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Saturday, May 19, 2018

Welcome to the West Rock Trails website

West Rock Ridge State Park is located in Hamden and New Haven, Connecticut (with a small portion in Woodbridge and Bethany). West Rock Ridge is the second largest state park in Connecticut with 1,722 acres of land (and growing).* 
There are many recreational opportunities available at West Rock.

This website has pages arranged by topic. Click on the web page name below or the links at the right to access the page that interests you.

(This website was started on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2010.
The most recent update took place Wednesday, June 13, 2018.)

General Information
Trail Descriptions
Information for Specific Activities
Natural Features
Historical Information
Trail Maintenance
The trail descriptions are spread across so many pages to make the information easier to access.

Mountain Laurel is Blooming
The mountain laurel at West Rock is starting to bloom, as I write this on June 10, and will likely be in bloom for about 2 weeks, so if you want to enjoy Connecticut's state flower, now is the time to visit the woods.

Area Closed to Protect Nesting Falcons
The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection issued this vaguely worded press release on April 13, regarding the pair of falcons that nest and breed on the cliff face at West Rock. The climbing area is off the Teal Trail near Amrhyn Field in Westville. No blazed hiking trails are affected by this closure, but some unblazed, unofficial trails off the Teal Trail are marked off by yellow caution tape, along with a red sign indicating the area is closed.
I spoke on April 26 with people who have been monitoring the falcons, and they greatly clarified the situation. There are now TWO sets of nesting falcons at West Rock. There has been a pair nesting on the west cliff for many years. The pair nesting on the south facing cliff is a new pair. They also said the official trails at the park are open.
Unfortunately, two sets of eggs laid at the west cliff location have not survived. One set laid at the south cliff has not survived either.
The best way to help these birds thrive is to enjoy them from a distance, as they may stay away from the eggs if they feel threatened, thus leaving the eggs unprotected and soon to be non-viable. The birds may be viewed from Amrhyn Field, the ballfield at the base of West Rock. There was a posting on a climber's website, prior to the closure, encouraging people to climb to see the falcons. The climbers apparently also damaged some rare plants on the rock face.

A "No Trespassing" sign along with yellow caution tape marks off the climbing area, as seen from the Teal Trail near Amrhyn Field, Someone has broken the tape near the sign.

DEEP Announces the Immediate Closure of West Rock Ridge Cliff Face Due to Nesting Peregrine Falcons
(HARTFORD, CT) The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) announced that effective immediately, a section of the West Rock Ridge cliff face at West Rock Ridge State Park in New Haven will be closed for purposes of recreation safety and the protection of state-threatened peregrine falcons.
At the recommendation of both the DEEP State Parks and Wildlife Divisions, this closure is being enacted to reduce the likelihood of interactions between territorial falcons which can be highly aggressive in the defense of their nests, presenting a significant safety hazard to climbers, and to avoid human disturbance of the immediate nesting area which would lead to nest failure and territory abandonment.
Area closed signs and caution tape will be placed at the base of the cliff to clearly identify which section of the cliff has been closed to recreational use. This temporary closure will remain in effect until July 31, 2018. If the falcons have completed their nesting period prior to that date, the closure will be lifted.
Robert J. Klee, Commissioner 

Photo courtesy of DEEP with this caption: Boundaries for temporary closure – West Rock Ridge State Park, New Haven, CT April 13-July 31, 2018

Catfish Stocked at Lake Wintergreen
The DEEP announced on May 24 it had stocked Lake Wintergreen with 1,870 adult (14-18 inch length) and juvenile (9 to 11 inch length) channel catfish with a daily limit of three catfish from stocked areas. Lake Wintergreen was one of 24 bodies of water receiving a total of 17,000 fish.
Press release at:

Nor'easter Storm Damage, March 7, 2018
Thunderstorm Damage, May 15, 2018
The nor'easter of March 7, 2018 was the first significant storm to affect the trails since Superstorm Sandy in 2012. The hardest hit area was the Red Trail from Lake Wintergreen to Mountain Road. The other trails suffered the occasional blowdown, usually a combination of a small tree or shrub (4 inch diameter) that snapped in half with the crown hanging over the trail, or a large tree (10 inches in diameter) that fell across the trail.
As of June 6, this is the status as I know it, and assuming nothing further has fallen since I was there to do work.

