Pachaug State Forest is the largest state forest in Connecticut. Covering approximately 24,000 acres and crossing the borders of numerous towns in eastern Connecticut, this natural wonder has, surprisingly enough, roots in Voluntown’s industrial past.
When Europeans first arrived in the area that is now Pachaug State Forest, it constituted tribal lands of the Narragansett, Pequot, and Mohegan people. The area containing the modern park centered around the Pachaug River, which currently runs from Beach Pond to the Quinebaug River. The term “Pachaug” is of Native American derivation and researchers believe its meaning refers to a turn or a bend in the river.
Pachaug State Forest’s Industrial Roots
The abundant water supplies in the area fostered the development of industry reliant on water to power mills. Throughout the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution brought numerous textile businesses to eastern Connecticut, and one of the most prominent firms in Voluntown was the Briggs Manufacturing Company. Briggs ceased operations in 1926, and two years later, the state acquired 1,100 acres of the Briggs property and designated it for protection as Pachaug State Forest.
WPA and CCC Improve Park Lands
Over the next 10 years, numerous fundraising efforts expanded the area of the park to 12,000 acres. Additional acquisitions came through the Recreation and Natural Heritage Trust Fund—a state effort to acquire lands necessary for expanding Connecticut’s park system. Laborers from New Deal programs such as the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps then turned these newly acquired lands into usable open space throughout much of the 1930s and into the ’40s.
The park continued to grow throughout the 20th century, offering an increasingly diverse array of recreational opportunities to Connecticut residents, as well as abundant acres of pristine wilderness. In 1973, the National Park Service designated 855 acres of the park (known as the Pachaug-Great Meadow Swamp) a National Natural Landmark.
Today, the park falls under the operations of Connecticut’s Department of Energy & Environmental Protection. Offering visitors activities such as camping, hiking, fishing, and boating, Pachaug State Forest plays a significant part in forging Voluntown’s nature-friendly identity.