Forever Forest totals 14 acres in size. In 1994, Dr. Frances Holmes donated the original 12 acres to the Harwinton Land Trust. She lived across the street from this property and wanted to have it remain as a natural area. It was a most generous donation to the Trust and a great benefit to the Town of Harwinton. In 2019, another two contiguous acres were added to the area through a generous donation by Bernie and Charleen Chevalier, also adjacent neighbors of Forever Forest. This nature area is located on Whetstone Road about ¼ mile from RT 118. Public parking is available for a half dozen vehicles on the gravel pull-off next to the Land Trust sign (see Forever Forest parking location).
Although Forever Forest is only 14 acres, visitors will be surprised by how much it has to offer. The area has a scenic and interesting trail system (see Forever Forest Printable Map) that leads hikers along pretty marshes, over ledge promontories, and through distinct stands of hardwood trees and mountain laurel. Hikers can review a map of the area just past the Land Trust sign. Please feel free to take a foldout guide from the map box. There are three geocaches hidden along the trails (see our Geocaching page for more information).
The trails are well marked and are dry under normal weather conditions. All trails are relatively easy to walk, although there are a few hilly spots. Two main trails allow hikers to head out to farthest end of the property and return on a different path. The yellow-marked trail is a little flatter than the white-marked trail. Shorter, red marked trails lead to the tops of ledge promontories, where hikers can get good views of the surroundings. Trails are well maintained and easy to follow. An additional trail loop (blue) was added to the area as a result of acquiring new land in 2019. Dogs on lease will be happy to visit.
An especially good time to visit Forever Forest is in mid to late June, when the extensive stands of mountain laurel are in bloom.
Winter is another good time to visit. Mountain laurel provides plenty of greenery during the winter and the well-marked trails are easy to follow, even when they’re covered by snow. Forever Forest is a perfect place to snow shoe.
Trails lead to two pretty marshes. You can see the smaller marsh about half way to the trail’s end.
The larger marsh can be seen at the trail’s end. The marsh was a shallow pond at one time, before small earthen berms gradually eroded away.
While at the large marsh, you can sit at the observation deck to take in the scenery and perhaps get to enjoy a chorus of red winged blackbirds.
As you approach the footbridge of the small stream (Kelly Pond Brook) flowing out of the large marsh, you’ll notice flat rocks on the trail and on the bottom of the stream. The rocks are probably the smooth sand stone (“blue stone”) that was once used to manufacture whetstones (stones used to sharpen knives). The flat rocks in the stream were exposed by the erosive action of flowing water, and are a sign of the sand stone deposit buried below the ground’s surface. Very large sandstone slabs are present at the tip of the blue trail. The area was noted for its manufacture of whetstones in the past. The whetstone “factory” may have been located at the rock foundation just past the juncture of white and yellow trails. More information on this interesting history of Harwinton can be found in Ray Bentley’s History of Harwinton, pages 115-116.
The main trails pass by ledge promontories. Shorter red trails pass over the top of them and provide good views of the surrounding terrain.
Forever Forest has distinct stands of birch, hickory, and beech trees. The stand of beech trees is very distinct and is located on the yellow trail. Beech trees can be easily spotted by the smooth bark and gold-colored leaves that remain on the trees for most of the winter. The larger tree in the photo below has a marking on its bark that indicates it was treated by the Civilian Conservation Corps. for a disease affecting beech trees in CT back in the 1930s. That older tree may have been a parent tree to the smaller beech trees surrounding it.
There are a total of 26 species of trees present at Forever Forest (see list below). This represents a high diversity of trees for such a relatively small piece of land. Because of the high diversity of trees, the Harwinton Land Trust saw that the area could be used for educational purposes. We have used the trail system to serve as a tree identification walk. A representative specimen for each species of tree was located along the trails. Sign posts were placed at each of the specimen trees.
Each sign shows a diagram of the tree’s leaf and a description of the tree’s importance.
Trees at Forever Forest
Sugar maple (young and old)
Red maple (young and old)
Northern red oak
Black birch (young and old)
Yellow birch (young and old)
Shagbark hickory (young and old)
Pignut hickory (young and old)
Eastern white pine (young and old)
Blue beech (aka Ironwood)
Blackgum (aka Tupelo)
Serviceberry (aka Shadbush)
Sign posts were placed next to similar species so that their finer characteristics could be more readily compared. Signs were also posted at young and mature specimens of the same species that have bark characteristics which change with age, such as yellow and black birch shown below.
It is hoped that the tree identifications will help visitors become more knowledgeable about the trees in our area, and to gain a better appreciation of the town’s forestlands. The Trust created a Forever Forest Tree ID Manual showing color photos of the leaves, bark, and seeds for each species of tree in Forever Forest. It should be helpful to anyone seeking a better knowledge of the species of trees found in Harwinton’s forestlands.
In summer-2017, the land trust began work to restore the large marsh at Forever Forest. Previously, the entire marsh contained standing water that supported native aquatic vegetation and had excellent habitat for wildlife. However, it appears that sometime during the mid 2000s, two low berms that retained the water were breached, perhaps by a major flood that occurred in 2005 (see Marsh Aerial views 91-05). Over the next decade, the marsh remained dry causing most native vegetation to be replaced by a non-native, invasive reed (Phragmites). Phragmites grows in tall, dense stands that provide poor habitat and low aesthetic value. The marsh restoration project was intended to improve habitat for wildlife and to stem the spread of Phragmites. Restoration was done by plugging 7 to 10 foot-wide breaches in the berms with sand bags, boulders and weir boards. After the breaches were plugged, water levels in the marsh eventually increased by a foot. Time will tell if the Phragmites has been reduced, but diversity and abundance of wildlife has already increased. The restoration has also provided more consistent flows in Kelly Pond Brook.
Marsh prior to water level restoration:
Marsh showing signs of reflooding one week after the breaches were plugged:
The Harwinton Land Trusts offers special thanks to the following for helping to make Forever Forest such a nice place to visit:
- Ryan Misani and Brian Hannon in 1999 for clearing a section of trail and installing benches for an Eagle Scout project.
- Town of Harwinton, Highway Dept. in 2005 for creating a pull-off for parking on Whetstone Drive and for providing surplus stone for trail improvement.
- CT Forestry Division in 2013 for identifying specimen trees.
- CT Wilderness School in 2014 for clearing vistas along the trails and in 2017 for helping restore water levels in the area’s marsh.
- Community Foundation of NW CT in 2014 for a grant to cover the cost of hemlock seedlings planted to provide a scenic buffer and shelter for song birds.
- The Harwinton Garden Club in 2014 for creating a flower garden at the Forever Forest sign.
- Alex Colombie in 2015 for building the observation deck at the large marsh for an Eagle Scout project