Stoddard Hill State Park is a state park in the town of Easton, Connecticut. The park’s 1,078 acres (430ha) include forested hills and valleys, open meadows, wetlands, ponds, rolling fields, and bedrock bluffs overlooking Long Island Sound.
The wooded area hosts one of the nation’s largest urban tree farms which provides lumberjacks, city dwellers, and others with fresh cut Christmas trees each December. Other projects under way at the time included installing solar panels on the farmhouse, expanding parking facilities, establishing a campground, and building miles of footpaths and trails. Although these goals were admirable, they did not address some of the most pressing issues facing the park, including hazardous waste management and shoreline erosion.
After years of deferred maintenance and increasing vandalism, the state decided to close the park in June 2003, citing dangerous conditions and structural concerns about the aging farmhouse. Following two unsuccessful attempts to reopen the park, the state sold 387 acres to real estate developer Stephen Cheetham for $2 million in October 2006. Planning for the future development of the site began soon thereafter. On May 15, 2007, construction crews from Wissler Construction Company broke ground on what was then named Project 70 Land Trust.
Named after the state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s number for reporting hazardous materials spills, the project aimed to transform 40 acres of contaminated land into a new park entrance, parking lot, picnic areas, and roads. Two months later, the work was finished and the park reopened. Despite its name, the project only created an access road and parking lot; no infrastructure improvements were made to the park itself. Another $3.6 million in funding was allotted to the park in 2010, part of a larger $7.1 billion budget surplus announced by Governor Malloy.
Work started in 2011 on a multi-phase improvement program designed to increase accessibility at the park, update outdated amenities, and preserve habitat for endangered species. Phase I focused on improving parking, walking paths, and shelters while Phases II and III tackled camping loops, group campsites, and cabins. Budgetary constraints forced officials to scale back the plans for the second phase, ultimately deciding to build only a small parking lot and walkway. Nevertheless, work continued apace, with crews clearing vegetation, moving earth, and installing utilities. By late summer 2012, more than 200 trees had been planted, representing over 50 different species.
The park offers nearly 30 miles (48km) of marked trails, 10 miles of which are dedicated specifically to mountain biking. These range from easy, flat routes to difficult technical sections requiring split-second decision making. Bicyclists may encounter moose, although sightings are rare. The park includes a boat launch, canoe rentals, and a food concession. There is a separate bike path leading out of the park to the Taconic State Parkway, but traffic on the latter route makes regular use of the former less attractive. The park contains four main entrances, each with parking, restrooms, and playground facilities. The central location allows visitors to easily enter the park from almost any direction.
The campground opens on Memorial Day weekend and closes Columbus Day weekend. It has 140 sites, 90 with electrical hookups, modern showerhouses and rest rooms, water, and a dump station. Advance campsite reservations can be booked through Reserve America. Group Camp is available during the week of Labor Day, offering space for 20 people in a rustic environment. Seven guest cabins built in the 1950s near Lake Compounce were purchased by the state in 2001 and converted into fully equipped vacation homes. Each cabin sleeps six guests in three bedrooms. Modern kitchens feature granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, and windows that open onto scenic views of the parkland and lake. Outdoors, there is a fire ring and picnic table per site.
There is a beach on the lake just outside the park gates, which leads to a boardwalk where you can go on to the connected South Audubon Trail. The South Audubon Trail is a paved 0.5-mile loop around the perimeter of the park, featuring educational markers along the way. It is considered a low intensity trail, suitable for all ages and fitness levels. Dogs are permitted throughout the park, and bikes are allowed, but must remain within the park. The park’s nature center offers natural history exhibits, presentations, workshops, and events for children and adults. Programs focus on conservation, recycling, composting, wildlife observation, native plants, and seasonal astronomy.
The center is located inside the park office building. The park has many picnic tables and grills scattered throughout, as well as play areas for children. There is a separate picnic pavilion accommodating up to 60 people. Picnic tables accommodate up to eight people and have hot showers nearby. Half of the picnic tables are sunny and half are shaded. There are seven mounds in the park, ranging from average size to very tall, with burial artifacts found on five of them.
One particular mound, known as Mound 7, is designated as a protected archeological landmark. Mounds are maintained by the Friends of Mounds organization, a nonprofit volunteer group. They are currently being excavated by Dr. Gary Tenen, assistant professor in the Departments of Anthropology and History at Quinnipiac University, who hopes to begin excavation again next spring. There are approximately 100 bird species that frequent the park, both migrant and resident.
Stoddard Hill State Park was once owned by industrialist Louis D. Conley who bequeathed it to the state upon his death in 1929. His will specified that “the said property shall not become a public park until after my death.” This provision has been ignored, however, and since 1933 the park has been managed as a publicly accessible resource.
In 1996, Hurricane Eve left 347 trees downed across the park. A year later, volunteers led by environmental educator Terry Blunt came up with an ingenious plan to replace the trees through citizen forestry. An initial planting of white pine, red pine, eastern hemlock, and black spruce took place on what would have otherwise been a barren hillside.
While still officially unnamed, locals commonly refer to it as the Audubon Society Preserve or Audubon Woods due to the large number of birds observed there. Its official dedication was held on September 5, 2013, coinciding with National Public Lands Day. Audubon Woods features prominently in Richard Ford’s novel The Sportswriter, serving as the setting for much of the action. It also serves as the home field for Yale University’s varsity crew team, whose members frequently practice rowing there when the weather does not permit on the Thames River.
Other activities inlcude:
- cross-country skiing
- other typical outdoor recreational activities
Hikers can expect to see:
- blue herons
- purple martins
- pileated woodpeckers
- bald eagles
- owls such as:
- barred owls
- saw-whet owls
- horned owls
- wild turkeys
- Canada geese
Commonly seen migrants include:
- double-crested cormorants
- common terns
- spotted sandpipers
- Wilson’s snipes
- American oystercatchers
Year-round residents include:
- ruddy turnstones
- yellow-bellied marmots
- striped skunks
- river otters