Trees along the river
Heron Cove Park
This 35-acre Tolland town park offers two short loop trails for pleasant walks along the river. The variety of trees and shrubs provide good opportunities to see migrating birds in spring. Note that the trails and wetlands can be flooded in high-water conditions. There is a canoe/kayak launch at the north end of the park. Check the Canoe and Kayak Map for details about the river's hazards, features and launch sites. This section of the river is classed as quick-water, which is appropriate for experienced river paddlers.
At the Route 74 bridge in Tolland, turn south onto South River Road. Travel a half-mile to the park entrance on the left. Park in the lot above the soccer field.
This park was once the site of an extensive gravel removal operation, but pioneer trees, such as pines and birches, have reclaimed the park area and created a mix of shrubs and trees that appeal to a variety of wildlife. From the main parking lot, walk downhill along the paved drive at the south edge of the soccer field. The drive becomes a dirt road leading to a small gravel parking area. Here you have a choice between two trails: the quarter-mile upriver loop or a shorter downriver loop.
Upriver Loop Trail
From the small parking area, follow the blue-blazed trail across a short boardwalk over a wet area before reaching the river. Turn left to follow the trail upstream along the riverbank. Large maple and oak trees make a picturesque scene at the river’s edge. These old trees remain because the river’s bank was preserved as a buffer between the river and the gravel operation. Their trunks are protected from gnawing beavers by skirts of metal fencing wrapped around the bottom of each tree. The river meanders along over gravel bars and rapids, making a pleasant riffling sound. This is a great spot to sit and enjoy the river and views of woods on the opposite shore. The trail crosses a low area where the riverbank has washed out, and sand is eroding into the river. This crossing may be flooded in high water. Then the trail climbs onto a higher, dry terrace where pines and birches have colonized the exposed gravel on the left. Laurels and oaks line the narrow buffer ridge along the river.
There are picnic tables at the upper end of the trail. Beyond is a canoe/kayak launch site. Grapeville Brook flows into the river here, marking the north boundary of the park. A dirt path that leads to the canoe launch from the parking lot was once an old road that crossed the river here. Look for the old bridge footings, then follow the dirt path back to the parking lot.
Downriver Loop Trail
From the main parking lot, walk downhill along the paved drive at the south edge of the soccer field. The drive becomes a dirt road leading to a small gravel parking area. Turn left to follow the blue-blazed trail away from the river and along the east edge of Heron Cove. This pond was created by gravel excavation, but it is now home to a variety of water life and birds nesting in the shrubs around the edge. The trail soon reaches a scenic view of the river curving away to the east. Follow the trail downstream and across the outlet of Heron Cove. This crossing may be flooded in high water. The trail turns right at the park’s south boundary and leads away from the river. When you reach the edge of an athletic field, head for the opposite corner and a gravel road that leads back to the main parking lot.
Thanks to Ron Blake and the Tolland Historical Society for their assistance.
Photos: V. Wetherell
This Willimantic River Greenway Parks and Trails Guide was produced by the Willimantic River Alliance and WINCOG. Information in this guide reflects conditions and features as of Spring, 2008. Since conditions change over time, the Alliance is not responsible for changes at this site. This guide was funded with support from the The Last Green Valley (formerly known as the Quinebaug-Shetucket Heritage Corridor, Inc.).