Hiking for Friendly’s: Huntington State Park (Newtown/Redding) and Danbury Friendly’s

13 09 2017

Huntington SP brook 09.11.17September 11, 2017

A day of extraordinary weather sends us on our way to our next Friendly’s in Danbury. We head west on I-84 and Cherry updates me about a recent family event. She, her sisters, and stepmother gathered at one sister’s home for a delightful, relaxing weekend. They thought about having a T-shirt made for their “reunion”—maybe next time! Both Cherry and her stepmother had cat issues before making it to the get-together, but all worked out.

Huntington SP sign 09.11.17Our nearby hiking site, Collis Huntington State Park, is a bit southeast of Danbury and we enter on its southeastern boundary. We start on the Aspetuck Valley Trail and head westerly to the park boundary. Trails are well marked and relatively flat as we continue on the blue trail a little more than a mile. The area is lovely, quiet, and peaceful. We share connection: I tell her about my newly discovered plumber who lives near her; she tells me she met someone who went to high school with me at her local library.

Huntington SP geological feature 09.11.17We reach an intersection and decide to take the red trail next and discover a large rock outcrop. I talk about my efforts to get ahead on maintaining my family home and the success I’ve had getting help for the house where I live. We talk about celebrations and birthdays, and I tell Cherry that I’ve booked a cabin at the beach for next June for my birthday. I’m already excited and I see her eyes sparkle. “I love the way you’re back to planning ahead and being hopeful,” she says. Before we know it, we are back at the car; it’s been 3.4 miles and two hours, but our time just flies by here. Off we go to Danbury’s main drag.

We enter the Friendly’s parking lot in the rear and I wonder if it’s even still open—no cars. Yikes, but yes, there are cars in the front and we go inside. Not many people, and Cherry and I bemoan the potential loss of what we consider a national treasure. Our waitress, Karen, exuberantly seats us and we are on a roll. She is the friendliest Friendly’s waitress we’ve yet to encounter. “If by any chance you girls are seniors, well….” she winks at us. Cherry is in love!

Huntington SP Danbury Friendlys 09.11.17We enjoy our lunch; Cherry gets grilled cheese and soup, since she’s had a weekend of sinful eating with her family. I get the honey BBQ chicken and manage to actually save half of it for dinner. Karen has learned our names and uses them frequently. She picks up Cherry’s jacket when it falls on the floor, she cleans up after us as we eat. She checks in regularly. She covers all her tables with ease and connection. “Good manners,” she says to a young boy on our left who has answered all her questions about his dessert. Our sundaes are the highlight, as usual: Cherry’s Hunka Chunka Peanut Butter fudge and I switch it up to pistachio with hot fudge.

Cherry of course wants to tell Karen about our project. She thinks it’s pretty neat and asks where we hiked today. Cherry tells her we have only five more to go and are hoping to celebrate our finality at the Cromwell Friendly’s, where we began this adventure almost three years ago. “I know it’s a distance, but you’re invited,” Cherry quips to Karen, who clearly is touched by our outreach.

We review our list of Friendly’s and, indeed, only five more to go! Just like everything else, step by step, a large task gets accomplished in (Friendly’s) bite-sized bits.

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Vernon Rails-to-Trails and Friendly’s

23 08 2017

18 August 2017

Vernon trail view

The weather isn’t promising; in fact, my phone indicated rain most of the morning and thunderstorms at 9:15. But Cherry and I decide to hike anyway. As she quips, “The worst thing that could happen is we have a short hike and a long time to enjoy the food and ice cream at Friendly’s!”

We meet and head to Vernon around 9AM, just after rush hour traffic. Cherry’s had some family time with her half-sister, visiting from England with hubby and two kids. They all spent a day, along with her step-mom and other family members, at Look Park in Northampton, MA. Cherry describes the fun they had on the train, picnicking, and being together, which is special when some live across the pond.

Vernon rocks and plantsThrough my intuitive sense of direction (strongly lacking in Cherry, she always says), we find the Vernon Rails-to-Trails crossing on Taylor Street. We park on a nearby side street and head north. We both are surprised by the beauty of the surroundings. And the weather is holding; “I won’t say the “R” word,” Cherry declares.

Excellent signs describe the rail history of the area. We see remnants of track and talk about the Essex Steam Train, now able to travel northward into Haddam. I am disappointed the line won’t be converted into a hiking trail at this point.

Vernon Reading TrailWe see families with bicycle and other walkers, especially near the parking area. Here, we encounter a Reading Trail, something I’d not heard of but Cherry knew. For National Trails Day, the Vernon Park & Rec Department partnered with a local bookstore to establish a mile-long Reading Trail, where Curious George Makes Pancakes is parsed out, page by page. I think of my grandson’s love of George and how this would inspire children to walk!

