The trees are dense, the path is narrow, and everywhere, there’s the sound of water. I hike to a clearing and hear a waterfall dashing against rocks below, sending clouds of mist wafting over my trail. This is my first stop on a journey down New England’s southernmost “wild and scenic” river, the Eightmile.
My trip began at Devil’s Hopyard State Park — a place I always thought had one of New England’s more unique names. So I asked my guide, Rob Smith, where it came from.
“There’s lots of different tales,” said Smith, who was park manager here for 10 years. “They attributed the potholes to the devil as he was coming up, climbing up over the rocks here — getting his tail wet. And his cloven hooves, as he leaped from place to place going up the falls, created these potholes.”
Today, Smith and I are exploring a part of the park where the Eightmile River runs through. The river’s watershed encompasses 40,000 acres of forests, fields, and fast-flowing cool rivers.
It’s a beautiful spot. So pristine, that in 2008, Congress designated parts of the area “wild and scenic.” Those are rivers designated by Congress as having a special natural and cultural importance.
In New England, there are more than 65,000 miles of river, but, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, less than one percent of those miles are classified as wild and scenic.
Tony Irving, one of the many volunteers who worked to get that designation for the Eightmile River, said part of the reason is the watershed’s distance from cities like Hartford and New Haven. That distance kept the environment looking like Connecticut would have before Europeans settled here.
“This area isn’t on the way to any place,” Irving said. “It was sort of an area that didn’t really get developed at all.”
“Sort of,” because there was some development, just not much.