January 2008: Sleeping Giant State Park


Hamden, Connecticut

Most of the basaltic ridges in Connecticut run predictably from north to south but one rogue two-mile band of hills runs east-west. The ridge is easily recognized, especially from the original settlements on the southern coast, even more so because the ridge resembles a giant man resting on his back. American Indians shied away from the ridge, considering it an evil spirit. Early settlers did some milling here but its history has been mostly for recreation. Summer cottages were common on the ridgetops beginning in the mid 1800s. One of those cottages belonged to Willis Cook, who had started work in a Mt. Carmel axle shop at the age of 10 and in forty years of time came to own the business. He was appointed postmaster and a Hamden judge. He owned the ridge that formed the Giant's head. Dismayed by vandalism, he leased his land for quarrying the mountain's traprock. As blasting began to transform the Giant's silhouette, horrified residents began laying the foundation for the Sleeping Giant Park Association.

Just about any kind of canine hiking fare is on the menu in this cherished park. There are more than 30 miles of trails running from the feet to the head of the Giant, the first trails in Connecticut to be designated a National Recreation Trail. Most are rocky and tricky but even the novice trail dog can tackle the gently ascending road that makes up the 1.6-mile Tower Path. Your destination on top of the 739-foot Mount Carmel summit is a hulking four-story stone observation tower that would not be out of place in King Arthur's time.Experienced dogs can reach the tower, located near the hip of the Giant, via the difficult Blue Trail.
The wooded ridges obscure the rocky nature of the ground. Many of the ascents are pick-your-way passages. At some spots around cobbles of jumbled boulders like Hezekiah's Knob the trail narrows enough to demand care with your dog. Even the Nature Trail involves some rough going a ways into it. This detailed, one-hour exploration is a stand-out of its kind, offering an excellent background to your visit to the Giant.

Without question, the greatest tree in America prior to 1900 was the chestnut. Rot resistant with fine-grained wood, the chestnut tree supported both vibrant wildlife populations and entire rural economies. It was estimated that one in every four trees in the eastern forests was a chestnut tree - some as old as 600 years. But in 1904 an Asian fungus was discovered in the Bronx Zoo and the blight soon decimated the chestnut population. By 1950 millions of acres of woodlands were left with dead, standing trees. The chestnut blight remains 100% fatal - young chestnuts may reach 20 or 30 feet but are doomed to succumb to the disease. In 1949, Dr. Arthur Graves sold 8.3 acres of his land for The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station for tree breeding. The Chestnut Plantation at Sleeping Giant, east of the park, hosts specimens of all of the species of chestnut and is one of the finest in the world.

Sleeping Giant is across from Quinnipiac University on Mt. Carmel Avenue. From I-91 take Exit 10 to Route 40 to Route 10 North and turn right on Mt. Carmel. From I-84 take Route 70 South to Route 10 South and left on Mt. Carmel.