Post-Thunderstorm Report
Connecticut suffered significant storm damage following a late afternoon thunderstorm on May 15. Hamden was one of the hardest hit towns. The trees were decimated in the parking lot at Sleeping Giant State Park, prompting the state to close this park and a few others. Sleeping Giant may not reopen until the fall, the damage is so extensive.
Dramatic drone footage of the parking lot damage at Sleeping Giant may be seen here:
The Sleeping Giant Park Association has photos of the downed trees along the trails, photos which were not reported by the news media:
West Rock was on the list of suggested alternatives to Sleeping Giant. West Rock appears be relatively unscathed from the South Overlook to the Purple Trail. There were some large trees down on the Blue Trail just north of Yellow, all of which a volunteer sawyer from the Connecticut Forest and Park Association (CFPA) cleared on May 31.
The northern trails (Sanford Feeder and Regicides Trail from this junction up to York Mountain, and the Quinnipiac Trail from the Regicides Trail over to Paradise Avenue) were untouched.
However, the Quinnipiac Trail on the west side of York Mountain suffered extensive damage. In a three-quarter mile section of trail, extending from Brooks Road up the ridge, I counted about 14 blowdowns, many of them major. The most dramatic one, located about a third of a mile east of Brooks Road, is shown below. This gives a sense of what the trails at Sleeping Giant must be like. A dozen volunteers cleared these blowdowns in the first two weeks of June. Workers and volunteers had already been working on the many blowdowns on the Quinnipiac Trail west of Brooks Road. The Quinnipiac Trail is now clear from Brooks Road to Whitney Avenue.

Blowdown on the Quinnipiac Trail, about 0.3 miles east of Brooks Road.

Trail conditions (on sections I have hiked) from May 19 to June 12:
Regicides Trail: Clear from the South Overlook north to the Purple Trail (excepting one tree that is easily stepped over and should be cleared on June 14), and from the junction with the Red Trail near the Farm Brook Reservoir overlook to the Quinnipiac Trail. There were numerous blowdowns on the Regicides Trail just north of the Yellow Trail, most of which a volunteer sawyer cleared on May 31, and the rest on June 7.
Gold Trail: Clear
Green Trail: Probably clear, based on the condition of the adjacent Blue Trail.
Orange: Clear
Purple, Purple-Orange, and Purple White: Clear. I have not walked the Purple Trail from Red to Main Street, but this section gets little use anyway.
Quinnipiac Trail (the West Rock portion extends from Brooks Road, Bethany to Paradise Ave., Hamden). Clear
Red Trail: Clear. There is a 12-inch red oak across the trail at the southern end of the park near the steps  that is easily stepped over, a tree I will clear on a future visit. Between the Purple Trail and Mountain Road, there are two trees leaning across the trail at a 45 degree angle, casualties of the March northeaster, but there is plenty of room to walk or bicycle under them. The trail also needs a seasonal pruning back in some areas.
Red White by Lake Wintergreen and by Farm Brook Reservoir: Clear. On the Red-White Trail above the field, the top of a red oak is snapped across the trail at about six feet of height, but getting under it is easy.
Sanford Feeder (Blue-Red): Mostly clear, except for a small tree that fell across the trail between June 2 and 9. This tree is easy to step over until I can clear it.

