Enders State Forest: A Gift of Land
Words & Photos by Shannon Kalahan
There is a soft rustling, crinkling sound as the wind twists it’s way through the branches of the trees that is unique to this time of year. Not the whisper of a spring or summer breeze. The leaves are drier. Louder. Brighter. More poetic.
The wind stirs the golden grasses at my feet, and I can feel a hint of frost play at my skin. My nose begins to run.
A hint of wood smoke tickles my senses. Amazing how one whiff of a wood stove can bring so many memories to life. I can almost feel the heat rise from the mug of mulled cider in my memories. I can taste the salty crunch of baked pumpkin seeds after a night of jack o’ lantern carving. And I can remember the feeling of a comfortable scarf around my neck and somewhat itchy wool socks on my feet keeping me warm at so many harvest fairs throughout my life, despite the chill of our Autumn evenings.
All that and more from one little rustle through the leaves.
Fall is, by far, my favorite time of year and photographing the autumn colors is my favorite activity. Obviously, as most of the inn, hotel and motel owners northeast of the New York border will tell you - I’m not alone. People from all over flock to New England every year to see the leaves turn.
New England offers more foliage, stone walls, covered bridges, old red barns, rocky beaches, and quaint fishing villages than you can shake a proverbial stick at. From top to bottom, this region is a unique and never ending place to explore.
In particular, there is a spot in northern CT that I consider to be one of New England’s hidden gems. It is a patch of forest, swamp and fields maintained enough to be safe, but undisturbed enough to not feel manicured.
Since discovering it a few years ago, it has become one of my favorite day trips. In the quieter seasons, it’s a peaceful walk in the woods. During the summer, it’s bustling (though hardly “crowded”) with locals splashing in the pools beneath the park’s five waterfalls. Yes, you heard me - five. Oh, and did I mention? It’s awfully photogenic.
This sanctuary is called the John Ostrom Enders and Harriet Whitmore Enders State Forest. Like all state parks, it was established for both land preservation, and for public use and enjoyment. Since 1970 when the state forest was established, Enders - as it is more well known - has expanded to cover approximately 2,000 acres in the towns of Granby and Barkhamsted. Some of the additional space was purchased, but by-and-large, the majority of the park was a parcel of land gifted to the State of Connecticut by the the Enders family. The state forest is a gift to the citizens of Connecticut, both as land held in trust for the people and as an actual donation to the state.
According to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection for the state of Connecticut, permitted activities include hiking, hunting, mountain biking and horseback riding. They also instituted a local “letter- boxing” project, a statewide initiative to encourage public land use experiences. In the same generous spirit as its creation, Enders also participates in a resident curator program, which exchanges room and board for land management skills, helping to maintain the forest at no cost to taxpayers.
Although it isn’t listed as an official activity, for me personally the state forest has been a huge source of photographic inspiration.
I've hiked the area in every season. In the summer, I’ve risked a wade undeneath the waterfalls and searched the shallow pools for a runaway lens cap.
(If you choose to go in the water, go safely. The edge of the waterfalls are slippery and dangerous!) I’ve also hiked along the waterfall gorge during the unpredictable winter and spring thaw/refreeze, and found that during those times of the year the park is challenging. Even with ice clips and hiking poles, I have still slipped down rocky hill sides, fallen through the ice on top of the brook at least twice and come home with a number of bruises. Thankfully, my camera has always survived my missteps.
Autumn, however, is when Enders State Forest truly shines. Waterfalls are beautiful in any season, but waterfalls surrounded by the fiery colors of Connecticut’s deciduous trees, bathed in the glow of a late afternoon sun is magical. For that alone, I am eternally grateful to both the Enders family and the state for maintaining such an accessible park.
I have spent many days wandering the trails of the state forest, listening to the wind through the branches, hearing the crunch of dry leaves underfoot, hypnotized by the sound of the babbling, plummeting waters. These quiet spaces, where you can lose and find yourself, while appreciating the surrounding beauty, are a rare and special treat in New England. Every memory I’ve made and every photograph I’ve taken at Enders, I cherish.
This state forest is truly a gift to the community, tucked tightly in among all of the other beautiful places that New England has to offer. If you’re looking for a road trip, a family friendly park and extremely accessible waterfalls along a relatively short, easy side of moderate trail (as long as there is no snow on the ground), then Enders State Forest in Connecticut is the place for you.