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Chutes & Ladders
April 22, 2007

Spring showers lead to enticing waterfalls in Connecticut
By Patricia Harris and David Lyon, Correspondents
Waterfalls large and small dot the Connecticut hill country, where fractured bedrock creates some of the most abrupt changes in altitude in New England.  The Connecticut falls may lack the thunderous melodrama of Niagara, but familiarity hardly breeds contempt.

"People around here really look forward to the spring and enjoy checking out the falls," says Mindy Fitting of Lakeville. "A winter heavy with snow and a good spring rain makes a great falls."

The greatest concentration lies in the mountains near the Massachusetts and New York boundaries, including the highest waterfall in Connecticut, Kent Falls. Pull into the parking lot on Route 7, four miles north of Kent, and you'll see a covered bridge. A few hundred yards away, the lower section of the 200-foot falls spills off the hillside over rippled slate and marble ledges. Talk about instant gratification.

Many people snap a picture, then settle in with a picnic by Falls Brook or in the grassy meadow. But you can get a good aerobic workout ascending to the upper falls on the stepped trail, an amenity originally created in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

"I like to go up there with my dogs," says Sal Lilienthal of Kent. "It's a nice 20 minutes up the trail."

The walkway ends in a hemlock glade with an overlook on the upper falls — a single vigorous chute that whooshes through a rocky cleft, splashes onto a ledge 30 feet below and then crashes again to a deep pool.

"In the spring, there's so much water that the falls really roar," Lilienthal says.

A feel-good tonic
Anticipation is the name of the game at Reed Brook falls in Dean's Ravine, about two miles east of Lime Rock off Route 7.  A blue-blazed trail through the hemlock forest follows the rushing brook as it gains momentum to get a running start for the leap into thin air. The trail suddenly leaves the brook at the cataract of a small cliff, continuing into the woods to a hairpin that doubles back along the ravine's steep slope to the base of the 50-foot falls.

The wide cascade explodes from between two big boulders and crashes down an almost regular series of stone steps. Split right and left by blocky boulders, the flow converges for another short drop before continuing downstream. The base of the falls remains almost undisturbed — a clump of tumbled marble stones and recent deadfall trees.

Waterfalls are a bit like puppies — they make people smile. The air around each chute, cataract or burbling cascade becomes a feel-good tonic. There's even a scientific explanation: like lightning and ocean waves, waterfalls fill the surrounding air with negatively charged ions. Through some quirk of evolution, our brains respond to these conditions by dropping serotonin levels, leaving us feeling calm and at peace.

Prime trout season
Connecticut's practical mechanics and industrialists couldn't resist putting some of the hill-town falls to work by constructing small blast furnaces to smelt the iron ore discovered in Salisbury in the 1730s. At Macedonia Brook, two miles west of Kent off Route 341, you can hike down to the picturesque stone ruins of an 1823 blast furnace at the end of a quarter-mile cascade. If you decide to simply walk along the country road beside the burbling rapids, you'll probably encounter a few people fly-fishing for wild trout. Waterfall season also is the best trout season.

Time and overgrowth almost have swallowed the remains of the 1826 furnace at Bull's Bridge on the Housatonic River, south of Kent village on Route 7. But Tony Hernandez, who works at the Fife 'n Drum lodging in town, sends guests to the spot for the easy hike down to the bottom of the gorge.

"You go through the little covered bridge and park," he explains. "The trail is narrow, but it goes right down to the base of the falls. It's very dramatic."

The natural falls, with its water-scoured potholes in the rocks below, are higher than ever, thanks to a modern concrete hydroelectric dam.

Sixty-foot Campbell Falls, in a small state park north of Norfolk, is one of the best falls for a picnic, even though you have to lug your movable feast for 15 to 20 minutes down a pine-needle strewn trail that crosses four rather decayed wooden footbridges. Many purple trilliums grow along the trail; this member of the lily family is considered an endangered species in nearby New York.

Bubbling, splashing
The final stretch of the trail begins at a granite marker denoting the Connecticut-Massachusetts state line.

It descends the northeast wall of a small gorge where densely knotted tree roots provide most of the footing. From the bottom of the gorge, the Whiting River seems to burst out of the woods, roaring two-thirds of the way down the embankment to splash into a large, frothing pool.

As if it's gained a second wind, the river bubbles over and splashes another 20 feet before it bottoms out as a placid stream wending its way through the hills to join the Housatonic.

"The falls themselves are actually in Massachusetts," says park manager Richard Miska. "At the bottom of the falls, the brook flows into Connecticut."

Spread your lunch on the large, flat boulder of mica schist at the base of the falls. Don't worry about the occasional spray — just think of all those soothing negative ions.

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