Lovers Leap State Park is a state park in the town of Easton, Connecticut. The park’s main feature, known as Lover’s Leap, stands at 400 feet (120m) above Lake Compounce and stretches for nearly 1 mile (1.6km). It was named after an area on the northeast portion of its summit called Leap Hill.
The park offers views of the lake and surrounding mountains including Bear Mountain, Canaan Mountain, and Buzzard’s Nose. In addition to hiking, the park features picnicking facilities and access to miles of cross-country skiing trails during winter. Lovers Leap State Park is located near the southeast corner of Lake Compounce, one of the world’s largest artificial lakes. Its shoreline measures more than thirty miles (50km), and it has more than 200 miles (320km) of paved roads and parking areas.
Lover’s Leap State Park is named after an iconic natural arch found on the northeastern slope of the mountain top. This unique geological formation consists of horizontal limestone strata topped by a vertical shaft of quartzite, which pierce through five hundred million year old bedrock without reaching the surface. Although no longer extant, the original formation can still be seen within the park. Atop the pinnacle sits a small temple constructed by members of the Ancient Order of Druids, a fraternal organization similar to the Masons. The structure is built from stone quarried locally and features a pitched roof and walls standing up to four feet high.
There are cracks in the foundation and stones missing from the wall buttresses due to erosion over the years, but the building itself appears sound. Erosion-resistant sandstone beneath the limestone cap protects the underlying rock from further deterioration. Within this protective layer, geologists have discovered fossils dating back to the Devonian period, between 417 and 395 million years ago. Fossils unearthed in the park include crinoids, brachiopods, bryozoans, and trilobites. Evidence suggests that the land forming today’s Lover’s Leap was once covered by an inland sea sometime around the Silurian period, about 470 million years ago.
During the Cambrian era, approximately 530 million years ago, most of what became New England was created by volcanic activity. Beneath the granite and gneiss of northern Connecticut, geologists have uncovered a vast array of minerals including garnet, hematite, muscovite, jasper, szomolnokite, and many others. These igneous rocks formed deep under the earth’s crust, where temperatures remain constant at about 375 degrees Fahrenheit (190 degrees Celsius). Metamorphosed sediments such as shale, sandstone, and coal lie atop the granite and gneiss, but below the level of the Cambrian sedimentation.
Near the surface, these metamorphic rocks give way to Paleozoic sedimentary deposits, which are present along the eastern flank of the peak in a section called the Poppasquash Formation. One of the better-known fossil sites in the park is the Willoughby Site, named after paleontologist Charles Willoughby who first described it in 1876. Located just east of the summit, the site contains hundreds of specimens of ferns, fish, amphibians, dinosaurs, birds, mammals, and other creatures. Fossils found at the site provide evidence for the theory of evolution and demonstrate how life forms gradually changed over the course of millennia. Fossils from the site were among those studied by geologists working on the Mount Holyoke Range, part of the Metacomet Ridge, which stretches from Long Island Sound to the Vermont border. They revealed that ancient mountaintops were forested like modern day ones, though dominated by pine trees rather than oak.
Geologists believe that the ancient forests grew in an environment very similar to their modern counterparts, although perhaps less diverse and lacking the hardwood trees now common in southern regions of North America. The forests were impacted heavily by wildfire, which burned almost every tree twice or three times before the end of the Pleistocene epoch, about 14,500 years ago. However, some ancient woodland survived intact, providing a habitat for white-tail deer, groundhogs, skunks, and turkeys.
The surviving vegetation was also affected by acid rain, which stripped the bark off maple trees and caused havoc with the ecosystem of the forest floor. About 11,000 years ago the climate began to warm slightly, allowing deciduous trees such as the white pine, eastern hemlock, and American elm to survive in greater numbers. Between 9,000 and 8,000 BCE Native Americans arrived in the region, settling into villages based at least partially on agriculture. Their descendants lived in wigwams made of light-weight material, hunted, fished, and gathered wild plants. By 2,000 CE the population of the Peabody Hills area had increased substantially, primarily due to the success of farming.
Archeological evidence indicates that native populations of deer thrived in the region until about 1660 CE, when settlers introduced livestock and the associated predators, hunters, who followed soon afterwards. Records show that livestock production continued steadily throughout the 17th century, with herds of cattle, sheep, goats, swine, and poultry being kept on farms. The demand for lumber reached northern Connecticut in the mid-19th century, prompting lumbermen to cut down all the old-growth trees, stripping the hillsides bare. Nearly two thirds of the old growth trees were gone by 1920, harvested for lumber or charcoal. Little did anyone know that the forests would grow back so quickly, and in such great quantity. In only sixty years the hills were completely covered by young saplings, some of them already bearing the marks of sawmill machinery.
Today these mill tracks scar the landscape, visible even to visitors walking the grounds of the former mills. The rapid regrowth of the forests caught the attention of conservationists, who teamed together to create Lovers Leap State Park in 1949. Initially managed by the state’s Department of Forests and Waters, the park was transferred to the jurisdiction of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection in 1957. Trails lead to Lover’s Leap, the park’s signature feature, which is accessible via elevator and provides views of Lake Compounce and the adjacent countryside.
Other scenic vistas may be accessed by climbing to the top of Canaan Mountain or Bear Mountain. The park includes a campground with tent and trailer sites, picnic facilities, and playgrounds. Parking is available seasonally, with daily permits required for vehicles entering the park after September 15. Daily vehicle entrance fees are $8/car.
The park is managed by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. On April 21, 2011, a massive thunderstorm with straight-line winds came through the region, causing severe damage to the park. As a result of this incident, the park remained closed until June 26, 2012 when officials announced that they would be reopening the park “with enhanced security” because there had been “a significant increase in vandalism.” A second major incident occurred on July 19, 2013, resulting in damage. Once again, the park was closed, but this time it stayed closed longer, not reopening until October 23, 2014. Despite these incidents, the park remains open and has become much safer since it was established in 1949.
The park offers opportunities for:
- horseback riding
- cross-country skiing
The forests were home to a variety of wildlife, including:
Birds observed included:
- herring gulls
- bald eagles
- red-tailed hawks