The Metacomet Ridge, Metacomet Ridge Mountians, or Metacomet Range of southern New England, United States is a narrow and steep fault-block mountain ridge known for its extensive cliff faces, scenic vistas, microclimate ecosystems, and communities of plants considered rare or endangered. An important recreation resource located within of a population corridor of over 2.5 million people, the ridge is home to four long distance hiking trails and over a dozen parks and recreation areas including several state and nationally recognized historic sites. Because of its natural, historic, and recreational value, the ridge has been the focus of ongoing conservation efforts involving municipal, state, and national agencies as well as nearly two dozen non-profit organizations.
The Metacomet Ridge extends from New Haven and Branford, Connecticut on Long Island Sound, through the Connecticut River Valley region of Massachusetts, to northern Franklin County, , short of the Vermont and New Hampshire borders, a distance of . Younger and geologically distinct from the nearby Appalachian Mountains and surrounding uplands, the Metacomet Ridge is composed of volcanic basalt, also known as traprock, and sedimentary rock in faulted and tilted layers many hundreds of feet thick. In most, but not all cases, the basalt layers are dominant, prevalent, and exposed. Although only above sea level at its highest, with an average summit elevation of , the Metacomet Ridge rises dramatically from much lower valley elevations, making it a prominent landscape feature.
There is no universal consensus on the name for this mountain range. The Metacomet Ridge is described by some sources as a traprock ridge beginning on the Holyoke Range in Belchertown, Massachusetts, and ending at the Hanging Hills in Meriden, Connecticut. A 2004 report conducted for the National Park Service extends that definition to include the entire traprock ridgeline from Greenfield, Massachusetts to Long Island Sound. The Sierra Club has referred to the entire range in Connecticut as "The Traprock Ridge." Geologically and visually, the traprock ridgeline exists as one continuous landscape feature from Belchertown, Massachusetts to Branford, Connecticut at Long Island Sound, a distance of , broken only by the river gorges of the Farmington River in northern Connecticut and the Westfield and Connecticut Rivers in Massachusetts. Until January 2008, the United States Board on Geographic Names (USBGN) did not recognize Metacomet Ridge, Traprock Ridge or any other name, although several sub-ranges were identified. Geologists usually refer to the overall range generically as "the traprock ridge" or "the traprock mountains" or refer to it with regard to its prehistoric geologic significance in technical terms. Further complicating the matter is the fact that traprock only accounts for the highest surface layers of rock strata on the southern three–fourths of the range; an underlying geology of related sedimentary rock is also a part of the structure of the ridge; in north central Massachusetts it becomes the dominant strata and extends the range geologically from the Holyoke Range another through Greenfield to nearly the Vermont border. This article describes the entire Metacomet Ridge and all geologic extensions of it.
Easier to explain is the name "Metacomet" or "Metacom," borrowed from the 17th century sachem of the Wampanoag Tribe of southern New England who led his people during King Philip's War in the mid–17th century. Metacomet was also known as King Philip by early New England colonists. A number of features associated with the Metacomet Ridge are named after the sachem, including the Metacomet Trail, the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail, King Philip's Cave, King Philip Mountain, and Sachem Head. According to legend, Metacomet orchestrated the burning of Simsbury, Connecticut and watched the conflagration from Talcott Mountain near the cave now named after him. The names Metacomet and King Philip have been applied to at least sixteen landscape features and over seventy-five businesses, schools, and civic organizations throughout southern New England.
Beginning at Long Island Sound, the Metacomet Ridge commences as two parallel ridges with related sub-ridges and outcrops in between; the latter include the high butte–like cliffs of East Rock and the isolated peak of Peter's Rock. The western ridgeline of the Metacomet Ridge begins in New Haven, Connecticut as West Rock Ridge and continues as Sleeping Giant, Mount Sanford, Peck Mountain, and Prospect Ridge, for a distance of before diminishing into a series of low profile outcrops just short of Southington, Connecticut, west of the Hanging Hills in Meriden.
