While a newly reopened Interstate 395 Service Plaza in Montville welcomed travelers Nov. 15; access to the Cochegan Rock Forest is still closed to the public.
A recent 13-month long, $2.9 million renovation project upgraded the 2,990-square-foot plaza building and surrounding site which is now home to a Mobil gas station, Mobil Mart convenience store, Dunkin’ Donuts, Subway, and a Citibank ATM.
The Norwich Bulletin reported that renovations upgraded a vendor area, septic system, and a drinking water well. Solar panels and four metal picnic tables were added.
Several feet away from the tables and the plaza’s main parking lot is a trailhead to the 92-acre Cochegan Rock Forest which, knowledgeable anonymous sources say, has been the site of many illegal activities like drug trafficking, violence, lewd acts, hunting, vandalism, dumping, and littering.
The Day verified that there have been problems with vandals, trespassers, and dirt bikes. Vandals once knocked off slabs of stone that were used as seating off the top of Cochegan Rock.
An Associated Press article stated there have been problems with all-terrain vehicles and rock climbers.
Sachem Walkingfox said that the first thing visitors “mention is the littering”.
An adult website says the property has been used for intimate encounters.
When folks cross an old wooden pedestrian bridge over Stony Creek, they are greeted with several white “No Trespassing, No Hunting, Private Property” signs nailed to trees.
Cochegan Rock is about a 10-minute walk south of the bridge.
The property, once owned by the Boy Scouts of America’s East Hartford-based Connecticut Rivers Council, was purchased by the Mohegan Tribe in 2007 for $200,000 with an additional donation of $800,000, Ni Ya Yo reported.
The tribe agreed to allow the Scouts to continue to camp and hold activities with advance notice.
The Mohegans bought the land wanting to preserve and protect a site that is significant to their tribe’s history.
Patrols are being used to secure the forest, The Day reported, as opposed to the past when the Scouts just had two volunteer caretakers oversee it.
During the 17th century, the 68-foot-high Cochegan Rock, which is approximately 210 feet above sea level, was used by Mohegan Chief Uncas to meet with his tribal council.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology says the rock is 75 feet long, 58 feet wide, and has a volume of 70,000 cubic feet. It weighs about 6,000 tons and is believed to be the largest freestanding rock in New England.
This “huge mass of crystalline granite” was proclaimed even to be the “largest boulder in the world.”
The forest also features two other large rocks, little waterfalls, several stone foundations and depressions of former dwellings, and a little cemetery with a beautiful stonewall.
The closure of the forest to the public is a stark contrast to some highway service plazas that encourage travelers to explore like the Blackstone Valley Service Plaza off Interstate 295 in Lincoln, R.I.
While the Lincoln plaza has its own state police office, the Connecticut State Police Troop E facility is across the interstate from the Montville Service Plaza.
The Darien community also highlighted concerns about illegal activity, including drug use and prostitution, near their I-95 service plazas.
Renovations being done by contractor Project Service, LLC to 23 state service plazas on Interstate 95, Interstate 395, and Route 15 include increased security and safety components to further discourage illegal activity.
Additionally, some of the renovated plazas have new state police offices.
The Statewide Rest Area and Service Plaza Study had recommended relocating Troop E to the southbound Montville Service Plaza and developing a new northbound plaza in Montville since the next closest one in that direction is in Plainfield.
The state and Project Service are in a public-private partnershipallowing the contractor to lease, redevelop, and manage the plazas while the state owns the property and receives a percentage of the profits.
Ironically, the current home of Troop E was a service plaza from 1958-1968 making Montville the only town in Connecticut with only one service plaza on one side of the highway.
Relocating Troop E closer to the Cochegan Rock forest could help increase safety to that site.
Opening the forest to the public would follow a 2008 study recommendation to incorporate recreational components into the plazas.
A blogger stated that he received permission to visit Cochegan Rock from the Mohegan Sun Security Department while the Town of Montville suggests contacting the Connecticut River Council at 860-289-6669 for access.