A Legacy of Preservation

Founded in 1895, the Connecticut Forest and Park Association (CFPA) enhances and maintains the 825-mile Blue-Blazed Hiking Trail System.

Bird watchers enjoy a day on a Connecticut trail. Photo credit: Connecticut Forest and Park Association

Hike a trail in the Connecticut woods and you may be tracing the footsteps of Native Americans who used the same pathway centuries ago. And thanks to the Connecticut Forest &Park Association (CFPA), these trails are being preserved for centuries to come.

The state's oldest conservation organization, the CFPA maintains and enhances the Blue-Blazed Hiking Trail System, 825 miles of trails that wind their way through every corner of the state, including 100 miles through New Haven County alone.

"The trails are free and they're all about getting people out doors and connected to the land, which is our mission," said Executive Director Eric Hammerling.

The outdoors will be celebrated this Saturday and Sunday (June 4 and 5) during Connecticut Trails Day. The annual celebration features more than 200 events in 133 towns.

"We have the largest trails day celebration in the country," Hammerling said. "Every year we have more events including hikes, walks, runs, biking, orienteering, volunteer cleanups and more."

Founded in 1895, the CFPA came into being before any state parks or forests existed. Many of the acres now preserved as public parks were first acquired by the CFPA or its board members and given to the state.

It was the efforts of CFPA volunteers that fought a potential gravel pit from setting up operation in Sleeping Giant State Park, preserving one of the most popular scenic hikes in southern Connecticut. The CFPA was also involved with preserving the famous Gillette Castle in East Haddam.

The CFPA is sustained as a membership organization, and also receives funding from corporate sponsorships and grants from area foundations including the Guilford Foundation, the Valley Community Foundation and The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.

The CFPA manages a network of about 200 volunteers who maintain trails and work in educational centers. It also advocates for conservation, offers educational programs, and trains teachers on how to incorporate nature projects in the classroom.

The CFPA also acquires land and easements for preservation and works with towns to prioritize land for preservation. Easements protecting more than 2,000 acres from development are owned and managed by the organization.

"Much of what we do today is keep land owners happy and look for opportunities to preserve trails for the long term by acquiring easements. Keeping trail corridors connected is an ongoing challenge," said Hammerling.

The signature blue blaze that keeps hikers from getting lost was the creation of Edgar Heermance, the CFPA'S first Trails Committee Chair in the 1920s. Heermance, according to Hammerling, staged an informal experiment from his back porch to determine what color could be seen latest into the evening. After testing many different colors, he found that the blaze that lasted longest was the shade of light blue now marking the trails.

"Light blue stands up really well. Now it's time tested," said Hammerling.

For more information about this organization, visit its profile on giveGreater.org.

Did you know?

New Haven and Hamden have the distinction of being home to the very first Blue-Blazed Trail in the state – the Quinnipiac Trail, which runs through Sleeping Giant State Park and connects to the Regicides Trail in West Rock Ridge State Park.

This story is part of the Inspiration Monday story series produced by The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.