MERIDEN, Conn. (AP) — From the parking area of Giuffrida Park on a recent day, a sunny, bright blue sky created a fantastic view contrasting with the reservoir and Chauncey Peak. People may be surprised at the large, serene park tucked away in the northeast corner of the city.
Record-Journal photographer Dave Zajac and I set out to explore the nearly 600-acre park. In the grass field next to the parking lot off Westfield Road we were greeted by a very happy chocolate Labrador bounding up from the nearby pine grove.
Meriden residents Melanie Howard and Greg Landry watched as Cocoa, their dog, stopped to take a few breaths next to us before running off to chase robins searching for worms in the field. The three regularly come to the park to get away.
"It's kind of a hidden gem. Everyone always goes to Hubbard Park," Landry said.
Since we were planning to do the looping trail up to Chauncey Peak, the duo warned of the steep climb in store for us, saying it can be rather challenging.
"It's intense for a few minutes. You're going to be sweating, but it's worth it," Landry said.
Saying a quick goodbye, we walked across the field in front of the spillway, water splashing over the wall when the wind kicked up. We located the blue-blazed trail leading to the right and began the trek upward.
At the other side of the field, the path began a steady climb over the first three-quarters of a mile, going up about 100 feet, according to a hiking app on my phone. A large number of squirrels and robins darted all around us. We heard a woodpecker doing its thing on a tree somewhere in the distance. A few trails branch off of the main blue trail, but we decided to stay with the blue blazes up to the top.
From there the path got quite steep, with loose rock making up most of the trail. Over the next quarter of a mile we ascended about 200 feet. At one point, a larger rock went skipping down the trail behind us. The last stretch before reaching the level top of the peak involves crawling up about 15 feet of rock.
At the top, we were both panting heavily as we reached the lookout point. As we had been told, the view from the top is well worth the trek up. Rock outcroppings provide panoramic views from Bristol all the way to New Haven Harbor. Dave noted how strange it was to take a picture of Maloney High School with Long Island Sound in the same frame.
Walking along the top of the peak, we could hear construction equipment from the Suzio York Hill quarry. Soon the giant, stepped quarry came into view with several large trucks at work far below. Vehicles we had passed on the drive in suddenly seemed much, much smaller. In the distance we could see the Hartford skyline to the north.
We continued along the blue trail, which offers many more vistas of the reservoir below in addition to the sweeping views.
The way down the opposite end of Chauncey Peak was more gradual, though still fairly steep, so we proceeded slowly.
At the far end of the reservoir, wildflowers stuck out vividly against the mostly brownish landscape. Red trillium and yellow trout lilies grew in large numbers along the lower portion of the trail near a small wooden bridge.
As we turned the corner around the reservoir, the trail began taking us into the pine grove. The trail levels off dramatically to a flat path covered with pine needles along the edge of the reservoir.
Looking over the edge, we saw schools of perch swimming by, some schools with more than 30 fish. A red-spotted newt also basked along the edge of the water until we came too close, then swam for safer waters.
Just as we emerged from the woods, a red-tail hawk began circling over the water, hovering over us briefly before soaring back over the reservoir.
At a very casual pace, the trek took us about two hours and covered about three and a half miles. Other trails lead to Lamentation Mountain farther to the north and there's another trail around the reservoir without the steep climb. The Meriden Land Trust website, www.meridenlandtrust.com, contains a printable map of the park's trails.
The park offers a serene landscape with several recreational opportunities and friendly people.
"It's just a chill spot. It's quiet, usually, with lots of friendly people with their dogs," Howard said. "We love it."
Information from: Record-Journal
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