After an hour, we decide to return to the car. We refuse to say the “R” word, but it’s starting to look ominous. We talk about friends and the difference between activities companions and true friends. Cherry’s thought a lot about this, and suggests that being friends with herself is most important, although a bit more challenging.

And then to Friendly’s, a brief six-minute drive! Well, actually I pull in too soon and we park at the neighboring fast food place and climb a small embankment to enter Friendly’s. Our waitress, Abby, can’t me more than 16; she must be at least that to work, right? Cherry notices an enlarged photo on the wall of three young women in the 1950s and tells Abby she had a dress like the one on the left and used to come to Friendly’s in Holyoke when she was young. “I used to come when I was a kid, too,” says Abby. Could that have been more than ten years ago, Cherry and I laugh, after Abby leaves our table.

Vernon Friendlys queen for a dayI try to convince Cherry to be Queen of Friendly’s for a day, but she leaves the crown at the register. And as we drive home, we laugh about the silent “R” word – it was perfect weather! We are chugging through the remaining Connecticut options; according to my notes, we only have six more to go!

 





Pachaug State Forest, Voluntown and Norwich Friendly’s

18 07 2017

10 July 2017

Pachaug Rhodies 07.10.17

Cherry and I pick another perfect day to head to Pachaug State Forest in Voluntown. It’s a long trip, an hour and a half, but the time flies as we chat. Recently, Cherry and her colleagues (church friends, local officials, park staff) welcomed a group kayaking down the Connecticut River when they arrived at Haddam Meadows State Park. It was pouring when they paddled up, almost perfectly on time, and all relished the food, coffee, company, and tents that had been prepared for their arrival.

Today, we travel country roads until we see signs for Pachaug. We enter the forest and park at the Mount Misery campground where we spy the sign for the Rhododendron Sanctuary. We’ve chosen this location for today because the plants will be in flower. The path, handicap accessible, is level and easy. We notice plenty of gypsy moth eggs clustered on trees, which frustrates both of us. We pass through tall cedar trees and spot the Rhodie flowers, a few at first and then tall bushes full! They have a slight aroma and it feels magical. We continue along the boardwalk to the end, where we spot a few painted turtles basking. We encounter a bicyclist on the return to the parking area, but otherwise, it is still.

We decide to walk behind the campground in search of the trail to Mount Misery. We never do find it, but enjoy the open feel to the woodlands and the mystery of not knowing where we are. We walk about 45 minutes and decide to return to the car. My stomach is rumbling and ready for lunch!

The Norwich Friendly’s is a half hour away, an easy ride, and a fresh-looking building. We are surprised inside to find it full and busy. Our server, Yo-yo, confides that she was late and forgot her name tag today (Cherry had to ask her name). We order: fishamajig for Cherry, turkey/bacon burger for me, both with applesauce (which I spy in the kitchen coming from a supermarket-sized Motts jar!). Our sundaes were cookie dough and forbidden chocolate and we eat every last drop, scraping the metal sides of our dishes.

Pachaug Norwich Friendlys empty sundae cups 07.10.17

As we finish up, Cherry confides in Yo-yo about our project of visiting all the Friendly’s in Connecticut and pairing them with a hike. She is genuinely interested and we toy with the idea of letting Corporate Headquarters know about our plans. I think maybe we are far enough along that we can let the cat out of the bag. Perhaps I will post this to their website or FB page and see if anything happens!

We are full and content as we return to Middletown where Cherry parked her car. All ready to plan our next escapade!

 





Hiking For Friendly’s: Kettletown State Park and Southbury Friendly’s

3 07 2017

 

Kettletown hemlock ravine.jpg28 June 2017

Our local weather person calls today a “10” and Cherry and I agree. We head west to Kettletown State Park around 9AM under clear skies and temperatures in the 70s. We arrive an hour later, find parking near the Brook Trail, and start off. The park is almost deserted and quite lovely. The hemlock-lined ravine provides a tranquil environment for us to talk. Cherry says Erik Hesselberg has written her uncle’s story in the July issue of the Hartford Magazine. The Singing Preacher at Ellis Island, Uncle John Evans helped immigrants arriving in America, a tradition Cherry has continued, without realizing it until Erik pointed it out.

Kettletown eraticIt doesn’t take us long to reach the junction with the blue Pomperaug Trail and then its junction with the Crest Trail. I am on the look for skinks, a type of lizard, and the only one found in Connecticut. I think the crest habitat might be a possible place for them, so we decide to walk along there first.  As we reach an open area, we notice gypsy moth caterpillars hanging from trunks in abundance. “Those head down are dead from the fungus,” I say, having just researched the topic. We look more closely at one of the trunks and see dozens, maybe a hundred pupae! I grab a stick and scrape scores of them off, only realizing I should have photographed them before doing that.

