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Home » SCIENCE AND NATURE in CT » CONNECTICUT (all topics) » The Connecticut Ecosystem
The Clamshell
The Connecticut Ecosystem

Part 1 - Connecticut’s Steep Rock Association; Protecting the Wild for Future Generations

By Mark B. Oliver | September 21, 2010

In this series of articles, we are going to look at various elements of Connecticut’s Ecosystem and how seemingly unconnected events and decisions can have a profound effect on other parts of the ecosystem.


When thinking of the many attractions on our doorstep, fine dining, unique shops, great theater, perhaps the most prevalent is the wonderful countryside that surrounds us.   What doesn’t quite register is how such beauty remains intact. While each State plays their part, private land trusts are very much at the forefront of protecting the open land that we often take for granted, especially here in Connecticut. These trusts, that are located throughout the state, each have the mission to acquire available acreage in their catchment areas and to preserve and maintain this land for the enjoyment of all.

One such trust is Steep Rock Association, which owns and oversees preserved land mostly along the glacially carved Shepaug River in the vicinity of Washington Depot, Connecticut.   It is split into three reservations, Steep Rock, Hidden Valley and Macricostas Preserve. In 1889, architect Ehrick Rossiter was due to commence the construction of his own house in Washington when he discovered that 100 acres of wooded hillsides to the west of him were to be cleared by a timber company.   Using his house construction money he bought the land, forever protecting what is now the heart of the Steep Rock reservation.   In 1925 he donated this land to a group of trustees.   Four years later they purchased the area known as the Clam Shell, preserving the view from Steep Rock summit.   Since then many landowners have contributed further property to the trust to the extent that Steep Rock’s holdings now exceed 2,700 acres.

Susan Branson, its Executive Director explains further, “Steep Rock Association is a private non-profit land trust.   No money whatsoever is received from the town or State.   Our land is open to the public, free of charge and all money received is from private donations.”

Fly Fisherman Delight

Without the support of the local community their work would simply be unable to continue.   With a staff of just three (and amazingly the land manager works only part time) and volunteer assistance, the many miles of hiking trails must be maintained and the surrounding forests preserved.

Susan continues, “The reservations are multi-use facilities open to hikers, equestrians, mountain bikers and cross country skiers. Debris has to be cleared, fallen trees removed from the hiking trails and water has to be diverted.   Erosion is a huge concern and the trails require constant repair.   The preservation of the surrounding forests is another enormous undertaking.”

Donations can be made securely online at their website and the site has a wealth of information about the work of the trust and volunteer opportunities.   Land can also be donated in various ways to Steep Rock Association or your local land trust which not only protects the land for generations to come but usually provides tax advantages too.

Explore the Beauty


One of the many popular hiking trails maintained by the land trust is the trail to Steep Rock Summit which offers breathtaking views over the Shepaug River directly below.   Trail maps can be downloaded at no charge from the Steep Rock Association here or water and tear resistant trail maps can be purchased from the Hickory Stick Bookshop (2 Green Hill Road, Washington Depot, Connecticut).

As you start your walk, the trail is flat and wide making the initial stretch particularly pleasant for young children.   The trail is covered with a canopy of leaves from the trees that line the trail and to the left is the Shepaug River.   During fishing season many fly fisherman can be seen waiting patiently mid-stream.   Wild geraniums line the trail and they are particularly beautiful and fragrant when in bloom.   The trail narrows but is still easily navigable and after you pass over a (frequently) dried up river bed you almost immediately reach a single file wooden bridge.


To continue to the summit, take a sharp right after the bridge and slowly commence your ascent of Steep Rock.   While not unduly strenuous it is easy to pick up a sweat and some may need to slow their pace.   After about 100 yards, the trail forks into two.   Take the left hand fork and continue walking uphill (being what is known as a “Yellow Blaze Trail” follow the helpful yellow markers on the trees if in doubt). Soon after a sign posted on a tree to the left of the trail indicates to turn left.   From this point the trail is rockier and the gradient slightly harder.   You should be careful to avoid exposed tree roots when stepping.   After a few minutes the path flattens out allowing you to catch your breath before the trail again rises at a moderate incline.

At the next fork, go right and the trail once again widens; there are fewer rocky outcrops and there is only a moderate incline.   The trees thin out and a large fallen tree appears to block the trail.   Turn right and almost immediately the trail opens out into a grassy clearing.   In front of you are breathtaking views of Shepaug River and the surrounding countryside.   The elevation of Steep Rock Summit is 776 feet and there is a sharp drop down to the river below but a sizeable, unobtrusive fence eliminates any risk.   Directly in front of you is the part of Shepaug known as the Clam Shell where the river meanders in a near loop, resembling the outline of a clamshell.

The summit is an ideal place to rest, take in the spectacular scenery, eat a picnic and grab something to drink before commencing your descent.   The round trip is a little less than three miles and should take you no longer than an hour.

In the next part of this series we will be looking at that most vital of resources - water.

Contact Details

Steep Rock Association, P.O. Box 279, Washington Depot, Connecticut 06794

(860) 868 9131


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