A couple months ago, I spent some time discussing the parks along the western half of the Connecticut shoreline. Well, today it’s time to focus on the eastern half, using the city of New Haven as the dividing line. This selection of parks includes two old forts, a beautiful mansion and gardens, and what is – in my opinion – the best coastal park in the state!
1. Fort Griswold Battlefield State Park – Groton, CT
2. Fort Trumbull State Park – New London, CT
Located on opposite sides of the Thames River (the Connecticut version is pronounced ‘THAYmz’… yes, I know, it sounds dumb), just where it flows into Long Island Sound, these two state parks preserve forts first built in the Revolutionary War era. Fort Griswold is on the eastern side of the river and Fort Trumbull is on the west. Both were attacked when Benedict Arnold and his men unleashed a massacre in 1781, killing over 50% of the men stationed at these two forts, including Colonel William Ledyard who surrendered and was subsequently stabbed by his own sword.
Fort Trumbull fell first, and the men retreated across the river to Fort Griswold, which was also eventually taken. The British suffered quite a few casualties as well before a truce was called approximately forty minutes after initiation of the battle. The town of New London was also set on fire as part of the massacre and was almost completely burned to the ground.
Today, the earthen Fort Griswold still remains, in addition to a small museum, monument, and the Ebenezer Avery House, which housed the injured men following the massacre. The museum and monument are free but have limited hours. Fortunately for us, both were open when we visited.
Across the river, the Fort Trumbull we see today is the third iteration of the fort; it was built in the mid-1800s as part of a plan to fortify the US’s eastern coast. In the past, it has been home to the Coast Guard and Naval Research facilities. The museum at this fort charges an entry fee; a fee that’s well worth it because it’s extremely in-depth and includes a detailed history of underwater research and technology. We learned all about the various marine and submarine technologies used by the Navy during WWI and WWII; it was fascinating!
3. Harkness Memorial State Park – Waterford, CT
This park is one of the most coveted wedding venues in the state, and it’s easy to see why. Home to the mansion Eolia, with its crystal chandeliers, sprawling gardens, and expansive views, Harkness Memorial State Park is a beautiful destination. On the day Pat and I visited, we weren’t able to go inside (I believe they were actually setting up for a wedding) but we could peek in through the windows, wander through the gardens, and walk along the coastline, enjoying the summer breeze in our faces and the crashing of the waves against the shore.
4. Bluff Point/Haley Farm State Parks – Groton, CT
Bluff Point and Haley Farm are small state parks that require some hiking to reach the waterfront, making this one of the least crowded areas along the entire shoreline. For this reason, it’s also my favorite coastal park.
The Haley Farm dates back to the 1600s and there have been many owners throughout the years, including one who built miles of stone walls throughout the property. The area is now largely just open space designed for walking and biking. Trails connect it to Bluff Point, for those looking for a longer walk (I’ve done this, and it’s a nice easy hike).
Bluff Point State Park and Nature Reserve covers the entirety of the peninsula between the mouth of the Poquonnock River and Mumford Cove. The state park itself is a small portion of the land, with most of it being protected as part of the nature reserve. The beaches are absolutely covered in seashells, and a 2-mile loop trail leads all the way out to Bluff Point, a rocky high point with views all the way to Long Island on a clear day!
Well, this marks the end of my Connecticut State Parks series. But, 7 posts later, I’ve finally made it through all 35 state parks that I managed to visit in my 6 years living in the state. I guess that’s one of the benefits to living in such a small place. I spent 18 years in Montana and I’ve probably only been to 5 or 6 state parks, because it’s such a large state that simply getting to most of the parks requires more than just a day trip. Meanwhile, nothing in Connecticut is ever more than about 2 hours away.
For such a small state, Connecticut has set aside a surprisingly large amount of land to be protected, and I’m glad that it’s preserved and that it afforded me the opportunity to explore the place I called home for 6 years.
To read all six previous posts in the series, click here.