Kettletown lake Zoar

I see an area that seems “skinky” to me, so I head off the trail while Cherry parallels me above on trail. No luck and I rejoin her. After about an hour, we reach an overlook of Lake Zoar, the expanded area on the Housatonic River that is at the base of this outcrop. Views are lovely and we contemplate how Native American village remnants were flooded by the lake establishment and the hunting and fishing rights were obtained by the exchange of a kettle (hence the park’s name).

We continue along the Crest Trail, up and down, and realize it’s been awhile since we’ve covered such challenging terrain. We finally reach the southern junction with the Pomperaug Trail. “Halfway,” I say, drinking my water. The signage throughout is excellent, so we know exactly where we are.

 

 

We continue northerly and then take a side trail west to the Camp Ground and walk the rest of the way back to the car on the road, until we hook up with the path near the beach. We are impressed with the accessible camping site and enjoy walking the boards back. I suggest to Cherry we can veer off the trail, up a steep embankment and would end up right where we parked (at least I hoped so!). Up we went, and sure enough, back to our starting point. Four and a half miles; we’ve earned our ice cream.

It’s only a few minutes to the Friendly’s, according to my directions. We head north of Southbury and it’s residential, away from the highway, and I start to wonder if I’m in the right place. Suddenly, we see a sign for Heritage Village and find ourselves in the midst of the retirement community. “This can’t be right,” I start to say, as I slow for a stop sign. And there, on the corner, is Friendly’s.

Cherry and I are seated, with Hailey being our waitress. The place is full, hosting people of all ages. We order our fare: grilled cheese for Cherry (she’s going to an Ice Cream Social later today) and Philly cheesesteak (again) for me. Good food, forbidden chocolate sundaes with hot fudge, chocolate sprinkles for each of us. This is the busiest Friendly’s we’ve been in so far. Probably because of that, we agreed the service is adequate but not personal.

Cherry suggests a title for this post, “No skinks but a good time.” I agree and we set a place and time for our next Hike for Friendly’s. See you next month in Norwich!





Hiking for Friendly’s: Naugatuck SF and Friendly’s

1 05 2017

20 April 2017

It is raining when Cherry and I leave Middletown but clear by the time we park in the west block of Naugatuck State Forest in Beacon Falls. That is partly because the storm is moving away from us, and partly because we need to check and recheck directions to find the entrance. But we arrive around 10AM and start out. We are drawn to this site because of the promise of magnificent waterfalls. However, the trail head doesn’t match the map I’d printed; there is a blue, orange, and unmarked trail and none are on the map! We take the orange.

We talk, as we go upslope. Under a bit of stress lately, Cherry says she divided everything she was doing into whether it fed or drained her. Fortunately for me, preparing a meal for me and my family on a day that my daughter has treatments is on her positive list! Being clear about what she can do has helped her redesign some of her volunteer work. I voice my similar discovery related to some political outreach I am doing.

The trail passes through hemlock forest and I note how wonderful it is to see healthy trees not infested with hemlock woolly adelgid. I speak too soon; we encounter young branches covered with the cottony pests as we head down an unmarked trail to the noisy falls we can almost see below us.

When we reach the bottom, Spruce Brook is a delight! Beautiful yellow violets, gurgling stream, and then waterfall after waterfall. Our recent rain has swollen the flow and it’s a beautiful series of cascades all the way back to our starting point. Near an adjacent parking lot, we find informational signs and discover this was a popular pic-nic area in the 1880s, with “romantic and weird-like scenery” that was reached by train from New Haven and Waterbury.

The Naugatuck Friendly’s isn’t far away and we are hungry. When we pull in, it’s 12:30PM and only one other car in the lot. We both want Friendly’s to succeed; we both have fond memories from our youth, and now this hiking focus. Inside, we are greeted by a smiling waitress, Jill, who escorts us to our booth. As we pass the hostess stand, I notice a coloring sheet. Jill assures me I can have one and, if it’s good, she’ll put it on the wall.

Brandy-new menus, we notice when we sit! Likely the prices have increased but these now include calories next to each item. Cherry is judicious and chooses a turkey BLT but I go for the Philly Cheesesteak on a brioche roll. We forget to change our French fries to something healthy and Jill doesn’t ask. We are both secretly pleased to see fries on our plates when they arrive. Meanwhile, I’ve enjoyed coloring my T-shirt that demonstrates the Good Life.