To the east, beginning on the rocky prominence of Beacon Hill, , in Branford, Connecticut overlooking the East Haven River estuary, the Metacomet Ridge continues as a traprock ridge north to Mount Tom in Holyoke, Massachusetts; it then breaks east across the Connecticut River to form the Holyoke Range, which continues for before terminating in Belchertown, Massachusetts. Several scattered parallel ridges flank it; the most prominent of these are the hills of Rocky Hill, Connecticut and the Barn Door Hills of Granby, Connecticut.
North of Mount Tom and the Holyoke Range, the apparent crest of the Metacomet Ridge is broken by a discontinuity in the once dominant traprock strata. Underlying sedimentary layers remain but lack the same profile. Between the Holyoke Range and the Pocumtuck Ridge, a stretch of , the Metacomet Ridge exists only as a series of mostly nondescript rises set among flat plains of sedimentary bedrock. Mount Warner, , in Hadley, Massachusetts, the only significant peak in the area, is a geologically unrelated metamorphic rock landform that extends west into the sedimentary strata.
The Metacomet Ridge picks up elevation again with the Pocumtuck Ridge, beginning on Sugarloaf Mountain and the parallel massif of Mount Toby, , the high point of the Metacomet Ridge geography. Both Sugarloaf Mountain and Mount Toby are composed of erosion-resistant sedimentary rock. North of Mount Sugarloaf, the Pocumtuck Ridge continues as alternating sedimentary and traprock dominated strata to Greenfield, Massachusetts. From Greenfield north to short of the Vermont–New Hampshire–Massachusetts tri–border, the profile of the Metacomet Ridge diminishes into a series of nondescript hills and low, wooded mountain peaks composed of sedimentary rock with dwindling traprock outcrops.
In Connecticut, the high point of the Metacomet Ridge is West Peak of the Hanging Hills at ; in Massachusetts, the highest traprock peak is Mount Tom, , although Mount Toby, made of sedimentary rock, is higher. Visually, the Metacomet Ridge is narrowest at Provin Mountain and East Mountain in Massachusetts where it is less than wide; it is widest at Totoket Mountain, over . However, low parallel hills and related strata along much of the range often make the actual geologic breadth of the Metacomet Ridge wider than the more noticeable ridgeline crests, up to across in some areas. Significant river drainages of the Metacomet Ridge include the Connecticut River and tributaries (Falls River, Deerfield River, Westfield River, Farmington River, Coginchaug River); and, in southern Connecticut, the Quinnipiac River.
The Metacomet Ridge is surrounded by rural wooded, agricultural, and suburban landscapes, and is no more than from a number of urban hubs such as New Haven, Meriden, New Britain, Hartford, and Springfield. Small city centers abutting the ridge include Greenfield, Northampton, Amherst, Holyoke, West Hartford, Farmington, Wallingford, and Hamden.
Basalt is an extrusive volcanic rock, dark in color, but the iron within it weathers to a rusty brown when exposed to the air, lending it a distinct reddish or purple–red hue. Basalt frequently breaks into octagonal and pentagonal columns, creating a unique "postpile" appearance. Extensive slopes made of fractured basalt talus are visible at the base of many of the cliffs along the Metacomet Ridge. The basalt floods of lava that now form much of the Metacomet Ridge took place over 20 million years. Erosion and deposition occurring between the eruptions deposited layers of sediment between the lava flows, some of it several miles thick, which eventually lithified into sedimentary rock. The resulting "layer cake" of basalt and sedimentary rock eventually faulted and tilted upward (see fault-block). Subsequent erosion wore away many of the weaker sedimentary layers at a faster rate than the basalt layers, leaving the abruptly tilted edges of the basalt sheets exposed, creating the distinct linear ridge and dramatic cliff faces visible today. It is possible to envision this by imagining a layer cake tilted slightly up with some of the frosting (the sedimentary layer) removed in between. Evidence of this layer-cake structure is visible on Mount Norwottuck of the Holyoke Range in Massachusetts. The summit of Norwottuck is made of basalt; directly beneath the summit are the Horse Caves, a deep overhang where the weaker sedimentary layer has worn away at a more rapid rate than the basalt layer above it. Mount Sugarloaf, Pocumtuck Ridge, and Mount Toby, also in Massachusetts, together present a larger "layer cake" example. The bottom layer is composed of arkose sandstone, visible on Mount Sugarloaf. The middle layer is composed volcanic traprock, most visible on the Pocumtuck Ridge. The top layer is composed of a sedimentary conglomerate known as Mount Toby Conglomerate. Faulting and earthquakes during the period of continental rifting tilted the layers diagonally; subsequent erosion and glacial activity exposed the tilted layers of sandstone, basalt, and conglomerate visible today as three distinct mountain masses. Although Mount Toby and Mount Sugarloaf are not composed of traprock, they are part of the Metacomet Ridge by virtue of their origin via the same rifting and uplift processes.
