Connecticut State College Arboretum Park
40.5 acres in Waterford, CT
Parking: Small pull off near 44 Benham Ave Quaker Hill, CT
Mamacoke Island is a a sensitive natural area and designated by the Audubon Society as a National Audubon Society Important Bird Area. While wonderful to explore, usage especially by running, mountain bikes, or dogs is actively discouraged. The island masquerades as a peninsula most of the time, separated from the mainland by a brackish marsh it is almost always passable (the tide has to be extremely high). This area is used mainly for its educational opportunities by Connecticut College and the trails here appear to be rough and sparsely maintained.
From the small pull-off along Benham Ave the trails start on wide paths in open fields. To reach the island head towards the back far right of the fields and you’ll approach private property. The trail will head down to the train tracks which you walk along briefly until reaching a small gap with signage for the island.
The marsh crossing was muddy on my last visit though easily passable and once entering the treeline on the island the trail splits. I headed clockwise and the trail followed a rock wall at a distance before climbing up a short slope. This brings you up on top of the rocky knob though no trail leads to its ‘peak’. This seems like a bit of a let down, but protecting the sensitive area gets priority.
Towards the northern tip of the island the trail finally meets the water for views of the Thames River and the Naval Sub Base. Headback to the original fork guides you along a long tall cliff face. Total distance is about a half mile.
On the mainland there is a small network of trails that add up to three miles or so. There isn’t much to note about them other than they are wide and easy to follow and the terrain is hilly.. They seemed to be popular as I passed several groups of college students out for runs.
Given the sensitive status of the property do everything you can to keep this place open for climbers. From the Mountain Project link below:
Many of these walls could can be bouldered, however some of the higher faces (particularly the Main Wall on the south-western part of the island) could be dangerous to attempt without a rope. THERE IS NO FIXED PROTECTION ON THIS ISLAND, with only a few spots for some decent cam placements on the Main Wall. The tops of all of the cliffs can be accessed by walking around the footpath to the eastern side of the island and then scrambling up a few slabs to reach the upper plateau. This access to the top of the the walls could open up possibilities for top ropes, but I have yet to see people attempt it.
A comment from 2018 notes that there was very tentative talk of bolting a few sport routes, but I saw no evidence of it in 2019.
I can’t find much about the history of the island though the Audubon Society cryptically mentions archaeological sites that are present on the island.
Peter Marteka – Mamacoke Island In Waterford: Paradise On The Thames (2011)
Auntie Beak – Mamacoke Island (2016)
CT Audubon – Mamacoke Island Important Bird Area