Winding Trails has a long and interesting history. The following is background about the land, culture and events that make up this unique organization. Winding Trails is not only a beautiful piece of property; it is a community of people interacting with nature and each other. Our goal is to serve youth, families and communities with outdoor programs that enrich people’s lives.
20,000 years ago, Winding Trails was glacially formed during the last ice age. It is the product of glacial till, which is mainly sand and gravel with a shallow layer of organic material at the surface. The topography created by the receding glaciers left a shallow valley with several springs and streams running through it. Native Americans and later the settlers from Farmington used the land and streams for fishing, hunting and farming including a large peach orchard. In the early 1900’s, Theodate Pope Riddle, Connecticut’s first licensed female architect, Lusitania survivor, and designer and matron of the Hill-Stead House, purchased the property now owned by Winding Trails. It was part of the Avon Old Farms School for Boys that abuts our property to the north. Theodate did not build a gym at her school and required instead, the boys to participate in fishing, forestry and farming to round out the physical side of their education. Walton and Trout Pond were created by the boys and staff of Avon Old Farms for fishing. By building a dam at the south end of the valley, the boys created Walton Pond, an eight acre body of water that is now the heart of Winding Trails. Walton Pond is believed to be named for Izaak Walton, a 17th century author who wrote The Complete Angler. The Izaak Walton League of America was formed in 1922, and was one of the earliest conservation groups in the country. A dam was built at Trout Pond that created a one acre body of water. The school simultaneously built a series of pools for a trout hatchery and a fish and game lodge overlooking the ponds. This extensive waterways complex of streams, ponds, hatcheries, and springs was managed by the Indian guide, Verne Priest, hired out of Maine, by Mrs. Riddle when she opened the school in 1927. Mrs. Riddle closed the school in 1944 after a political dispute with the Chancellor. She immediately offered the school grounds to President Roosevelt who accepted the gift and set up an Army Rehabilitation Hospital for blind veterans.
Winding Trails has been a part of the Farmington community since 1947 when returning veterans of World War II wanted to provide the children of Farmington the opportunity for a summer day camp experience. Several people approached the School\Army to secure permission to use 20 acres of land surrounding Walton Pond. With permission in place, the camp leased the property for the next 8 years for $1.00 a year. The group formed a 501 (C3) non- profit organization named the Recreation Association of Farmington to organize and run the camp. In 1955, the Association approached the newly reopened Avon Old Farms School to purchase the 20 acres of property for a permanent day camp. Avon Old Farms School needed some cash and instead sold them 300 acres for $30,000. The cost was divided between the Association, Town of Farmington and a grant from the Hartford Foundation which was the first grant ever given for recreation.
Between 1955 and 1973, the Association took off full force by providing all the recreation for the Town of Farmington in addition to the summer camp. Many of the activities were run off property at a building on Church Street. That space provided an office for the Executive Director and also held a nursery school, rifle range, dance, and arts and crafts classes. At the local schools, the Association sponsored afterschool basketball, volleyball and gymnastic classes. The operation of the Lion’s Club Memorial Pool in Unionville, and summer playground programs, were also the responsibility of the Association.
During the 1960’s Winding Trails started to physically take shape. Four pavilions were built above Walton Pond. The Hartford Foundation gave grants that assisted in building Garmany Hall, the bathhouse, and the caretaker’s house. Mort Dunning started plans to dig Poplar Swamp which would eventually become Dunning Lake. Family memberships and rentals of the facility to community groups were enacted.
In the 1970’s, the organization saw a major change in focus. The Town of Farmington hired its own Recreation Director and the emphasis for the Association became the development of programs and facilities within the park. The organization changed its name from the Farmington Recreation Association to Winding Trails, Inc. to avoid confusion with the town’s Recreation Department. Winding Trails also began its cross country ski program with just 25 sets of skis. Judy Shea, mother of Olympic Bobsledding gold medalist Jim Shea, helped design the trail system and was one of the first instructors. Construction of Winding Trails Drive and the Dunning Lake Boathouse was completed and the first full time caretaker was hired.
The 1980’s was a decade of planning and slow growth. A long range master plan was developed for the facility and programs. The 85 acre Dunning Lake was completed and deeded to Winding Trails for a $1. The cross country ski program moved to a new level with the purchase of snow grooming equipment. The main office was built with grants and donations to house the Executive Director and the first full time Camp Director and secretary. The Camp Director expanded the growth of camp over the next 20+ years from serving 478 campers a summer to over 2,000 today.
The 1990’s was a time of rapid expansion and growth. Membership increased steadily and office staff was added to provide customer service. The first full time Program Director was hired and the Sportsplex and Lodge were built. This addition of expertise, plus field and court space, expanded indoor facilities and a new ropes course served to expand many programming opportunities. Today, Winding Trails offers over 400 programs a year and has the largest Outdoor Adventure Ropes Course in the state.
The new millennium has brought reflection and change. Through an active Board of Directors and a motivated staff, Winding Trails has rededicated its commitment to the community, love of the outdoors, and promoting leadership and lifeskills. Celebrating community has brought: Last Blast, a beach party and fireworks celebration attended by thousands, new seating in the amphitheater for 600 people, partnerships with area non-profits and community groups, and improvements to the park for children and families to congregate and play. Our commitment to the outdoors has brought conservation and environmental education to the forefront with: forest stewardship research, water quality analysis, wildlife inventories, Save Walton Pond Project and expanded environmental education opportunities. Winding Trails promotes leadership and lifeskills through: programming dedicated to enriching the lives of young and old, protecting a place where kids can still be kids, staff training that teaches and mentors young people in strengthening character, ethics, leadership, and responsibility. The decade has not ended and Winding Trails will continue in its commitment to serve you and your family’s pursuit of quality recreation, leisure, and education in a safe, beautiful park.
(Please contact camp directly for updated session schedule.)
No Reviews to display