Jill is lovely, constantly smiling, cooing with a nearby baby, and calling us “girls.” Cherry comments that in her forties, she’d find that annoying. “But now,” she laughs as we relish our forbidden chocolate with hot fudge sundaes, “I love it!” Cherry pleads to let Jill in on our mission and I relent, as we are almost ready to leave. Jill thinks it’s awesome that we are hiking to Friendly’s and says she’ll look for the website. She asks how long we’ve been at this and how many we still need to visit.

We have to look it up. We started June 2015. Two years… wow! And it looks as though Naugatuck is our twelfth Friendly’s out of the twenty-two in Connecticut. I guess we will have our work cut out for us – eating more sundaes!





Milford Point and Friendly’s

25 02 2017

 

24 February 2017

beth-and-cherry-at-milford-pointThe weather could not be any better at the end of February! In the high sixties, sunny, light breeze, wow! Cherry and I head to the shoreline to continue our hiking for Friendly’s in Milford. We drive into the coastal community that hugs the Milford Point spit. Houses, large ones, vie for space on a narrow, low isthmus that merges into the mouth of the Housatonic River. Cherry wonders if FEMA supports them after hurricanes and how these mega-mansions have been allowed here. No obvious answers except money.

But we continue to the entrance of the Connecticut Audubon Coastal Center. I haven’t been here in decades, from my Nature Conservancy days, but I notice that one of my former colleagues, Miley Bull, still works here! CAS, founded in 1898, supersedes National Audubon in establishment. Cherry and I see two red-breasted mergansers from the viewing stand looking into the marshes behind the barrier beach.

Cherry is excited about developments related to her late Uncle John, the last chaplain on Ellis Island. She has continued conversations with local researchers, who are interested in making a documentary about him, particularly in relation to current immigration issues. They’ve located footage from a CBS show covering Uncle John and perhaps some of his singing, which was legendary.

milford-point-loon-in-housatonic-riverWe head to the coastal side of Milford Point and walk a little more than a half mile to the mouth of the river below the high tide line. I talk about a lecture I’d been to the previous night given by Rabbi Daniel Cohen. He had focused on number of uplifting and inspiring ways to live. We follow a killdeer down the pebbly wrack line and bask in the sunlight. The harbor across the way (Stratford) is rimmed with condos and structures but we are reveling in sandy habitat.  As we turn the bend of the spit, a common loon is floating backwards out to the Sound on the strong current from the Housatonic. When it spots us, it turns and continues in a more dignified way.

Cherry has initiated the organization of a Sing-along at her local library in April. She lists the participating groups (youth church choir, local pianists and soloists, among others) that have come together to make this event truly a community offering (that’s the kind of thing Cherry does all the time).

We backtrack along the shore and then continue east a bit, startling a cluster of gulls, skirting around a resting mallard pair, and watching honking Canada geese in V’s incoming from various directions to gather on the shore. I spot a raft of dark birds congregated on a sand bar offshore and wish I’d remembered my binoculars. The place is abundant with bird life, as if we all are experiencing spring fever.

We return to make a quick tour of the coastal center and, by now, it’s 11:30 and time for Friendly’s. My GPS keeps sending me back on the interstate, but I want to stick with the Boston Post Road. Friendly’s is on the opposite side of the street and is by far the most difficult one to reach that we’ve yet to visit. (As an afterthought, I wonder if that’s why my directions were sending me on the highway, so I could approach the place from an accessible direction.) The restaurant is located in an old Howard Johnson’s (the attached hotel still operational). “A bit sketchy,” I say, looking around.

But once inside, we are back in familiar territory. Our waiter Stephen, a wiry man our age, seats us and brings waters. We both order the BBQ chicken again, with (healthy) applesauce. Cherry talks about attending a recent meeting with prison volunteers about an empowerment program she’d designed. She’s really pleased to see its growth since her retirement.

milford-friendlys-cherry-with-cherry-sundaeOur “friendly” waiter checks with us multiple times and eventually takes our sundae order, which comes with our meal as we are “over 29,” as he judiciously puts it. We like him even more! Cherry shares with him our hiking to Friendly’s project, which interests him as he’s also a hiker. When our Cherry Magnolia sundaes arrive (of course, we HAD to get that type, as they are Cherry’s namesake), they were full-sized, doused with hot fudge and chocolate chips! Yum!

We waddle back to the car, discussing our next options. And lo and behold, as we head north to Middletown, an adult bald eagle flies over us on the interstate.  A sure sign that our hiking to Friendly’s is appreciated!





Hiking to Friendly’s: Scantic River State Park, Enfield

28 12 2016

December 21, 2016

Today is a fitting day to hike with Cherry to Friendly’s. Besides being the winter solstice, I’ve recently ended ten days of sitting in the hospital with my daughter, who experienced a serious reaction to her medication. Partly sunny, in the high thirties/low forties – what else would I want?

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