The Connecticut River has changed course numerous times since its creation 10,000 years ago when it formed at the end of the last Ice Age. One of its more recent course corrections happened in 1854 when a great flood turned Selden Neck into the largest island along the 410-mile-long New England waterway.
But you won’t need a boat to see the 600-acre island now known as Selden Neck State Park, only a trip to The Nature Conservancy’s Selden Creek Preserve in the Hadlyme section of Lyme. Selden Creek is part of a trifecta of preserves owned by the conservancy and the Lyme Land Conservation Trust that showcase the beauty of the Connecticut River Tidelands, one of the conservancy’s “Last Great Places.”
In addition to the Selden Creek Preserve, visitors can explore the Ravine Trail and the Brockway-Hawthorne Preserve across Joshuatown Road. The trio comprise 476 acres of stunning natural world devoid of any sounds from civilization except for a passing plane or boat traversing Selden Creek.
The highlight of Selden Creek Preserve are the stunning views at the end of a mile-long trail marked with white blazes that passes through a forest filled with mountain laurel and large granite rock outcroppings. The overlook from a rocky crag filled with oaks and white pines is one of the most beautiful along the southern half of the Connecticut River.
An orange trail connects several viewing areas. A blue-blazed spur off the white-blazed trail takes visitors to another overlook south of the main overlook, giving hikers views south to Selden Creek’s confluence with the Connecticut River.
Across Joshuatown Road, the Ravine Trail and Brockway-Hawthorne are a great pairing, with the trail beginning in a forest of oak and large stands of mountain laurel. Visitors pass a large vernal pool which is also the beginning of Whalebone Creek, a scenic waterway that flows through the forest briefly before its confluence with Hadlyme Cove. Be on the lookout for a trio of mysterious stone formations along the trail.
Visitors can take the trail marked with red blazes through the ravine where huge trees grow on top of spectacular rock ledges. An overlook along a side trail marked with blue blazes provides a wonderful view of the surrounding hillsides and a swamp. Large grooves, fractures and fissures in the ledges are worth exploring.
The paths through the ravine eventually connect with trails through Brockway-Hawthorne. The trails pass over Whalebone Creek several times and include overlooks with views of the creek and its wetlands.
Visitors are treated to ribbons of stunning rock walls crisscrossing the forest floor with perfectly placed flat stones, plus open, savannah-like terrain and an abandoned quarry. The preserve gets its name from a community that once existed known as Brockway which had a store, cooper, school and services for quarry workers who worked on Selden Island. The quarries shipped paving blocks to New York City.
Be sure to take the path to the trailhead of Brockway-Hawthorne and the Selden Cemetery, also known as Cedar Hill Cemetery (not to be confused with Hartford’s Cedar Hill). The cemetery is scenic and old with picturesque stones and graves dating back to the 1700s.
“This unique network of trails traverses an amazing variety of vibrant natural habitats and features on 476 acres,” notes the Trust’s trail description. “The three contiguous preserves together create a valuable corridor for wildlife species, and protect vital watershed resources.”
It’s also a valuable resource for visitors looking to find solitude and natural beauty along the Connecticut River’s continual work in progress as it snakes south from the Fourth Connecticut Lake to Long Island Sound.
Things to do nearby
Two Wrasslin’ Cats Coffee House: Named after a pair of felines named Larry and Bruno, this specialty coffee house and cafe is located at the intersection of routes 151 and 82. The coffee drinks are made from locally roasted beans with pastries and baked goods made on site. Breakfast and lunch is served daily and includes “create your own” sandwiches and fresh salads. The menu includes items like Larry’s Reuben, Et tu Bruno wrap, the cat-prese, furry curry chicken salad and four little kittens grilled cheese. 374 Town St., East Haddam, 860-891-8446
Nature’s Art Village: Step back in time to the age of dinosaurs at this 60-acre outdoor adventure park, home to more than 50 life-size dinosaurs. The village also includes New England’s largest splash pad, a dinosaur-themed maze, two dinosaur-filled caves and “Monty’s Playground,” featuring a T-Rex Tower. Visitors will encounter a life-like interactive animatronic Dilophosaurus at Cowl Cave and Carnivore Cavern. Visitors can also test their putting skills at Copper Mine mini-golf, based on an Old West mining town. 1650 Hartford-New London Tpke., Oakdale, 860-443-4367
Chester-Hadlyme Ferry: The Chester-Hadlyme Ferry, the state’s second oldest ferry service, began in 1769 as Warner’s Ferry connecting the King’s Highway between Chester and Lyme. The ferry service became known as the Chester-Hadlyme Ferry in 1882 before being turned over to the state Department of Transportation in 1917. The Selden III can accommodate 8–9 cars and 49 passengers as it connects Route 148 across the Connecticut River. While on board, visitors will perhaps see a bald eagle overhead along with views of Gillette Castle high above or the Essex Steam Train. The ferry costs $5 per vehicle on weekdays and $6 on weekends. Ditch the car and it’s $2 per person one way. Ferry Road/Route 148, Hadlyme, 860-662-0701