Tidal Marsh Trail in North Haven, CT

Rail to Trail

A westerly wind runs across the tidal marsh, combing the silky heads of reedy marsh grass. Two osprey rise and fall on its currents. The low, blocky buildings of retail stores sit at a distant bend in the Quinnipiac River, but here on North Haven’s Tidal Marsh Trail, all you hear is the rustle of wind through slender grass. If you’re quiet, you might surprise a deer, causing her to look up, pause, then leap, white tail high, into the underbrush.

Even if you aren’t quiet, you can see the smooth steel curves of old railroad tracks slithering through the leaf litter, threading around the trunks of oak and birch and sassafras. One giant tire rests coyly on another, and nearby, a second pair, touching like gears about to turn, are accidental planters for eager weeds. Farther down the trail, a rusty ladder and pole stretch high into the canopy.

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These are the remnants of the Cedar Hill Rail Yard, once a major terminal for the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad. Now its towers, visible at a distance from the trail, are better suited to housing birds’ nests than to guiding trains. Its tracks were abandoned in the early 1980s, giving nature plenty of time to reclaim the landscape.

Trailhead and street signs were installed in 2015 by the North Haven Trail Association, which maintains the narrow riverside route. To find this otherwise hidden path along the Quinnipiac River, turn right at The Olive Garden off Universal Drive and follow the road all the way back to Target’s rear lot, which meets the trailhead.

The path begins on a small bluff above the river and works its way down to the place where forest suddenly yields to marsh grass. On this October morning, oak trees have scattered their tiny acorns everywhere like loose change, pressed into yielding dirt. It’s a short half-mile or so to the end of the trail, where two old train tunnels are covered in graffiti and too littered to be inviting. But a turn to look out across the river reveals a picturesque view of the Sleeping Giant—rocky chin, rounded shoulder and hip—napping beneath a cottony quilt of gray clouds.

Other visitors pass this way: two men with their dogs and a woman who stops to chat. She points out how high the tide is, though she’s seen the river low and muddy, too. According to Audubon Connecticut, an outpost of the National Audubon Society, the Quinnipiac River Marsh is home, at least seasonally, to not only osprey, but also Northern harriers, bald eagles, great and snowy egrets, Northern saw-whet owls, least bitterns, American black duck, saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrows and more. Muskrat once were plentiful, but those pretty grasses, or phragmites, have invaded their habitat, according to Audubon.

Local groups are working to control the grass’s march into the marsh, but nature-loving people are more than welcome. The Tidal Marsh Trail is neither long nor challenging, but it’s a tucked-away time capsule, where rumbling rails have given way to peaceful trail.

Tidal Marsh Trail
Behind 200 Universal Dr N (map)

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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