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Connecticut State Forests - Seedling Letterbox Series Clues for Tunxis State Forest

Connecticut Map showing location of Tunxis State Forest

Tunxis State Forest -
 the 7th State Forest

Letter Box stamp #7

The letterbox Tunxis State Forest is temporarily unavailable. Hazard tree removal work is currently taking place. Learn more about statewide tree damage.

Tunxis State Forest is approximately 9,152 acres divided into sections on both sides of the Barkhamsted Reservoir. It contains large areas of unbroken forest in the towns of Hartland, Barkhamsted, and Granby. Even at the time of the original purchases for Tunxis in 1923, much of the area was already heavily forested. This is unlike many other parts of the state that, back then, were only gradually growing into forest from farm abandonment. Today, Tunxis is part of a large area of wildland that includes adjacent property of the MDC (Metropolitan District Commission, which is a major drinking water supplier), other Connecticut state forests, and Granville State Forest in Massachusetts. 

Many types of wildlife can be seen at Tunxis. Near the end of the Twentieth Century, the area was one of the earliest in the state to see moose and black bear. It is a “working forest”, actively managed for improved forest health and diversity, and to produce forest products. It is also a popular forest recreational “escape” for enthusiasts who like to hike, cross-country ski, snowshoe and hunt.

Note: During the winter months, access to this letterbox may not possible due to deep ice formations on the rock outcroppings along Hurricane Brook. While you should feel free to visit the letterbox site during those months, you may not be able to actually get to the box.  Also, please be very careful of your footing during that, or any time of year.

Description: The letterbox lies in a ledge outcropping adjacent to the stream bank of Hurricane Brook. It is just 60-70 feet from Hurricane Brook Road, a state forest road off Route 20 in East Hartland. Hurricane Brook is a scenic perennial stream (perennial means it flows year-round, as opposed to an intermittent stream, which flows during a portion of the year, or an ephemeral stream, which generally only flows after rainfalls or during very wet periods). It has fast-flowing cold water that rushes down a series of interesting chutes, slides, and waterfalls, created by ledge and rock outcroppings that seem erratically layered and strewn in the path of the flow. It drains out of Emmons Pond above, and feeds into the Barkhamsted Reservoir, a large MDC reservoir, below. Please note, though, that in times of drought or in dry, late summers, even a brook such as Hurricane Brook may have a severely diminished flow.

The part of the hike after it leaves Hurricane Brook Road is steep and can be slippery due to leaves and mud. You will want to choose your steps carefully and slowly. Winter adds even more challenge, as the hillside is likely to be much more slippery due to snow or ice. Even the road surface itself can be a slippery walk in winter. This area is known for having some of the heaviest winter snow cover in the state, which can start as early as November and persist until nearly May. 

The gate to Hurricane Brook Road presently is closed year-round due to road conditions. Park just outside the gate, safely off Route 20, but please do not block the gate. (If the gate does happen to be open, please do not attempt to drive on this road. It is in poor condition due to severe washouts from recent rain storms and travel on it will likely not do you, your vehicle or the road any good.)

Wearing bright orange is strongly recommended during hunting season, Oct.-Dec. Additionally -many cell phones do not have service in this area. 

Clues: From the center of East Hartland at the junction of Routes 179 and 20, follow Route 20 West (to do so, you will actually turn north, driving past the big white church on your right in the center of town).  After about a mile you will see the Wilderness School (log houses) on your left, as a landmark. The Wilderness School is operated by the Department of Children and Families and is based at Tunxis State Forest. Since 1974, the program has offered expeditions of 5-20 days in length for adolescents. Some of the activities include backpacking, rock climbing, ropes courses, and even an 8-1/2 mile marathon. The program promotes self-esteem and a sense of responsibility in teens, which they can then apply towards the achievement of their goals at home and in their communities. (If you wish to learn more about the Wilderness School, you may contact them at 800-273-2293 (in-state) or 860-653-8059).

Across the street from the Wilderness School you will see a D.O.T. facility. Although almost no evidence remains to attest to this history, this general area was once the home of Camp Robinson, a 1930s CCC camp. (The CCC, or Civilian Conservation Corps, is the pre-WWII program for young men that was responsible for planting trees, building roads and public recreation areas, and forest fire controls in our forests). It was also home to the earliest forest research in Connecticut, and even some of the earliest in the nation. Most of the area of the former camp is now forest adjacent to the present D.O.T. area.

At the Wilderness School/D.O.T. area, you will also pass the first entrance to Hurricane Brook Road on your right (there is a wooden sign for the road). Do not take this entrance! Keep going down Route 20.

