SPRAGUE LAND PRESERVE
It happens all the time. Over time, large swaths of land and its natural resources fall prey to development. But, sometimes the opposite happens.
Like it did in Sprague.
What once housed a rifle range and sports club back in the 1960s, has now transformed into one of the largest preserves in the southeastern part of Connecticut.
People in this area know it as Mukluk Preserve where the Mukluk Sportsman Club once stood. Then, in 2000, the town of Sprague stepped in and bought the land to retain it as open space.
And what a gold mine it is.
There are 500 acres to explore here with a heavy emphasis on the Shetucket River and a fantastic mix of woodlands. The preserve’s handful of trails highlight both of these terrains and ranges in difficulty from easy to moderate.
To get there, you’ll have to travel down Holton Road and turn onto a gravel road. The route has a history of its own and was once used as the main trek between Norwich and Windham Center back in the 1700s.
The road leads to a parking lot by an abandoned cabin. And all around you, you’ll notice areas fenced off as environmental officials tackle the clean-up of lead contamination in the area of the former skeet range. Years of ammunition use led to the contamination and some parts are restricted to hikers.
But, don’t let that discourage you. There are many more acres to explore.
One of the main trails – a basic, gravel road blazed in white – begins at the lot and leads to the banks of the Shetucket River. I took this path and found myself on a natural ridgeline running parallel to the river.
The river was running low revealing large stones and gravel along its riverbed. But, it still flows quietly and consistently – even attracting one fly fisherman I spotted knee-deep in the water.
There are other trails to explore that shoot off from the river path – although some are harder to spot than others. These routes lead to some of the preserve’s other highlights including a view of the river valley from a high bluff and a pair of waterfalls that normally gush with water.
I trekked to the lower waterfall, but it was dry as a bone – thanks to the drought the state is struggling to climb out of.
Because of the restricted access to the former shooting range, I took a network of different trails to circle back to where I began.
I made my way back through thick groves of eastern white pines and hemlocks – great habitats for animals such as coyote and bobcat. And although the elusive animals were clearly out of sight during my visit, the peace I found hiking these woods was more than enough of a prize.
Directions: Take CT-2 E to exit 27 for CT-32 N toward Yantic/Willimantic. Sharp right onto CT-32 N/W Town St. Turn right onto State Hwy 610. Turn left onto CT-207 W. Turn right onto Holton Rd. Enter the preserve and take a right where the road forks. Parking is in front of the cabin.
Trail Distance: 3 miles
Trail Difficulty: Easy to Moderate