Barn Island Wildlife Management Area
1,013 acres in Stonington, CT
Parking: Shoulder parking and boat launch near 249 Palmer Neck Rd, Pawcatuck, CT
and from the eastern side off Stewart Rd, Unnamed Road, Pawcatuck, CT
Barn Island has at least five miles of trails that pass through diverse ecosystems on the Connecticut coastline. One of only two undeveloped sections along the CT coast (the other being Bluff Point) the trails here go from tidal marsh views to forest and field interspersed with cultural points throughout.
The boat launch was first established in 1957, expanded in 1976, and improved to its current state in 2004. It has two 80-foot floating docks and a wide launch.
Both times I’ve visited I started from the trailhead just north of the boat launch. I headed down the unimproved road passing the informational signboards to the causeway with views of Cook’s Cove. The trail then reenters the woods passing the foundations of the old Headquarters Building. The red loop trail begins here through Impoundment #2. Points of interest include the Sarah Ann Martin stone marker and the Mosquito Farm Cottage. Both are easy to miss and the cottage foundation is completely overgrown. The best part of the hiking here are the sheer amount of birds in every direction and of different kinds.
I have not explored the northwest corner of the park from the Stewart Rd access point but I would like to on my next visit to see Venture Spring and the Minerva Stanton gravesite.
The main trails are all wide and easy to follow. Unblazed trails are common and the couple that I took were unremarkable or impassable. There are technical woodsy trails for mountain biking on “Jonny Smith single track” though I have not taken them.
The initial 427.3 acres were acquired from 1944-46 with acquisition continuing heavily through the 1950s. The area has remained a Wildlife Management Area, but has gotten developments such as the boat launch. According to Robert Hazard, owner of the parcel that would become the boat launch ramp, more bootleg liquor was landed at this location during Prohibition than any other place along the Connecticut shore.
This park was part of the 2019 Sky’s the Limit Hiking Challenge.
Peter Marteka – A Visit To A Connecticut Rarity – The Unspoiled Shoreline Of Barn Island (2016)
Steve Grant – Ever Heard Of Barn Island? It’s Worth Exploring (2012)