almost thirty years. His legacy is felt across the Northwest Hills.
Trails connect the two contiguous preserves. Round trip from Cherniske Road and around the Bear Hill loop is about 3-1/4 miles. Exercise care in route-finding near the summit of Bear Hill—the trail does not extend to the south from the summit.
The Kahn preserve was a 1994 gift to Northwest Connecticut Land Conservancy in memory of Leon and Yareth Kahn. The Nostrand preserve was purchased by the Town of New Milford with a mitigation grant from the Iroquois Gas Transmission System. The Kahn Preserve was logged in the early 1990s (before Northwest Connecticut Land Conservancy owned it). The preserve’s red pines, most likely planted in the 1930s, are all gone. Both events are factors in the intensive invasion of the groundstory by non-native invasive species in the disturbed areas. The outstanding rail bridges on the trail were built by Mark Mankin and the New Milford Youth Agency.
The preserve offers a wonderful experience in the West Aspetuck River Watershed. The river itself is exceptionally clean, protected by abundant forests and wetlands in the preserve and upstream: Mink and otter breed here. Though the marked trail system does not follow the river closely, if one turns right just before the rail bridge after descending from Cherniske Road, a bushwhack reveals a pond where amphibians breed and wood ducks and black ducks gather. Along the base of the slopes, springs emerge with such force that sand boils from the pools where they are located. Watercress was established decades ago in one of the spring-fed brooklets. Further down, a level area in the floodplain has an example of a riparian gallery forest—tall, fast growing trees, including some of the region’s only forest-grown (as opposed to open-grown) swamp white oaks. The trails of Bear Hill pass by two sections of mature forest. The highest reaches offer seasonal (when leaves are down) views northwest to Kent and west into New York. The river is quite impressive in high water.
Northwest Connecticut Land Conservancy’s work in and around Bear Hill has led to the creation of a 1,300-acre contiguous protected block of protected land. This is one of the largest permanently protected blocks in southern Litchfield County, all made possible by the tireless work of Guy and Janie Peterson and by land and easement donations by the Peterson, Garraty, and the Hochberg families. Because conservation easements are properties owned by private landowners, we ask hikers to stay on the trail except in the basin along the river where trampers and fishermen can explore to their heart’s content.
Directions to the Kahn Preserve, Cherniske Road entrance: From Route 202 in New Preston, take Route 45 to New Preston Center. Take the first left at Pavillion Hall onto New Preston Hill Road. Continue for two miles to a four-way intersection and stop sign. The road becomes Cherniske Road. Continue for one more mile past Frenchman’s Road and another 0.25 mile to the Kahn Preserve entrance on the left.
Directions to the Town of New Milford Nostrand Preserve Squire Hill Road entrance: From Route 202 and Little Bear Hill Road, proceed west for 2.6 miles to a stop sign in the ravine of Merryall Center. At the stop sign turn right onto Squire Hill Road, immediately cross the West Aspetuck River, and continue for 0.5 miles to the trail access road on the right.
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