Covered in hardwood forest and nestled between two coves sits a sliver of land that juts out into the Thames River. It’s known as Mamacoke Island and serves a special purpose – one of conservation and natural wonder that all can enjoy.
Located just over the border in Waterford, Mamacoke Island is 40-acres of undeveloped land owned and operated by the Connecticut College Arboretum. It’s been recognized as an important bird area in Connecticut – vital in protecting the habitat for hundreds of water fowl.
It also serves as a hiker’s paradise and one I’ve been itching to explore.
I kicked off the day’s hike at a small parking area at the edge of an open field. My golden - Murphy – accompanied me on my trek along the grassy trail that eventually leads to the island. Winding paths are carved into the woods and fields in this upland area and offer students from the neighboring college and nearby U.S. Coast Guard Academy a place to run.
I detoured past these alternate trails, veering right on the wide path, and headed toward the gate where joggers swept past me.
Even this late in the season, the mosquitoes here dominate. Along with bug spray, long pants will protect you - not only from the skeeters but the thorny underbrush that crowd the trails. Trust me on this, you’ll thank me later.
This woodland area is a prelude to the island itself. It passes through some heavier vegetation and impressive rock outcrops. I could also spot the Gold Star Memorial Bridge through the heavy tree cover and the water beyond.
Coming out of the woods, I found myself by the railroad tracks. Crossing these take you to the edge of the cove and the beginning of the island itself.
To maintain its fragile ecology, no running is allowed here and you can see why. It appears so delicate upon entering the space; the path shepherding folks lightly through the spongy marsh as water laps in the coves bordering either side.
Remember those bugs? Well, they are just as intense, if not more, in this little bottleneck. Upon entering the tree line, the brush also clogs the path in parts, so keep an eye out for it.
From here, I followed the white-blazed path as it snaked its way through the forest. Although the path is well marked, in this heavily-treed area, one can easily miss a sign here or there - so be aware. For the most part, the trail is easy to hike. There are a few spots where the path takes you up and over some prominent rock faces. But, with some time to kill, it shouldn’t be too difficult.
Eventually, the trail opens up and leads down to the river. The panoramic view of the Thames is impressive. Across the water sits the naval submarine base and once in a while, a loudspeaker would sound off breaking the silence of this quiet, little island.
As I sat to enjoy the sights, a bevy of mute swans also kept Murphy and me company. They floated in and out of the cove, a little leery of our intrusion. A cormorant also kept vigil in the water – yet, another water species that finds safety here.
The coves are especially critical in the winter when so many waterways are covered in ice. The brackish water of the Thames generally doesn’t freeze over and provides refuge for the many ducks and waterfowl that rely on these coves for survival.
Unfortunately, some trash has accumulated here. Whether from the water’s tide or careless visitors to the refuge, it’s sad to see.
But, still, the beauty here cannot be masked.
From the wildlife on the water to that of the land itself, its allure is just as strong. It’s a delicate balance that nature keeps here – a balance all of us play a part in.
Directions: Take I-95 N to Exit 82A for Frontage Rd. toward New London. Continue on S. Frontage Rd./I-95 Frontage Rd. Slight right onto S. Frontage Rd. Turn left onto Briggs St. Continue onto Mohegan Ave. Pkwy. Slight right onto CT-32 N/Mohegan Ave. Pkwy past Connecticut College and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. Turn right onto Benham Ave. Parking is on the left next to the field and prior to the railroad tracks.
Trail Length: < 2 miles
Trail Difficulty: Easy