Selden Neck State Park
607 acres in Lyme, CT
Parking: Accessible by water only, see boat launch options below
Trail Map by Paul Robertson 2010 (See my 2019 trail map in the Hiking section below)
Accessible by boat only, Selden Neck serves mainly as a primitive camping spot on the Connecticut River that can accommodate up to 46 campers across its four separate camps. Several trails were cleared here in the 70s and have remained in ok condition over the years. In late 2018 I took off from the Hadlyme Ferry below Gillette’s Castle to start my exploration of Selden Neck.
I paddled the mile down to the northern point of the island at the small unnamed beach and picnic area. It was late afternoon and all I had was the eight year old hand drawn map above. I expected the trails to be overgrown or just impassable and it turned into a mini-adventure that involved discovery, bushwhacking, and racing to beat sundown back up river. To access the park, use one of these launch points:
The easiest access to trails is from the side of Cedars Camp a bit down Selden Creek. There is also access from the beach area at the north point of the island. Here the white Paul Roberston trail is tucked amidst the growth at the south end of the beach. On my first trip I missed the trail to the left and instead followed a short trail leading to the Selden Swing, an actual swing, with a nice river view. Not knowing any better, I proceeded to bushwack cross-island hoping to run into the white trail. Learn from my error there is overgrown access (beware of thorny raspberry) to the White trail just to the left of the one that leads to the swing.
White Trail – This trail is meant to be the main cross-island path from Cedars Camp to Quarry Knob. It was maintained by Paul Roberston until he passed away in November 2010 and there is now a stone pillar in his memory near the north end. The first half or so is easy enough to follow but past the junction with the red trail sections are filled with fallen trees, some are completely overgrown, others have been taken over by thorny raspberry and barberry. It is navigable as long as you have a good sense of direction and can tolerate long stretches of uncertainty between blazes.
Red Trail – The first time I visited I used the overgrown red trail to slowly make my way back up-island.
The red trail was not well marked but I was able to reconnect with the white trail pushing through many overgrown sections. However! On my visit in Fall 2019 the red trail looked to have been recently maintained. It was clear and well blazed. The Selden homestead should be somewhere along the trail, but I haven’t seen it on my visits.
Green Trail – Unmaintained and overgrown as of October 2019
Blue Trail – This trail starts south of the Quarry Knob camp and heads inland on the causeway between the two marshes. There are piles of stone refuse and high rock ledges from the quarry. The loop then proceeds around the back of the hill and then climbs up to the hill. This area is open understory and well blazed so there are only about 3 spots where navigating is difficult. The trail also passes Wordell’s Point a rocky overlook to the Connecticut River and Eustasia Island.
Camping: – Campsites can be reserved on Reserve America ($5 plus a $9 processing fee)
Cedars Camp – This camp is accessed by heading down Selden Creek to the wide and clear camp. There is a small beach, fire pit, picnic tables, and a pit toilet. At the western side of the camp is access to the white Paul Roberston trail. Maximum of 20 campers.
Hogback Camp – This camp is easy to access and sits on a low bluff named Hogback overlooking the river. At low tide it can be a muddy/silty walk to get to deep enough water for boats. The sloping site has a flat area with room for a couple tents and there are two picnic tables, a fire pit, and an outhouse. Short paths lead to overlooks facing southwest. Short of bushwhacking there is no access to the trails from this site. Maximum of 6 campers.
Spring Ledge Camp – A nice somewhat secluded spot that’s right next to the water and easy to access. It has a firepit with stone seating, picnic tables, and a pit toilet. There is an easy to follow trail that connects up main trails near the red/white junction. Maximum of 8 campers.
Quarry Knob – This site is the most difficult to access. There is a small break in the growth along the bank where as tree has fallen. Even at low tide it can be difficult to get secure footing and your boat up the bank over the log. There is an easier spot to access a couple hundred feet south. Once up on the bank there are 2-3 flat areas with fire pits and a nearby pit toilet. This site has easy access to the red, blue, and white trails. Maximum of 12 campers.
Hunting: (I’ve never seen any wildlife on the island but the DEEP provides the following guidelines)
The Selden Neck Campground is located near State lands that are also open to hunting hunting symbol. The season for goose opens immediately after Labor Day and archery season for deer opens in mid-September. Hunting is not permitted on Sunday. If you are camping when hunting is permitted, please note the following precautions:
- Wear bright clothing such as a fluorescent orange vest or hat. Avoid brown, tan, gray or white.
- If you see someone hunting, call out to them to identify your location.
- Let someone know where you are going, and when you will return.
A team led by Kevin McBride from the University of Connecticut in 1983 did archaeological excavations at a site on the island and says in his dissertation, “The Selden Island site in the lower Connecticut River valley also yielded an early date of 985 A.D. (one standard deviation = AD 894-1021) from a feature containing one maize kernel.”
A 2008 archaeology textbook says, “Selden Island was home to a Middle Woodland sedentary village.” A little bit of searching tells me that Middle Woodland is distinguished by materials not generally found in a given area, in this case, “a sizeable percentage of non-local stone.” According to Warner Lord, the pottery shards found on the island are, “so unique they are the standard by which similar shards are judged. Their distinguishing characteristic is a design made by pressing a clam shell into damp clay”.
Important Selden Neck Dates:
- 985 “Middle Woodland” village
- 1652 Granted to Capt. John Cullick for “services rendered in connection with the acquisition of the town of Saybrook”. He never inhabits or farms the land.
- 1691 Sold to John Leveret, he never inhabits or farms the land either.
- 1696 Joseph Selden (has two partners Warner and Church) who began fishing and farming the island and the Selden family continues to own at least a portion until 1976
- 1854 Spring flooding washes away the neck officially making it Selden Island
- 1868 Josiah Lord purchases part of the island to farm, briefly known as Lord’s Island
- 1890 The Connecticut Valley Granite and Mining Company starts quarrying in the southern portion
- 1902 The mining company goes bankrupt and ceases operations
- 1917 The State of Connecticut purchases 122 acres of the island for $6,991
- 1943 The State of Connecticut purchases an additional 405 acres
- 1970s Three miles of trails blazed by Dave Wordell and his family
- 1976 The state possibly purchases more land, area known as a “game reserve”
- 1983 Archaeological excavations by the University of Connecticut
- 1987 Archaeological site added to the National Register of Historic Places
A main source on the history of the island is Dave Wordell’s “The Quarries of Selden Neck” a slideshow presentation dating back to the 1980s, that also details local folklore like giant Egyptian waterlilies, the unsolved murder of the Italian cook and his buried treasure from 1902, and others. I got a copy and enjoyed the slideshow narrated by Mr. Wordell himself. Send me a message if you’re interested in viewing it yourself.
Cordell, Linda; Lightfoot, Kent, eds. (2008). Archaeology in America: An Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. p. 61.
State Park Commission. Report of the State Park Commission to the Governor 1918. Hartford, Conn.: State of Connecticut. p. 18–19.
Technical description of the Quarries – Geological Survey Bulletin, Issue 484 U.S. Department of the Interior; Washington, D.C., 1949
Videos of a tour led by Paul Robertson (March 2010) – Quarrying on Selden Island, CT, Quarry stones on Selden Island, CT, Remnants of Horse Barn on Selden Island, History of Hemlock Trees on Selden Islands, and View of Connecticut River from Selden Island
Steve Grant – The Connecticut River’s Biggest Island (1999)
Leary, Joseph. A Shared Landscape: A Guide & History of Connecticut’s State Parks & Forests. Friends of Connecticut State Parks, Inc., 2004, p. 79.