A Giant awakens for cicada season

Danny Brass, a member of the Sleeping Giant Park Association, takes in the view from one of the park's high ledges.
Danny Brass, a member of the Sleeping Giant Park Association, takes in the view from one of the park's high ledges. Judy Benson/The Day Buy Photo

Sleeping Giant State Park in Hamden, with 32 miles of trails through varied and interesting terrain, draws hikers training for long treks in the White Mountains, school groups using it as an outdoor classroom, and lots of visitors climbing the 1.6-mile tower trail for great views.

Soon, it will also be a magnet for the cicada seekers.

"This is such a unique biological phenomenon," said Danny Brass of New Haven, a member of the park's very active friends group, the Sleeping Giant Park Association. "The trees and the rocks - everything will be covered with them."

Brass, a retired veterinarian and amateur entomologist and geologist, was referring to the much-anticipated emergence of the periodical cicadas, expected in early June, when the soil around their underground burrows warms to 64 degrees. During a hike through the eastern side of the park last week, Brass recalled his experience with the last emergence in 1996, when he was living in New York state.

"It's an unbelievable, incredibly loud sound," he said.

Sleeping Giant, named for the shape of the park’s hills that resembles a figure in repose, will be one of the best places in the state to see the cicadas when they emerge after 17 years underground to mate and lay eggs. In Connecticut, the periodical cicadas are only found around traprock and basalt ridges in forested areas in the south-central part of the state. In Sleeping Giant specifically, the sections of the violet, green, white, orange and yellow trails that start off Chestnut Lane (not the main entrance off Mt. Carmel Avenue) will be the place to look.

"That's where the people who were here in 1996 said they were," Brass said, as he led the way along the violet trail. "This is a mixed oak and hickory forest, and that's their primary food. There will be 1 to 1 1/2-million insects per acre."

Brass is eager to educate people about the coming cicada convergence. While some hardware stores are looking to profit off the event by pushing insecticides, stoking people's fears about an insect plague, he said, "they won't be in the towns. They'll be in the forests." People, he said, have no reason to be fearful.

The friends group, with about 1,600 members on its rosters and 100 active ones, sponsors 16 guided hikes per year on various themes and levels, said Chuck Schall of Watertown, president of the group. An upcoming hike, focusing on insect life at the park, will be at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, June 9, around the time when the areas on the east and north side will be "ablaze with the activity" of the cicadas, Brass said. After the main hike, the group will take a side trip to the cicada central area. The hike will start from the main entrance off Mt. Carmel Avenue.

Schall is eager to tell the story of how the friends group formed in 1924 to stop a excavator from quarrying away the Sleeping Giant, raising money to buy the property for the public just in time.

"They just took off the top of his head," he said.

Over the years, the group has continued to raise money to add more land to the park, and is diligent about keeping the trails well marked and cleared with work groups every Sunday, he said. The group also sponsors "Hiking 101" events to teach newcomers the basics of trail safety and how the park is organized, as well as hiking challenges, in which people can earn "Giant Master" patches for hiking all 32 miles of the trails, "Four Season Master" patches for doing the hikes throughout the year, "Twelve Month Master" patches for completing them all in a year, and "Marathon Master" patches for doing them all in a single day.

"Giving people different ways to understand and enjoy the park makes people appreciate it more," Brass said.

A Lady's slipper blooms off the violet trail at Sleeping Giant.
A Lady's slipper blooms off the violet trail at Sleeping Giant. Judy Benson/The Day Buy Photo

SLEEPING GIANT STATE PAR

Town: Hamden

Directions: 95 south to I-91 north to exit 10. Take Route 40 connector and stay on until the end. At the light, take a right onto Route 10 north and drive 1 miles. Take a right onto Mt. Carmel Ave. The park entrance is on the left across from Quinnipiac University.

For the Chestnut Lane entrance, continue east on Mt. Carmel Ave. to left turn onto Chestnut Lane; there is a sign at the trailhead for the violet, white, green and orange trails on the left.

Where to Park: Parking is available at the main entrance and at the Chestnut Lane entrance.

Description: This 1,650-acre parks has 32 miles of varied terrain hiking trails plus a horseback trail that follows the periphery. The 1.6-mile tower trail leads to an observation tower that affords views of Long Island Sound on a clear day.

Regulations: Open 8 a.m. to sunset; dogs must be on a leash.

Amenities: Bathrooms and outhouses; picnic tables and picnic shelter; fishing on the Mill River, which is one of the state's Trout Management Areas. There is also a 1.5-mile loop nature trail marked with pine tree blazes. A guide to the trail is available at the main entrance kiosk, provided by the Sleeping Giant Park Association.

Natural features: The park gets its name from the series of mountains that resemble a man in repose. Trails range from the rigorous, steep orange and blue trails to the moderately challenging orange and green trails. The violet trail is mostly level, but with some moderately steep sections, while the tower trail is a gradual climb on a wide path. Several scenic vistas can be found along the trails.

Fees: Parking fees are in effect weekends and holidays from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day and from Sept. 8 through Oct. 31.

Things to note: Except for the tower trail, all the trails are uneven, rough and rocky. Hiking shoes or boots are recommended. The park has an active friends group, the Sleeping Giant Park Association, that sponsors 16 guided hikes per year and other activities.

Owned by: Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection

More information: http://www.ct.gov/deep; Sleeping Giant Park Association: www.sgpa.org.

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