Outdoors

Peter Marteka: A visit to a preserve and a memorial to a whaling captain

State parks don't get much smaller than the Captain George Comer Memorial State Park, but it comes with a huge story. Comer was a legendary Hudson Bay explorer and whaling ship captain who made 14 trips to the Hudson Bay in the early 1900s to document the Inuit people who lived there.

"Life in the Arctic is one round of taboos, hunting, eating and sleeping and their importance is in the order given," Comer said in a 1922 Hartford Courant interview. "The Eskimo has so much time for idleness that the folklore of the country is prolific."

I recently pulled into what I thought was the parking area for East Haddam's Harris Reserve, a 134-acre parcel in the center of one of the largest towns in the state. The memorial park is a sort of gateway into the reserve, with a large bronze plaque on a boulder honoring one of East Haddam's most famous sons near his former home: "To the memory of Captain George Comer able seamen, arctic mariner and navigator of the Seven Seas 1858-1937."

A short trail from the parking area leads to the main trail of the Harris Reserve, which begins along the fence line of the town's community garden. A half-mile trail marked with blue blazes passes through the heart of preserve; an orange blazed 1.5-mile path travels around most of the parcel with a half-mile red trail leading to a vista.

I began my journey following the blue trail that travels along a stone wall and the edge of a large field. A white connector trail will bring visitors to the orange or red trails. The property brochure notes the red trail has an overlook with a seasonal view of Long Island Sound. Although visitors can kind of see it now, it's definitely a mid-November to April view when all the leaves are down.

The orange trail is my favorite, with the path looping from the entrance through a forest filled with wolf trees and beech trees. The trail follows the same ridge as the overlook passing across a neat trail bridge before looping around back to the trail head. The trail is definitely the most challenging of the paths, but it is still a fairly easy hike.

Comer sailed the Seven Seas and spent months apart from his family. But he always returned home to the wilds of East Haddam, where visitors can now do their own exploring and pay homage to one of Connecticut's most famous sailors.

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