Mattatuck State Forest


There is an ironic truth about Connecticut forests - that many of today’s most treasured and scenic locales are a product of yesterday’s disturbance on a grand scale. Mattatuck State Forest is one of these. The forest began as a concept of Mr. Harley F. Roberts in 1925. It was through his efforts that Mattatuck’s initial 723 acres were gifted to the state in 1926. By 1930, through a combination of continued land donations by the Black Rock Association and purchases by the state, the forest had grown to 2,578 acres. Mr. Roberts’s vision of land conservation has been well respected, for in the 85 years since his original gift, Mattatuck has grown to encompass 4,510 acres in 20 different parcels within the towns of Waterbury, Plymouth, Thomaston, Watertown, Litchfield, and Harwinton.

But the forest we see today is not the forest Mr. Roberts knew. Roberts saw a landscape that had been cut over time and again to supply cordwood to the furnaces of the Naugatuck Valley’s brass industry. Subsequent unchecked recreational use of the area left the hills rapidly eroding into the valleys. Frequent forest fire activity also undermined the forests’ health. Gladly, the forest began to improve under the practices of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). From 1933 until 1942 Camp Roberts was home to hundreds of unemployed young men who did much of the work to turn the abused landscape into productive woodlands. Their tree planting and management stabilized the slopes and proved effective in stopping the erosion. Finally, with the protection of the state park and forest system, the incidence of fire was reduced and sound long-term forestry management practices were put into place.

Signs of the region’s industrial history and resource exploitation abound on the landscape, but today’s forest hides much of the evidence. Remains of quarries, lime kilns, house foundations, agricultural fields, and charcoal mounds can still be found.

The Leatherman: The Connecticut Legend of the Leatherman is alive and well in Mattatuck State Forest. This renowned tramp in his baggy, 60 pound, leather suit had a 34 day, 365 mile loop through western Connecticut and eastern New York. He faithfully followed this loop for roughly three decades until his death in 1889. Each day ended 10-11 miles from the last, and his long series of evening rest areas included many cave shelters and rock overhangs. One of these was, and still remains, in Mattatuck State Forest. The Letterboxing link provides directions for the hike if you decide to visit.

Today: Mattatuck is managed responsibly and scientifically for forest products and wildlife habitat, as well as for recreational activities such as hiking and hunting. There are miles of rugged trails with scenic overlooks in convenient proximity to the city of Waterbury and surrounding towns. The forested corridor of Mattatuck lends a woodland aesthetic to the scenic drive along the Naugatuck River and provides a transition from the more industrial/urban landscape of the Naugatuck Valley to the “quieter” countryside of the Litchfield Hills. It also stands as a sure sign of nature’s resilience and of the determination of resource managers and conservationists.

Of the many land parcels that make up this forest the largest, 1,327 acres, adjoins Black Rock State Park and is accessible from the park’s trails. Additionally, the well marked, 36 mile long Mattatuck Trail passes through several portions of the forest. Two of the most popular hikes in Mattatuck Forest are the trails to “Whiterock” and “Greystone”.