Teal Trail: Clear
Westville Feeder (Blue-Yellow)
White Trail: Clear
Yellow Trail: Clear

Baldwin Drive: Clear
Regicide Drive: Clear
Post-Thunderstorm Trail Clearing Details
In the south end of the park as far north as the Purple Trail, the only real damage was a 12 inch diameter pine tree on the Red Trail at the south end of Lake Wintergreen that broke about 10 feet off the ground. Fortunately, only the crown fell on the trail, so a friend and I cleared it in a few minutes. The parking lot at Lake Wintergreen was fine with no evidence that anything had fallen, a change from the March storm when large limbs were in the parking lot. On the Red Trail between the two sections of Mountain Road, I cleared several small blowdowns (4 to 6 inch diameter trees).
There was a large red oak across the Yellow Trail near Baldwin Drive that a friend and I cleared. In the woods by the top of the Yellow Trail, a number of large oak trees also fell.
On Baldwin Drive, I cleared a medium sized maple and a moderate sized red oak, just south of the Yellow Trail (not pictured). The volunteer sawyer from CFPA cleared the other tree on May 31.  I cleared the crowns of two red oak trees near the north end of Baldwin Drive. The state cleared a large tree across the road, five miles up from the main entrance.
On the Regicides Trail north of Yellow, I cleared a medium sized oak tree, opened up a medium sized pine tree so people can at least climb over the trunk, and photographed several larger downed trees, all in a quarter mile section of trail, all but one of which was cleared on May 31. A volunteer sawyer with a chainsaw cleared the trees on May 31 and June 7.
Other volunteer sawyers worked on the Quinnipiac Trail during the first two weeks of June; I was not involved with that process.

A fallen tree blocks Baldwin Drive just north of the Yellow Trail, May 23, 2018. This was cleared on May 31.
The tree in the process of being cleared by a volunteer sawyer on May 31.
The road is now clear for bicyclists and hikers in this area.
A pine tree leans over the Regicides Trail, about a third of a mile north of the Yellow Trail, May 23, 2018.
This was cleared on May 31. This photo was taken June 7. Note that with the weight of the crown removed, the tree partially stood itself back up again.
A red oak trunk partially blocks the Regicides Trail, about a third of a mile north of the Yellow Trail, May 23, 2018.
The oak tree was cleared on May 31 and this photo was taken June 7.

A pine tree blocks the Regicides Trail, about a quarter a mile north of the Yellow Trail, May 23, 2018.
I cut away the limbs from the pine tree blocking the Regicides Trail, about 0.15 miles north of the Yellow Trail, allowing hikers to step over the left side. I had neither the time, nor the energy, nor the daylight to cut and remove the entire tree as it was nearing 8 p.m. on May 23, 2018. I also cut and removed and cedar tree felled by the pine tree. Just after I took this photo, I removed the dead hemlock beyond the pine tree.
The tree in the process of being cut, as seen from the other angle. The tree was cleared on May 31. Due to the rain that started falling when the work was completed, I do not have a photo of the cleared area, as I did not want to get my camera wet.
A double-trunked pine tree blocks the Regicides Trail, about a third of a mile north of the Yellow Trail, June 7, 2018.
A volunteer sawyer finishes a cut on the top trunk in this view from the opposite side of the tree. June 7, 2018.
The tree has been cleared as seen from the same direction as the first photo, June 7, 2018.

The crown of this red oak tree partially blocks the Regicides Trail, a bit south of the Purple-Orange Trail in June 2018. This moderate-sized blowdown is more typical of the damage at West Rock from the May thunderstorm.
I cleared the blowdown on June 12, 2018 in about 15 minutes with a handsaw, and used the pieces to block a rocky area above the trail, guiding hikers to stay on the trail.

