Last Green Valley: Northeastern Connecticut
When You Go –Yankee-recommended places to hike, stay, eat, and shop in Connecticut’s Last Green Valley.
The skies don’t lie. From on high, looking down along the East Coast at night, we’re blazing away like Times Square squared, a crazy quilt of sparks illuminating the darkness. Look at us, everyone–our name in lights! A river of suburban wattage from Boston to Washington, visible from planes and satellites, flowing more or less ceaselessly.
Except … over there. A distinct patch of northeastern Connecticut and a bit of Massachusetts that’s noticeably still, remarkably dark. A break in the unrelenting mass of artificial brilliance that lights the night. So much so that airline pilots use this patch of darkness as a point of reference. And by day, it’s green. Deeply, profoundly green. The Last Green Valley, so they say.
Of course, it’s not really the last. But it is the last good-sized, unspoiled spot on the East Coast city-sprawl continuum: more than 1,000 square miles of peace and old-time nostalgia pressed between the Quinebaug and Shetucket rivers. A wide, quiet corridor of pretty villages and dreamy landscapes hidden within one of the most densely populated parts of the country. With Worcester to the north, Hartford to the west, and Providence to the east, this gorgeous chunk of green and its 35 rural towns are so precious, they’ve been federally recognized since 1994, when Congress conferred its mouthful of a designation: the Quinebaug and Shetucket Rivers Valley National Heritage Corridor. “Green” is more than just a word in this oasis: More than 70 percent of the Last Green Valley remains field, farmland, and forest.
Naturally, that means a superabundance of hiking, biking, and birding. Not so long ago, in fact, this region was known as “The Quiet Corner,” until its more recent incarnation as the romantic and appealing Last Green Valley. It could also just as easily have been called “The Friendly Corner,” once you begin exploring the intimate shops, offbeat cafes, and secret spots sprinkled liberally amidst the greenery.
But 1,000 square miles is a lot to explore in a weekend. Conveniently, Route 169, Connecticut’s second-longest National Scenic Byway, glides smack through the middle of the Last Green Valley. Thirty-two charmed, dotted-green miles running north to south, from Woodstock to Lisbon: a string of lovely little towns hung together like cool New England pearls, and not a mall in sight.
Using 169 as the compass centerline, we set off from Lisbon, heading north and taking detours wherever curiosity or a wandering stone wall called us on. Here are some highlights of what we found, along with some alternatives for exploring on your own.
‘Scenic Road Next 32 Miles’
With a sign like that to point the way, it’s a little like setting out for Oz. Right off, at Canterbury Cones, winner of our “most creative use of a recycled bus” award, latticework conceals the wheels of this sleek tin can on the outskirts of Canterbury, and jaunty shutters flip up to reveal a world of ice cream flavors.
Not long after, we take a quick detour up a winding road into Brooklyn, and feel a sense of anticipation as The Golden Lamb Buttery looms into view. With 1,000 acres spreading around this rehabbed barn, the Buttery has been an institution since 1963, as famous for its celebrity clientele (eager eater Roger Clemens landed his helicopter in the field) as for the four-star meals that emerge from its minuscule farm kitchen. The predinner appetizer is a leisurely hayride over the grounds, and new owner Katie Bogert, granddaughter of the original owners, will greet you personally.