Vega State Park is a public recreation area located on U.S. Route 441 in the towns of Windham and Chaplin, Connecticut. The state park’s 754 acres (306ha) include forested hills, open meadows, ponds, and wetland. It is managed by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
Vega State Park offers opportunities for hiking, including an extensive network of trails around Lake Chaplin, which has been stocked with trout since 1965. Other trail connections are available to Mount Chaplain State Forest, Wooster Mountain State Park, and Sunken Meadow State Park. A bike path along the shoreline of Lake Chaplin allows bikers access to watercraft rentals at the beach. There is also a canoe/kayak rental facility on site.
The park includes two large fields designated as official “parklets” where soccer games can be held during summer months. Canoeing and kayaking are offered by private vendors on both lakes. Fishing licenses are required and are available from the fish commission. Cross-country skis and snowmobiles are permitted only on certain parts of the park grounds. Official ski and snowmobile areas have been established and maintained by the parks department. These ski runs connect to nearby Mount Chaplain State Forest and Wooster Mountain State Park. Campsites range from rustic to modern, and there is one equestrian campground. Each campsite comes equipped with electric hookups and some sites feature tent pads and picnic tables. Modern restrooms facilities are provided at all three campgrounds. Two camping areas provide hot showers, while the equestrian campground features flush toilets and cold running water.
The park hosts many events throughout the year, including music festivals, parades, fairs, holiday events, and other special activities. Events scheduled for 2022 include the first New England International Auto Festival, the second annual World Music & Dance Festival, and the 50 States Quilt Show. The park’s fieldstone building houses offices, the Parks and Recreation Department, the Fish and Game Commission, the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, and other support staff. Located within the park headquarters is the Vega Observatory, operated by amateur astronomer Eric W. Barber. Vega Observatory hosts public star parties in summer months and provides astronomy programs for youth groups, schools, and organizations.
Vega State Park is home to the New England Collegiate School, a college prep school. The park is crossed by the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak’s main line from Boston to New York, on a right-of-way first chartered in 1848 by the New Haven and New London Railroad. This rail line served passenger trains until 1958, when it was replaced by diesel service. Remnants of the railroad tracks may still be seen crossing the park grounds. The right-of-way was transferred to Conrail in 1976, then to the Metro North Railroad in 1984 before being abandoned entirely in 1987. The state took possession of the track bed in 1991, using it to create what would become the longest undeveloped rail trail in America.
When complete, this 11-mile (18km) route will allow hikers, cyclists, and skiers to travel between Hartford and New York without ever having to step onto a train or bus. Construction continues apace, with the 12 miles (19km) from East Berlin to Glastonbury covered already. Anglers may rent rods and reels from the park office, but no bait is allowed. Hunting is not permitted at Vega State Park, although hunters may use the adjacent Mount Chaplain State Forest lands to reach game animals that roam outside the park boundaries. Bait and tackle are available for sale near the park lodge.
Vega State Park has four marked hiking trails, totaling about 21 miles (34km). All trails start and end near the parking lot, with loops ranging in length from .3 miles (.5km) to 5.6 miles (8.9km).
- The Long Trail, which starts in Vermont, makes its way through Mount Chaplain State Forest and connects to the Green Trail, which ends in Massachusetts.
- The 3.2-mile (5.1km) Burrows Trail passes under the Interstate 95 bridge spanning the Thames River, making its way past Lake Chaplin and through dense rhododendron bushes that bloom from mid-June through mid-July.
- The 0.7-mile (1.1km) Pink Trail stays close to Lake Chaplin, winding past the swimming beach and ending at a scenic overlook.
- The 1.4-mile (2.3km) Red Trail leads away from Lake Chaplin, climbing steeply up Mt. Chaplain Ridge toward Wooster Mountain State Park. On clear days, views extend well beyond the park limits, out across the Sakonnet Reservoir and eastward to the mountains surrounding Bristol.
The park’s 2.0-mile (3.2km) bicycle path forms part of the proposed Capital to Coast Cycle Route, connecting the Blackledge Trail in Middletown with Montpelier, Vermont. The path begins at the parking lot next to the golf course. A separate section of path, approximately half the distance, is accessible via a ramp from the road shoulder. The remainder of the path must be traveled on roads shared by motor vehicles and pedestrians. The path is mostly gravel, with some asphalt paving, and winds through woods, passing farms, mills, sawmills, and villages. At least seven bridges carry you over active railroad lines, remnants of the New Haven and New London Railroad, now defunct. One such trestle spans the Chaplin Branch of the Naugatuck Railroad, which climbs a 1,900-foot (580 m) mountain.
Another railway once connected Middlefield to Pittsfield, but now uses the branch line off of the Katrine Avenue Rail Station in Hadley. Still another former railroad spur ran from Milford west to Bradley University, serving as the primary means of transportation for thousands of students each day. That branch line became the core of the MBTA’s Green Line, which operates from northbound stops in central Milford to southbound stops in Easton, where it meets the rest of the system. Parts of the path run alongside the current right-of-way of the MBTA’s Orange Line, which parallels the old railroad spur from Oldtown to Foxboro, stopping at Braintree, then continuing through Milton, Reading, and finally reaching its eastern terminus in the heart of downtown Boston.
The path roughly follows the course of the former railroad spur, though it does not exactly duplicate it. For example, the original had several level crossings, but the new path goes around most of these, following the contours of the ground instead of riding on top of them. The new path intersects the old path just shy of Dudley Street in Easton, where it turns sharply left and heads due to the presence of the hill known as Sloperton Hill, which blocks further progress down the Mystic Valley Parkway.
In the early 19th century, the land was owned by Jonathan Clark, who built a farmhouse here that still stands. After his death, the property passed to Edwin Lanthrop, whose family used the estate as a dairy farm until 1956, when it fell into disrepair. Twenty years later, the state acquired the property with funds provided by the Land and Water Conservation Fund; additional acreage was added to bring the total to its present size of 754 acres.
Vega State Park offer opportunities for:
- cross-country skiing