Elizabeth B. Karter
Watch Rock Preserve
Joel Road off Rte. 156
Parking for 6-8 cars, trash bins and porta potty available seasonally. May be closed during summer weekends
Easy and flat – Beautiful estuary views
The land that is now the Watch Rock Preserve is a short, mostly flat walk among the small timber and underbrush at the mouth of the Duck River, an estuary among the islands near the mouth of the much larger Connecticut River. Magnificent views of this tidal zone are the primary attraction. As the name suggests, standing atop its modest rock outcrops once provided a clear view of river traffic at the mouth of the Connecticut (before the forest returned). Today the view from the rocky shore is still impressive, with Old Saybrook, the lighthouses, and Long Island Sound in the distance; and waterfowl of all types in the foreground. It is a good place to go crabbing, but please make sure you take all your gear and debris with you when you leave for the day! Thanks!
The site was used by the First Nations Peoples in the summer when they fished the surrounding waters and feasted on the native shellfish. When the English settlers took over the land (by purchase or conquest) they used it in much the same way, but gradually introduced farming and livestock raising.
In more recent times, it was owned by Evelyn McCurdy Salisbury, one of Old Lyme's noted benefactors. In 1970 the property was bought from Katherine Brodeur by the Loctite Corporation. This was in the era when Connecticut was courting manufacturers to relocate their headquarters to the state. 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 of the Trust’s drive to purchase Watch Rock and protect it as a nature preserve.
In late 1986, by a stroke of luck, one of the Trustees of the Old Lyme Conservation Trust (now the Old Lyme Land Trust) was in Town Hall and heard that the Watch Rock property was for sale. This 25 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 launched 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, 1,000 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 her death in 2004. An active conservationist and secretary of the Trust, Mrs. Karter was one of the organizers of the town’s first recycling program.
Coastline along the estuary
Hazy morning looking north
Sunset from Watch Rock Photo by Stanley Kolber