Follow Route 20 a total of 2.8 miles (from the jct. with 179 in East Hartland center). Right after a white “Do Not Pass” sign and a yellow sign warning of a curve to the left, take a right (if you go around the curve, you went too far!). This is Hurricane Brook Road. You will see the gate right away.  Park in this area, without blocking the gate.

You will go for a half-mile (that amounts to just over 1,000 adult-size steps!). If you miss the location and pass the Blue-blazed Trail junction and cross over a small, narrow bridge, turn around and go back about 1/10-mile.  You will see a pull-off spot on the left.  At this parking spot, there is a 22” dbh hemlock tree and a 12” dbh yellow birch tree on the edge. (“dbh” means “diameter at breast height”—in forestry this refers to the diameter of a tree at 4-1/2 feet height. During timber sale marking, DEEP Foresters use the measure of dbh combined with the height of the tree in merchantable 16-foot log length, to determine board foot volume of a tree.)

Continue to walk up the road another 175-200 feet (70-80 adult steps) to a small 9” dbh white birch tree on the left.  (Hint, this tree forks at 25 feet up.) From that tree, go straight down the steep embankment to the northeast, heading toward the “slide”, where a waterfall is flowing down a slanted, flat block of ledge. Once at the edge of the brook, 60-70 feet below, go toward the “cave” on your left, produced by a ledge overhang that may have been carved out by flowing water long ago. Note that it is safer and easier to walk over the hump of land by the birch tree and birch roots rather than attempt to walk around this hump in the streambed. While facing this cave-like depression, look toward the left side, into one of the smaller slots for your prize! 

When finished, be sure to leave your box as well-concealed as possible. If necessary, to hide it from visitors who are not at the stream for letterboxing, cover it a little with organic matter or place another rock in front of it. It is an art of letterboxing to be able to hide something without making it look like an effort has been made to hide it! 

If you feel like exploring, Hurricane Brook has plenty of small waterfalls and hidden nooks and crevices that add character and a unique beauty to this ancient stream. One such fall is just 150-200 feet downstream. Just 1/10-mile upstream, below the bridge, you will also see an interesting series of rapid chutes created as water flows over slanted layers of rock ledge. Note that Hurricane Brook is particularly beautiful in winter—the entire stream is usually transformed into a winter wonderland of frozen waterfalls, layered ice flows, and snow cover, with the tranquil sound of cold flowing water through an otherwise quiet, dormant landscape. 

The Hurricane Brook corridor is part of a protected area of Tunxis State Forest that will not be actively managed for forest products. Although timber harvesting is an integral part of management in state forests, during long-term management planning DEEP foresters often designate a certain percentage of state forests to be “left to nature”, with no interference through harvesting activities. 

The “no harvest” area that runs most of the length of the brook is about 355-acres in size. This designated zone protects the scenic Hurricane Brook and the rugged hills of most of the northernmost stretch of Tunxis Trail. In this block of the state forest, nearly 25% of the total acreage has such a designation. Diversity in our forests is important.  Diversity includes everything from naturally-developing “old growth” areas to complete clearcuts.  Such clearcuts are designed to produce young, early-successional forest and wildlife habitat. 

The logging operation you saw at the beginning of the road (inside the gate) is just outside this "old-growth" zone. This harvest covers 75 acres of selection cutting, a harvest system intended to create an uneven-aged stand through the removal of trees that are not as healthy or are otherwise less desirable. "Uneven-aged" means that, over time, the forester creates a diversity of age classes of trees (young trees around sapling size, middle-aged trees, and mature timber, all growing together). In this area, cutting will occur about every 25 years, making room for another generation of trees in the understory.

The canopy openings created though harvesting increase the sunlight reaching the forest floor, mimicking natural disturbances and increasing opportunities for vegetative growth at the forest floor and in the lower canopy levels. In turn, this means greater production of food for both seed- and insect-eating birds. This type of habitat enhancement in the levels of forest canopy is referred to as “vertical stratification”. 

Learn More, Earn a Patch: DEEP hopes you enjoyed your trek, and that you will return to this forest again! This is one of 32 letterbox hikes in the new second series of boxes, called the “Seedling Series”, sponsored by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s Division of Forestry. This letterbox replaces the original “Centennial Series” box located in the stone wall in the hemlock plateau along Tunxis Trail, also off Route 20. Take 4 additional sponsored letterbox hikes to earn a commemorative Connecticut Forestry Centennial patch. When you have completed five of these hikes, please contact us and let us know what sites you have visited, what your stamp looks like and how we may send your patch.  We will verify your visits and send the patch along to you.  Contact DEEP Forestry

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Content last updated October 2019