Post-Northeaster Storm Damage Details
Prior to the May 15 thunderstorm, following about 10 visits to clear away fallen limbs and trees, these trails were all clear of blowdowns: Blue, Gold, Green, Orange, Purple (along with Purple-White and Purple-Orange), White, Red-White (by Farm Brook Reservoir and Lake Wintergreen), Blue-Red (Sanford Feeder), Blue-Yellow (Westville Feeder) and Teal.
There were numerous overhanging limbs and smaller fallen trees on the White Trail, along with fallen trees on the Purple-White and Purple Trails. Other trails were only lightly affected.
The storm hit hardest on the Red Trail section south of the northern junction with the White Trail down to Lake Wintergreen. Trees on the opposite site of Wintergreen Brook crashed down, as they were growing in the soft soil along the top of the bank. The worst section is from the Purple Trail north about 0.3 miles where there are numerous blowdowns.
The trail gnomes had cut away branches on some of the blowdowns to allow people to get through (Trail gnomes are small woodland creatures who come out at night to deal with small trail problems.) I cleared most of the overhanging limbs, cut back some of the smaller trunks, and opened up some of the larger blowdowns.Some of the fallen trees are hemlocks, which is particularly unfortunate because the hemlocks have been already devastated by the woolly adelgid, and the remaining ones don't need other forces destroying them.
A third of a mile north of the Purple Trail a large red oak almost completely blocks the trail. As it fell, it took down several smaller trees. I cleared away the smaller trees on the north side of the tree, but did not have the energy to clear away the trees on the south side of this blowdown. On a return visit, I opened up another hemlock tree by cutting the overhanging branches, and cut away a hemlock tree near the Purple Trail. I reported the Red Trail blowdowns to the state, which did open up the trail. Some trees were removed, while others were cut back. The trail is clear for users.

These photos are all following the March northeaster. Note to the lack of leaves on the trees.

This photo of a downed red oak tree on the Red Trail is after I spent 35 minutes clearing away smaller limbs on one side. The state cut this open, so the trail is accessible.

This photo of a downed hemlock tree on the Red Trail is after I opened up the limbs enough for people to walk under the tree. The state cleared this one.
The trail gnomes had cut away a couple of branches under this downed hemlock tree on the Red Trail enough for people to squeeze through the tree.
The hemlock tree on the Red Trail after I cut away many of the smaller branches, allowing easy access. The state cleared this one.

This blowdown was on the Red-White Trail by Lake Wintergreen. On March 8, I cut the branches hanging down to allow people to walk under the tree.
I returned on March 22 to cut the tree away from the trail. It was sad to have to cut such a vibrant looking tree, but it was rooted on thin soil and when it fell, most of the roots were pulled out of the ground, giving the tree a dim prospect for survival. Propped against the tree is a Silky Katanaboy 500, an impressive pruning saw that I was using for the first time.
This photo shows three problem trees on the White Trail near the junction with the Orange Trail. On March 8, a friend and I cut the birch tree on the right  sticking up at a 45 degree angle, which was knocked over onto the trail by the red pine tree lying across the trail. That same day, we cut the "horns" off the tree to allow people to more easily step over the fallen trunk. Crossing the entire trail at a 45 degree angle is a dead hemlock, leaning against another tree.

On March 22, I cut the red pine tree and rolled the trunk off the trail. I cut the hemlock at shoulder height and then threw another tree trunk at the cut. After they crashed to the ground, I cut up the larger tree and put the sections off the trail.

Download a West Rock map from the state website
Before heading out into the woods, be sure to download a map of West Rock from the state website. When I read negative comments about the park on websites like Trip Advisor and Yelp from people who have trouble finding their way, it is obvious they did not bring a map with them. 
Link for a full-color printable map:
Link to the GPS friendly map, which can be used on a smart phone:

DOT Plans for the West Rock (Heroes) Tunnel
The Department of Transportation (DOT) has hosted three community meetings regarding its plans for the West Rock (Heroes) Tunnel: Woodbridge in fall 2016,  New Haven in June 2017, and Hamden in Oct. 2017. The planning process continues with construction expected to start no earlier than 2022. The DOT has yet to settle on a "preferred option," but is advocating for a third tunnel, saying that the current tunnels would be difficult to improve without a major disruption to traffic flow. Although the governor has the tunnel project on a list of major projects the state does not have the funding to construct, the planning process continues with existing allocations.
The DOT has launched a dedicated website for the project, which includes links to historical plans and photos, and the 434-page report discussing the tunnel and the options for the future. The site also has a video link to the Hamden presentation, minutes from the meeting, and a copy of the PowerPoint presentation.
State website:
A full overview of the project details are available at this page:

Fall colors frame the West Rock Tunnel (Heroes Tunnel) in fall 2015.

