North Rock

North Rock

Editor’s Note: Joan R. Mazurek, a longtime neighbor of and advocate for Peter’s Rock Park in North Haven, wrote to us in January with a proposed letter to the editor expressing outrage about the Peter’s Rock Association’s summary installation of mountain biking trails and related infrastructure within the publicly owned park. She described this activity as destructive (to wildlife and plants), disruptive (in part by making it easy and enticing for motorized riders to claim the trails) and undemocratic, asserting that the association had already performed major clearing—18 trails’ worth, by her estimation—without legal right or public sanction.

Mazurek’s letter finished with an appeal to concerned citizens to attend a meeting of the North Haven Parks & Recreation Commission this coming Monday, March 20, when she expected the park association would be “asking permission to continue with this horrible destruction of Peter’s Rock.” But it appears that business was instead taken up at a special meeting on March 2. The minutes list Mazurek among those who registered a public comment, but the most decisive words may have come from North Haven town counsel Jeffrey Donofrio, who not only “advised that the Peter’s Rock Association did not have authority to approve and/or construct the mountain bike trails that have been completed at Peter’s Rock Park to date” but also “suggested that the Peter’s Rock Park Association coordinate with town staff on any work which relates to the removal of structures and trails that have already been installed.” In the end, Parks & Rec officials, too, sided with Mazurek, declining the park association’s request to recommend statutory changes that would legalize, after the fact, the association’s activities.

We at Daily Nutmeg don’t really publish letters to the editor or take official positions on municipal goings-on. But we do publish stories about treasured local assets, including the article below from March 2021, which describes what Peter’s Rock was like before its park association apparently went rogue—and what it may soon be like again.

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Peter’s Rock in North Haven, a peak in the same traprock formation as East Rock and West Rock, is less popular than its New Haven siblings. When solitude is your goal, that’s a good thing.

It was an inauspicious day for a hike. Rain had fallen the night before, and more was expected. The late winter season meant trails might be covered in snow and ice or muck and mire. But my determination to get some fresh air won out, so I pulled on some sturdy boots and a warm raincoat and headed out the door.

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Instead of bringing me to the main park entrance, which lies beyond a set of First Fuel gas pumps on Middletown Avenue, Google Maps had me driving down Hermitage Lane—a narrow, forested road dotted with houses at the northern tip of the park—and wondering if I was headed to the wrong place. But the end of the road offered four parking spots and a trail map.

I chose the Red/White route, where brown leaves from last fall lay beneath a patchy blanket of snow on either side of the trail. In the center the packed snow was icy, but in places it was melting and mud was the greater hazard. Remnants of a green fern foretold the explosion of spring growth to come.

Trudging along in the mushy snow at the margins, I saw evidence of others who had come this way. Human and canine footprints were plentiful. Deer had crossed the trail in numerous locations. I searched for rabbit tracks, too, but didn’t find any. The US Geological Survey calls the peak Rabbit Rock, an apparent reference to the area’s plentiful rabbit population in the 1800s.

A sign by the trail map at the entrance had warned of downed trees, which were abundant. The Peter’s Rock Association maintains the park and had clearly done significant work to remove them from the trail. I only needed to traverse large trunks or branches in two spots. Before long I came to a trail junction and encountered the only other person I was to see that day, a hiker pulled along by a large furry dog. He called out a friendly hello from a distance, then took the trail heading downward while I turned up toward the peak.

At this point the relatively flat, wide trail, now just the Red, began to narrow and steepen. Thankfully, it was mostly clear of snow, and without too much trouble, I navigated the short climb to the 373-foot summit. At about the same elevation as East Rock, it offered clear views of Sleeping Giant to the northwest and the Hanging Hills to the north, making it easy to ignore the faint hum of cars on I-91 and the sight of nearby shopping centers below. To the southwest, I spied downtown New Haven through leafless branches. Parents of small children take note: There’s no fence or rail along the edge at the peak, but there are some trees and bushes to ward off acrophobia. The flat rocks at the top would be perfect for a picnic, an idea I filed away for a day when it wasn’t so chilly or starting to drizzle.

As I looked for the trail leading away from the summit, I was startled by two large black birds with leathery heads and long, hooked bills sitting in a nearby tree. I slowly approached, wishing I had a telephoto lens. When I moved they peered back at me but otherwise ignored my failed attempts to get a good picture and identify them. A knowledgeable acquaintance later determined they were black vultures, who have apparently been increasing their range northward, likely due to the warming climate. They are now nearly as common here as turkey vultures and are frequently sighted on East Rock, Sleeping Giant and, apparently, Peter’s Rock.

The rain grew heavier, pulling me away and down the White Trail, the most direct path back to my car. On the drive home, I sought out and this time found the main park entrance, which has more plentiful parking and a picnic pavilion. From this entrance, you start on the Red Trail, which you can follow up to the peak or to the Blue, Yellow, Green or Orange. I saw enough to want more, and I’ll plan to start here when I come back for it.

Peter’s Rock Park
133 Middletown Avenue, North Haven (map)
Association Website | Trail Map

Written and photographed by Stephanie Wratten. This updated story was originally published on March 10, 2021.

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