Hibbard Trail Loop & the Legacy of John Hibbard

Shepard and I rode our bicycles to Lebanon today. The purpose was to run the Hibbard Trail Loop in Whitney Forest. This is a lovely little trail named in honor of John Hibbard, the Connecticut Forest & Park Association’s long time Executive Director, Secretary, and Forester.

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CFPA’s Walk Book and website do a good job describing the significance of this trail and of John Hibbard:

The Whitney Forest is an 84-acre gem of protected woodland, nestled in the heart of Lebanon. It was donated to CFPA in 1998 by Dorothy D. Whitney of Avon, CT.  It was the desire of the Whitney family that the property be managed as a working forest in perpetuity. The forest will now serve as an educational site for sustainable forestry practices. CFPA undertook a timber harvest on the property in 2015 to improve the forest for oak and pitch pine regeneration.  The same year, CFPA’s trails program built the loop trail to better showcase the property and open it to the public. The trail features red maple swamps, fieldstone corrals, a tumbling stream and views over a neighboring marsh.

The loop trail is named for John Hibbard, one of Connecticut’s premier conservation heroes. Hibbard served as CFPA’s executive director and secretary/forester from 1963 to 2000. Trained as a forester at UConn, Hibbard was a visionary who worked on big legislative issues that have had long-lasting impacts on conservation and recreation across the state. His forceful advocacy was integral to providing tax relief for farm, forest, and open space lands (PA 490) which currently totals 484,000 acres statewide. He worked on legislation that established town conservation commissions to protect our local air, water and open space resources. It is our hope that as you walk this trail, you are both aware of the path John Hibbard blazed, and are inspired to make a difference yourself.

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On Wednesday of this week, during the CFPA Board of Directors Zoom meeting, John Hibbard participated and spoke up during the discussion. It was great to hear him. I’ve known him for 20 years and he remains a CFPA Honorary Director and a conservation champion. His advocacy has inspired so many people to volunteer their time and contribute to the trails of Connecticut. Our old friend, Christine Woodside, who edited Connecticut Woodlands for many years, wrote this piece about Hibbard and other trail pioneers. Christine is a trail maintainer and pioneer herself. She currently edits AMC’s Appalachia journal which everyone should subscribe to. I’m biased, but I think everyone should be members of both CFPA and AMC. Just click the links to join! It’s $35/year for CFPA and $50 for AMC. Seniors and students are even less. You have no excuse, the benefits are fantastic, and no, I don’t get a commission.

With all of our pandemic FKT activity and time spent on Connecticut’s trails, I came across the info about the Hibbard Trail in the Walk Book. Our copy is “dog eared” as we have been pouring over it and reading about trails that we have yet to explore. This was one of them.

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My legs have been aching all week after last weekend’s Quinnipiac Trail End-to-End Run, so the plan was to do something “easy.” I came up with the idea of having Shepard join me for his first FKT attempt. So, this morning, we rode the Hop River Trail to Andover, and then took some lovely roads through the eastern CT towns of Andover, Columbia, Hebron, and Lebanon.

I carried our running shoes and some snacks in an UltrAspire backpack. The humidity of the last few days broke, and the weather was excellent with partial sunshine making it through the remaining clouds. It was about 17.5 miles of gravel and road to reach the Whitney Forest. There was one car parked in the trailhead parking lot, but we never saw the hikers. The mosquitos were biting, so we locked our bikes to a tree and quickly changed our shoes.

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I pulled up the FKT info, and clicked through to read Sarah Ports Connors’report.

Hibbard “Trail”… more like a briar tunnel.

“That’s strange, there is a short little trail on the FKT boards in my hometown. Kind of silly, but I will go grab it today during my errands. What could go wrong?”

It would be impossible to overstate just how overgrown parts of the trail are. I have never been so covered in scratches and blood from such a short run in my life.

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I made the mistake of reading this out loud and Shepard got psyched out. We determined that she went clockwise, so we decided to do the same. Though the Walk Book says it is 1.5 miles long, our Garmin GPS’ measured it as 1.3 miles. That’s really short for an FKT Route and we would never create one that short, but since it existed, and was so close to home, we had to do it.

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We ran a “warmup” lap to scout the trail. By the end of the lap, I had Shepard’s brain squared away again and he was ready to hammer lap number two. We grabbed a sip of water, pulled off our arm warmers, and then lined up for the sprint. He led the entire way and I had a hard time keeping up. The trail is incredibly “twisty and turny” with lots of slippery rocks and greasy bog bridges.

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Yesterday’s rain and the humidity kept the trail damp and the overgrowth hid the roots and mud, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as Sarah reported. She ran it in July of last year, and I’m sure that with the full spring and summer heat, the overgrowth had increased. Thankfully our spring has been colder and the plants have only really started to grow in the past few weeks, so we could run it hard and not risk life and limb.

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It is true that the bridges were deadly and I nearly lost Shep’s “draft” near the end of the loop. If it wasn’t for a 0.2 mile logging road section to finish off, I might not have caught up. He pushed super-hard and I was really proud of him. He gets stronger by the workout. We caught our breath, and then hauled the bikes and gear towards the road where the sunshine was making it through the trees. We did this to avoid the mosquitos while we were changing our shoes again.

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After our transition, we hopped back on our bikes and took a different route home. This time we explored parts of the Air Line Trail before connecting with Route 85. This led us to East Street and the nice roads back to Bolton. This adventure was Shepard’s virtual CCAP Breakaway Benefit “ride.” He is a member of the CCAP Team HORST Junior Squad. CCAP has done a TON to support youth cycling in Connecticut. With the cancellation of this year’s in-person rides, these virtual rides are being held independently to support the nonprofit organization and it’s mission. Check out the pledge page. 

State Trail Overview Map

I think it is fitting that we ran this trail today to honor John Hibbard’s legacy, and the work of all CFPA volunteers and staff. Connecticut has the best trail system in the country. I say it frequently, and I just said it again.

1 Response to “Hibbard Trail Loop & the Legacy of John Hibbard”


  1. 1 Marc Woodard 30 May 2020 at 6:43 pm

    Thank you for sharing your biking experience. We are following you and have posted your trek at AgelessMirrorAthlete FB [fit healthy lifestyle change group] page. Keep on writing about your trail bike adventures. Good health to you and your family.


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