West Rock Ridge

Location

Hamden, Bethany, Woodbridge, and New Haven, CT

Anchor Site(s)

West Rock Ridge State Park

About the Site

Nearly seven-miles long and rising 700 feet above sea level, West Rock Ridge State Park offers unparalleled views of the greater New Haven landscape and Long Island Sound. This steeply-sloped area is part of a series of basalt traprock ridges collectively referred to as the Metacomet Ridge, which extends from Long Island Sound to the Holyoke Range in Massachusetts. The park is the site for over a century of scientific research. In addition to hosting rare plants and habitat for a diversity of birds, it offers extraordinary nature-based recreational opportunities.

Georgia Basso, formerly with USFWS and a Liaison to the Long Island Sound Study, and Thomas Ebersold, a West Rock Ridge volunteer, discuss the unique stewardship area located in New Haven, CT. West Rock Ridge is home to hundreds of bird species, rare plants, and other wildlife. 

Melissa Spear, executive director of the Common Ground Environmental Educational Center, and counselors and campers of the Common Ground Summer Camp describe the joys of exploring the outdoors at West Rock Ridge Stewardship Area in New Haven.

Ecological Importance
  • The ridge at West Rock is a special type basalt rock called diabase because it hardened underground as magma. This term is derived from the rock’s stair-like appearance, clearly visible on the western slope. 
  • The rock dislodged from the slope is called talus. It piles at the base providing good cover for small mammals and reptiles.
  • West Rock’s gently sloped eastern side is referred to as a dip slope.
  • The summit supports an uncommon ridge top plant community dominated by hickory with a sedge understory. On the upper dip slope, shallow bedrock outcrops create open woods with red cedar and an understory of little bluestem grass. Downy arrowwood is one of the rare plants that grows in this habitat.
  • The rocky talus areas at the toe of the western slope collect organic matter creating rich soil. Some of the uncommon plants here are American bladdernut, round-leaved dogwood, and jack-in-the-pulpit.
  • West Rock Ridge hosts 230 species of birds, the highest percentage of breeding birds and the second-highest concentration of rare species of any Connecticut state park.
Recreational Opportunities
  • Look for one of the park’s four vernal pools when exploring West Rock in the spring. Vernal pools are natural depressions in the landscape that are dry most of the year but fill with water each spring. They provide critical habitat for amphibians.
  • Hike the extensive trail system suitable for varying skill levels. Many of the trails offer stunning views of New Haven Harbor and Long Island Sound. Print and bring a convenient one-page trail map.
  • Explore Judges Cave, off the Regicides Trail, where two British judges famously fled prosecution after the English Civil War in the 17th century.
  • The City of New Haven operates the 43-acre West Rock Nature Center, at 1134 Wintergreen Ave., New Haven, which has hiking trails along Wintergreen Brook. Wintergreen Gorge and Wintergreen Falls are a feature of the property.
  • Join geocaching.com and explore the geology of West Rock by taking the West Rock Ridge EarthCache quiz.
Dive Deeper
  • West Rock Ridge Park Association: The West Rock Ridge Park Association was founded in 1974 to ensure the site’s preservation. Its web page features a historical overview of the park’s formation, the association’s mission for conservation, and an overview of West Rock’s ecological significance.
  • West Rock Plants: The Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History maintains an on-line inventory of plants at West Rock. 
  • Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership: In 2013, US Fish and Wildlife Service designated a number of urban parks south of the Stewardship Area to New Haven Harbor as an Urban Wildlife Refuge.
Places to Visit
  • Sleeping Giant State Park consists of two miles of mountaintop. Resembling a large man lying in repose, the “sleeping giant” is a popular feature of the south-central Connecticut skyline.
  • East Rock Park, owned by the city of New Haven, includes hiking trails, views of Long Island Sound, a rose garden and greenhouse, and the Trowbridge Environmental Center.
  • Visit the Naugatuck State Forest at the Quillinan Reservoir for hiking paths, fishing, biking, and other recreational activities.  
  • Brooksvale Park in Hamden has a small farm with an organic garden and a barnyard. Check out their events page to learn about seasonal happenings. 
Get Involved/Events
  • The West Rock Trails website is a great practical resource for visitors interested in all aspects of West Rock Ridge, including recreational opportunities, geological and historical information, and detailed information on trails. The website was created by a volunteer who maintains the trails and has firsthand experience of this Stewardship Site. 
  • The Menunkatuck Audubon Society provides useful background on West Rock Ridge State Park, particularly regarding what birds to expect to sight and how they might be recognized. It also provides driving directions and a useful Google map feature.
  • The Ansonia Nature Center offers a variety of different programs and events, including junior ranger after school programs, gardening classes, and more. 
Field Notes
  • Refer to West Rock Trails for ideas and advice on hiking through the ridge, and other recreational activities.
  • West Rock Ridge State Park has no entry fees but closes to the public at sunset.
Credits
  • New Haven Harbor Watershed Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership. Longislandsoundstudy.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/NewHavenHarborWatershed.pdf. US Fish and Wildlife Service. Web. July 12, 2021.  
  • West Rock Ridge Park Association. Westrockpark.wordpress.com/. West Rock Ridge Park Association. Web. July 12, 2021.  
  • Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. Collections.peabody.yale.edu/search/Search/. Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. Web. July 12, 2021. 

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