Main Gate Open Weekends
The main gate on Wintergreen Avenue, leading to the South Overlook and Judges Cave, reopened on Saturday, May 26. The gate is daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. The other parking areas are readily available 8 a.m. to dusk with the nearest and best choice being the Lake Wintergreen parking lot, 40 Main St., Hamden.
     Complete parking information is available on this page: 

Many Updates to History Page
The state park started as West Rock Park, a city of New Haven park that dates to the late 1800s. Reports published in the yearly City of New Haven Year Books detail how the park was formed. This page has been greatly expanded in January 2018, and will continue to be expanded in the near future:
Trails reblazed, blowdowns cleared, invasives targeted in 2018

The year 2017 was another productive year on the trails at West Rock with most trails receiving a thorough pruning back, and a number of large blowdowns removed. The entire Westville Feeder was reblazed, as was most of the Regicides Trail and the White Trail. Many invasive plant species were pulled or cut, and plenty of trash was removed from the woods.

The Regicides Trail was reblazed from the South Overlook to the junction with the Red Trail near the Farm Brook Reservoir overlook. The remaining section of trail was reblazed in April and May 2018. The White Trail was reblazed, excepting certain portions north of the Purple Trail, which need to be relocated to higher and drier ground.

Invasive species were targeted on the Red Trail near Farm Brook Reservoir, along the Westville Feeder, on the Gold Trail near the water tank, on the Teal Trail near Amrhyn Field, along Baldwin Drive, and along Mountain Road. These include the autumn olive and winged euonymus shrubs, strangling bittersweet vines, and smothering Japanese knotweed.

The Teal Trail for a 0.2-mile section continues to be a horror show of invasives that show how these non-native plants can take over an ecosystem. Privet, used as a hedge in people’s yards, and Japanese honeysuckle, a vine, are the particular problems there. A busy day of pruning this during the summer made the trail manageable for the time being.

The Regional Water Authority did an extensive clearing project on its property around the water tank on the Gold Trail, which removed both native trees and invasive plants, particularly autumn olive. I would have preferred they left the trees in place because they were well back from the tank. They left stacks of logs and three piles of woodchips. Volunteers arranged these logs along the trail and spread the chips on the trail and in the woods.

A knotweed patch on Mountain Road near the Red Trail and another on Baldwin Drive continue to be targeted by repeated digging, pulling, and cutting, and show signs of weakening. Unfortunately, knotweed is spreading along the West River near Amrhyn Field. There is also a patch along Main Street near Calamus Meadow Road that will need to be attacked in 2018.

The steady rains in spring 2018 led to an explosion of growth that narrowed some trails, making them almost impassable before they were cut back, especially the Red Trail north of Lake Wintergreen, and along Farm Brook Reservoir. Most of the overgrowth was caused by invasive plant species.

Large oak and hemlock trees across the trail were cleared along the Westville Feeder, on several sections of the Regicides Trail, and on the Red Trail above Farm Brook Reservoir. An ash tree and a birch tree blocking Baldwin Drive were removed.

With the demise of ash trees at the mandibles of the emerald ash borer, ash trees will continue to fall across the trails for the next couple of years. An unfortunate sight at West Rock is the multiple dead and dying mountain laurel, perhaps a casualty of two years of drought (excepting a rainy spring in 2017).

