Quinnipiac Meadows, New Haven

Courses of Nature

When I arrive at Quinnipiac Meadows, the sun is blazing and the sky is blue. The only obvious sign that the season’s about to change is a single fiery leaf fallen into the middle of the path.

Despite being a huge green blob on Google Maps, each time I’ve gone to the Meadows I’ve been the only one there. Located at the end of a stumpy driveway off Quinnipiac Avenue, the entrance is not only hard to spot, between Hemingway and Foxon Streets, but also foreboding, covered with a locked chain-link gate. With no real parking lot, there’s room to slot a handful of cars; if more want to park there, the state DEEP website suggests visitors get “creative.”

After wiggling through the narrow pedestrian opening at the left side of the gate, a wide gravel walkway leads to the head of two trails. On one side, trees loom over brush, while on the other, a rivulet is lined with towering reeds. “Meadows” seems a misnomer; bordering the Quinnipiac River, the land reads more like coastal woods and marsh. Much of Greater New Haven used to be wetland like this, before damming, draining and filling turned it into developable land.

sponsored by

Hopkins School

This land, now owned by the New Haven Land Trust, used to be part of a farm owned by John Davenport, one of the founders of New Haven. Legend has it that a stone marker bearing his name is sunken somewhere around the property.

Easier to find, according to signs along the river path, are diamondback terrapins and deer. I saw neither, but I did see evidence of a nocturnal wanderer: a line of raccoon prints, each about the size of the palm of my hand, heading decisively towards the water, a logical choice seeing as raccoons like to eat fish, and to wash the rest of their food besides.

Those aren’t the only fish-lovers in the preserve. Ospreys—sleek, brown-white hawks—also live at Quinnipiac Meadows. Two of their nests loomed above the ground, on telephone-pole platforms built for the purpose. Summer is osprey nesting season, though I wasn’t lucky enough to see one of the raptors, either in their nests or diving for fish. As of January of this year, eight adult ospreys lived on the preserve, according to the Quinnipiac River Fund’s website. (That might not sound like much, but we’re lucky to have ospreys at all. The species, along with many others, was severely affected by the pesticide DDT, used heavily in the 20th century. Birds of prey would ingest the chemical and lay extremely thin, fragile eggs that wouldn’t survive the nesting period. The osprey population has slowly recovered since the pesticide was banned.)

sponsored by

Fairhaven Furniture - Not Disposable

What I do see are black ducks, perched on pilings out in the water. The Meadows are a birdwatching haven, with 91 species known to live here or pass through. Housing and industry surround the preserve, and the preserve, with its coastal forest and reed-filled marsh, provides a foothold of security for many local species. A green-painted “bird blind”—from which to birdwatch, rain or shine, without scaring away nervous avians—sits along the water. Windows look onto an osprey nest and the estuary, where the ducks flap and honk.

On the other, woodsier trail, a curve in the path ends at a viewing platform, looking out onto a tiny strip of land offshore. Grannis Island, formerly private property, was given to the Land Trust in 2008. It was once a summer resting and oystering spot for the Quinnipiacks, the original inhabitants of New Haven. At higher tides, it’s a true island, while at low tide a marshy plain connecting it to land is revealed. In the 1950s, archeological excavations uncovered traces of the Quinnipiacks’ activities there, including stone hearths and the skeletons of five dogs ceremonially buried.

Knowing that people once regularly used the Meadows somehow makes the landscape seem even more tranquil today. The marshy ground absorbs sound, and the houses and condos clustered near the river look farther away than ever. The trails are softly carpeted in grass, showing little sign of wear and tear. I feel like the only person within a hundred miles.

The canopy forms a tunnel as I walk back to the entrance, and sounds start to re-enter the scene—human sounds, like the rumbling of a freight train going by on the other side of Quinnipiac Avenue, but also natural ones, like the loud chattering of squirrels and the buzzing of portly bees. They were bobbing from goldenrod to goldenrod, bending the bright yellow flowers under their weight.

Thinking about that single red leaf, I could understand their urgency. Many flowers are leaving, and autumn is coming.

Quinnipiac Meadows/Eugene B. Fargeorge Preserve
1040 Quinnipiac Ave, New Haven (map)

Written and photographed by Anne Ewbank.

More Stories