Elizabeth B. Karter Watch Rock Preserve ("Watch Rock")
Purchased in 1988, Watch Rock is a 25 acre preserve on the Duck River, a tributary of the Connecticut River. The unimpeded views from the preserve across tidal wetlands towards Great Island, the Connecticut River and Long Island Sound are breathtaking. The wildlife is plentiful, with shorebirds, herons and egrets on the tidal flats in the spring and summer, migrating songbirds in the spring and fall, osprey, owls, deer and fox. For its relatively small size, the preserve contains an amazing diversity of natural habitats including coastal moist and dry deciduous forest, conifer grove, open field, vernal pool, brackish marsh and creek and rocky shoreline. Watch Rock is the subject of a habitat restoration project.
Click the • Watch Rock Restoration Report to read about it and volunteer to help the project.
The Watch Rock property is reached by taking McCurdy Road from the center of town, crossing 156, and turning right on Joel Drive. Then a left and a quick right brings you to the entrance and the parking lot. The preserve is also accessible from the water by kayak or canoe.
Click for: • Mapquest Directions.
The trail starts at the northwest corner of the parking lot and leads to several more trails along the shoreline. The trails are flat and easy to navigate. Please make sure to carry out fishing lines and other litter which can harm wildlife. This preserve is heavily used in the spring, summer and fall.
Sandy Downing, Ted Freeman, Jerry Grady (860 434 8902) and Ed Sopneski (860 434 1893).
Please contact our steward if you have any questions, concerns or comments regarding this property or use our online • Property Report Form.
History of Watch Rock
In late 1986, by a stroke of luck, one of the Trustees of the Old Lyme Land Trust was in Town Hall and heard that the Watch Rock property was for sale. This twenty-five acre waterfront parcel had been on the wish lists of both the Town of Old Lyme and the Trust for years. Immediately, the OLLT Board of Trustees met and voted to borrow $500,000 to buy the property and launch a campaign to pay off the loan. This ambitious plan was completed in just over a year.
The capital campaign was a great success. Benefits were held; the newspapers, especially "The Gazette", got behind the project; and donations poured in. All in all, 1000 donors, both local and from as far away as Alaska, contributed money to help save Watch Rock. The crowning touch was the purchase of the development rights by the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). This happy event was the result of protracted negotiations between the State, the Connecticut River Gateway Commission and John Lohmann, one of the original founders of the Old Lyme Land Trust.
In 2005 the preserve was renamed the Elizabeth B. Karter Watch Rock Preserve after Elizabeth "Bunt" Karter, a civic leader and philanthropist who lived in Old Lyme from 1969 until she died in 2004. An active conservationist and supporter of the Trust, Mrs. Karter was one of the organizers of the first recycling program in Old Lyme.
Watch Rock has been inhabited for 4500 years. The Bliss site, in nearby Old Lyme Estates, was dug extensively in 1981 by local archaeologist John Pfeiffer. The artifacts found there dated from 2700 B.C. to 2400 B.C. Adjacent to the Bliss site, the Griffin site had been excavated in 1975. Artifacts recovered from this site dated from 1500 to 1200 B.C. In 1981 Pfeiffer dug test spots on Watch Rock which indicated that, whereas the Bliss and Griffin sites were ceremonial, Watch Rock was residential for this early period. There are signs of continuous habitation from 2500 B.C. to Contact (between Europeans and Native Americans).
Watch Rock was an important spot in the Contact period. From this vantage point, the local Indians could look north, south and also west toward Saybrook. Hostile Indians could not approach unseen. The Indians weren't the only ones watching. Oral tradition has it that the Colonials up on Meetinghouse Hill (Johnnycake Hill) could watch the Indians!
The site was used by the Indians in the summer when they fished the surrounding waters and feasted on the native shell-fish. After the Indians were dispossessed, the land was farmed by the white settlers. In more recent times, it was owned by Evelyn MacCurdy Salisbury, one of Old Lyme's noted benefactors. In 1970 the property was bought from Katherine Brodeur by the Loctite Corporation. Loctite considered Watch Rock as a possible site for its corporate headquarters. As the property is situated next to the railroad tracks, it had been zoned for light industry. Hence the urgency which the Trust felt to purchase Watch Rock and protect it as a nature preserve.