Mamacoke Island In Waterford: Paradise On The Thames

An empty Styrofoam cooler sat on its side along the rocky banks of Mamacoke Island. On the front of it was a cartoonish picture of a tropical island with the word "paradise" across the top of a palm tree.

Not a bad description for this wild peninsula in Waterford that juts into the Thames River, connected to the mainland by a briny marsh. It's a place where visitors travel a loop trail marked only by crushed fallen leaves and broken branches. It's a place where windswept scrub oaks mingle among wild blueberry bushes on top of huge rock formations and ledges.

Part of the Connecticut College Arboretum, Mamacoke can be accessed by a red- and yellow-blazed path just west of a large field near the New England Central railroad tracks. The path leads to the large swath of salt marsh at the entrance to Mamacoke. Picturesque coves lie to the south and north.

PHOTOS: Mamacoke Island

The highlight of the journey to Mamacoke is walking in the shadows of a huge dome of bedrock outcroppings and ledges that make up the center of the island. Walking the loop trail counterclockwise takes visitors right up to the imposing rocks, some of them covered by moss and dripping with miniature waterfalls. There are views south to Gold Star Memorial Bridge and the harbors of Groton and New London.

The northeastern view looks across the river to the U.S. Naval Submarine Base, and I was hoping to see the conning tower of a submarine plying the Thames. Absent that, it was enjoyable to look out from the wilderness and see and hear the sights and sounds of an active submarine base that was created in 1868 as a coaling station for the Navy's Atlantic fleet steamships.

Mamacoke is filled with wildlife, and it is a National Audubon Society Important Bird Area.

During my visit, I came across two deer I nicknamed Rudolph and Clarice. They were 10 feet away from me and we stared at each other for the longest time before going our separate ways.

Along the waterfront, I met a family of mute swans — a mother and her four cygnets. Just as I wondered where the father was, I heard a hissing noise behind me. The cob was on the rocky banks of the island, fluttering his wings and making loud, guttural hissing noises like some snake on steroids. I stared. He hissed. And then he went in the water and rejoined his family, apparently believing I was no threat.

Mamacoke Island is a place where visitors need to tread lightly. Stay on the trail, enjoy the views and the wildlife, and return to your car filled with the awe created by the wilderness of this bedrock knob — a slice of paradise on the Thames.

If you go: Take I-95 north to Exit 82A. Turn left on Briggs Street and follow to Route 32 past the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and Connecticut College. Take a right on Benham Avenue and follow to a parking area in front of a field.

Peter Marteka can be reached at 860-647-5365, at pmarteka@courant.com or at The Courant, 200 Adams St., Manchester, CT 06040.


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