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Saturday, August 18, 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 Saturday, Aug. 18, 2018.)

The photo at the top shows a view west from midway up the Red Trail en route to the South Overlook. The rock formation adjacent to the Southern Connecticut State University parking garage is Pine Rock, a small trap rock ridge that was heavily quarried in the past. Hidden by the trees is the former Hamden landfill, which is now topped with solar panels. In the distance, naturally is Sleeping Giant State Park, and to the left of the giant's head, faintly visible, is the Quinnipiac University York Hill Campus, which included its sports complex. 

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.
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. Since the maintainers who are opening the gate are driving over from the office at Sleeping Giant, the gate may not be open until 8:15 to 8:20 in the morning.
     Complete parking information is available on this page: http://westrocktrails.blogspot.com/p/west-rock-parking-and-vehicle-access.html

Nor'easter Storm Damage, March 7, 2018
Thunderstorm Damage, May 15, 2018
I created a new page effective July 9, 2018 to detail the storm damage from March and May 2018. The good news is that the storm damage has been cleared from West Rock
The page is called West Rock Storm Damage and may be accessed by clicking this link: https://westrocktrails.blogspot.com/p/storm-damage-at-west-rock.html

The Sleeping Giant Park Association has photos of the damage to Sleeping Giant with some 300 trees down, plus progress on the cleanup: https://www.facebook.com/Sleeping-Giant-Park-Association-SGPA-Official-Site-124405787638472/
Sleeping Giant State Park and Wharton Brook State Park are still closed, as of this writing, Aug. 18, 2018. Check the state website for updates: http://www.ct.gov/deep/site/default.asp

For those looking for a sense of the storm damage at Sleeping Giant, go 3 miles west from the state park to the Quinnipiac Trail between Downs Road in Hamden and Brooks Road in Bethany, which was also in direct line of the May 15 tornado and microburst. Another heavily affected area was Downs Road, between Hoadley Road in Bethany, and Gaylord Mountain Road in Hamden. This area is 1.5 miles northwest of the northern boundary of the main part of West Rock, showing how close the park was to being directly affected by the storm.
I hiked this area with friends on Thursday, July 26 to see how the Quinnipiac Trail was doing, as volunteers and staff from the Connecticut Forest and Park Association had cleared much of the damage, but still had work to do in the powerlines area. Since that time, the volunteers returned to clear the rest of the damage, an impressive effort.
In the cleared areas, piles of logs through cut trees showed the damage, while in the other areas, we navigated over tree trunks, under downed tree crowns, and around the base of toppled trees with root balls standing taller than us. We eventually gave up navigating the maze and used the tree-less powerline area to reconnect to the trail south of the powerlines where it had been cleared. After crossing Brooks Road, we hiked up the Quinnipiac Trail to the overlook from the shoulder of York Mountain, passing through an area where I had seen about 15 blowdowns on June 2. This area was cleared later in June.
On the way back, we decided to walk Brooks Road to Carmel Road to Downs Road, not wanting to navigate the Quinnipiac Trail. However, the damage along Downs Road across Regional Water Authority property between two sets of gates, was even worse. Oak trees as large as two feet in diameter completely blocked the road. In some sections, the trees were lined up like patients in a sick ward, with enough roots attached to the ground that they still had leaves.
I contacted the RWA about its plans to harvest the logs from this area, and said they have a priority list across their properties and there are no immediate plans to log this area, as they are harvesting trees on other properties. I hope they can make good use of the logs, rather than seeing them rot away.
The conclusion is that even if the state opened Sleeping Giant to public use before all the trails were cleared, it would not be a fun experience. For even the most enthusiastic hiker, after a while, it becomes tedious to navigate around yet another set of downed trees. If you want to get a sense of the damage, park near the cul-de-sac for Downs Road and follow the road. You won't get far before you have to either turn back or navigate around the downed trees.
As of Aug. 4, the Quinnipiac Trail should be passable between Downs Road south to Brooks Road, and then is clear from Brooks Road over to Whitney Avenue.
This video that a friend shot on that day catalogs the damage: https://photos.app.goo.gl/mNQ6ijQRRsxFpvnr6

A sign for the Quinnipiac Trail at the Downs Road trailhead warns of trail damage, July 26, 2018. The sign has since been removed, since the trail is now clear.
 
Snapped trees are visible to the west from the dirt portion of Downs Road, between Hoadley Road and Gaylord Mountain Road, July 26, 2018.
An unrooted tree along the Quinnipiac Trail, 0.6 miles south of the Downs Road trailhead, with cleared trees visible ahead, July 26, 2018.

Just off the Quinnipiac Trail, 0.8 miles south of the Downs Road trailhead, a line of trees lies down on the grown, July 26, 2018.

Snapped and uprooted trees are visible from an uncleared section of the Quinnipiac Trail, 0.9 miles south of the Downs Road trailhead, July 26, 2018. The trail is now passable in this area.

Piles of cut logs line the Quinnipiac Trail, 0.1 miles east of Brooks Road, July 28, 2018.
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: http://www.ct.gov/deep/lib/deep/stateparks/maps/westrockparkmap.pdf
Link to the GPS friendly map, which can be used on a smart phone: http://www.ct.gov/deep/lib/deep/stateparks/maps/westrockgps.pdf

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. Engineers are currently working on the environmental survey.
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: http://www.heroestunnelproject.com/index.php
A full overview of the project details are available at this page: http://westrocktrails.blogspot.com/p/west-rock-tunnel.html

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

Catfish Stocked at Lake Wintergreen
The DEEP announced on May 24, 2018 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: http://www.ct.gov/deep/cwp/view.asp?A=4965&Q=602886

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: http://westrocktrails.blogspot.com/p/a-window-back-through-time.html
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 Red Trail reblazing started on July 9, 2018, reblazing from the South Overlook to Lake Wintergreen. The Green Trail was reblazed on July 9, 2018.

State Parks by Size
* 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.