The woods at West Rock continue to become cleaner. A total of 51 five-gallon plastic buckets of bottles, cans and wrappers were removed from the woods, which was a mixture of historic trash along Baldwin Drive, and modern trash left behind by thoughtless people.

Problem spots are the parking lots at Lake Wintergreen and Hill Street, and the fishing spots along Lake Wintergreen and Farm Brook Reservoir. With the road to the South Overlook and Judges Cave open only on weekends, there was noticeably less trash in these locations.

The Regicides Trail overlook of Lake Dawson was clearly a party spot when Baldwin Drive was open to traffic through the 1970s. After multiple visits, there is much less broken glass on the rocks and in the soil, but more continues to work its way to the top.

These large items were also removed from the woods: a car rim, two tires, a torque converter, three car batteries, a car water pump, a rear seat to a car, a small safe, a pile of fabric, a plastic skylight, a wire basket garbage can, and a fish tank. Also an encampment was cleared out, including a sleeping bag, tent, tarp, and lots of bottles and cans.

Finally, I had hoped to find a viable route for a trail from the Bishop Estate and Darling House property in Woodbridge up to the Regicides Trail. Currently, the only official trail is the Blue-Yellow blazed North Summit Trail that connects the Darling House trails to the Regicides Trail and the Purple Trail at West Rock.

Having a second trail is desirable because it would allow for loop hikes from the Darling House. There is an unofficial Yellow Square trail from the Darling House property, but it crosses private property. Woodbridge attempted to purchase this property in 2016, but the seller wanted $300,000 for land that is appraised at $200,000. Woodbridge is attempting to get permission to use this trail.

Three scouting trips with a fellow hiker and we encountered the same scenario regardless of where we walked along the ridge where the Woodbridge property backs directly onto the state park. The lower section is a mild rock scramble with generally good footing. The middle section is steep with slippery dirt and loose rocks, resulting in unsafe footing. Near the top is a cliff with steep notches to climb to the Regicides Trail. None of these areas are suitable for creating a trail that is both safe and sustainable. The long-term hope is that Woodbridge or the state can purchase this private property and legalize that yellow trail.

All this work took lots of volunteer efforts. I put in 187 hours, which is my second highest total since I started volunteering in 2008, and others volunteered a cumulative 96 hours. Since 2008, I have volunteered 1,261 hours at the park, and others have provided 751 hours of service.

Goals for 2018 include reblazing the Red Trail and the Green Trail, and hopefully completing the relocation of the White Trail out of the low, muddy areas. There will be ongoing efforts to fight the invasive plants, especially Japanese knotweed.

* The largest state park by area is Macedonia Brook State Park in Kent with 2,302 acres. Sleeping Giant is third in size for state parks with 1,673 acres of property. Gay City places fourth in size with 1,569 acres. 
All these state parks are dwarfed Pachaug State Forest in northeastern Connecticut with 28,804 acres, Cockaponset State Forest with 17,186 acres divided among multiple properties in eastern Connecticut, Centennial Watershed State Forest spread over 15,370 acres of current and former watershed land in Fairfield County, Housatonic Meadows in Litchfield County with 10,894 acres, and Meshomasic State Forest, east of the Connecticut River with 9,026 acres.
There are numerous other state forests larger than any state park.

The state of Connecticut continues to add land to West Rock Ridge as it comes on the market (or is donated) and as funds are available for purchase. The legislation that created the park legally requires homeowners within the park's legal boundaries to give the state a right of first refusal for purchase.

What is the difference between a state forest and a state park? There are two basic differences. The state actively manages state forests for both lumber and habitat, cutting areas of trees on a regular basis. The state also allows hunting in state forests, except where they are close to roads and buildings. Hunting is generally prohibited in state parks. One exception is a limited deer hunting season at Collis P. Huntington State Park in Redding/Bethel. The park name is a coincidence, as it was named for its wealthy donor.