Of all the summits that make up the Metacomet Ridge, West Rock, in New Haven, Connecticut, bears special mention because it was not formed by the volcanic flooding that created most of the traprock ridges. Rather, it is the remains of an enormous volcanic dike through which the basalt lava floods found access to the surface.
While the traprock cliffs remain the most obvious evidence of the prehistoric geologic processes of the Metacomet Ridge, the sedimentary rock of the ridge and surrounding terrain has produced equally significant evidence of prehistoric life in the form of Triassic and Jurassic fossils, in particular, dinosaur tracks. At one site in Rocky Hill, Connecticut, more than 2,000 well preserved late Jurassic prints have been excavated. Other sites in Holyoke and Greenfield have likewise produced significant finds.
The Metacomet Ridge is also an important aquifer. It provides municipalities and towns with public drinking water; reservoirs are located on Talcott Mountain, Totoket Mountain, Saltonstall Mountain, Bradley Mountain, Ragged Mountain, and the Hanging Hills in Connecticut. Reservoirs that supply metropolitan Springfield, Massachusetts are located on Provin Mountain and East Mountain.
With the advent of industrialization in the 1800s, riverways beneath the Metacomet Ridge were dammed to provide power as the labor force expanded in nearby cities and towns. Logging to provide additional fuel for mills further denuded the ridges. Traprock and sandstone were quarried from the ridge for paving stones and architectural brownstone, either used locally or shipped via rail, barge, and boat.
Increased urbanization and industrialization in Europe and North America resulted in an opposing aesthetic transcendentalist movement characterized in New England by the art of Thomas Cole, Frederic Edwin Church, and other Hudson River School painters, the work of landscape architects such as Frederick Law Olmsted, and the writings of philosophers such as Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. As was true of other scenic areas of New England, the philosophical, artistic, and environmental movement of transcendentalism transformed the Metacomet Ridge from a commercial resource to a recreational resource. Hotels, parks, and summer estates were built on the mountains from the mid-1880s to the early 1900s. Notable structures included summit hotels and inns on Mount Holyoke, Mount Tom, Sugarloaf Mountain, and Mount Nonotuck. Parks and park structures such as Poet's Seat in Greenfield, Massachusetts and Hubbard Park (designed with the help of Frederick Law Olmsted) of the Hanging Hills of Meriden, Connecticut, were intended as respites from the urban areas they closely abutted. Estates such as Hill-Stead and Heublein Tower were built as mountain home retreats by local industrialists and commercial investors. Although public attention gradually shifted to more remote and less developed destinations with the advent of modern transportation and the westward expansion of the United States, the physical, cultural, and historic legacy of that early recreational interest in the Metacomet Ridge still supports modern conservation efforts. Estates became museums; old hotels and the lands they occupied, frequently subject to damaging fires, became state and municipal parkland through philanthropic donation, purchase, or confiscation for unpaid taxes. Nostalgia among former guests of hotels and estates contributed to the aesthetic of conservation.
Because of its narrowness, proximity to urban areas, and fragile ecosystems, the Metacomet Ridge is most endangered by encroaching suburban sprawl. Quarry operations, also a threat, have obliterated several square miles of traprock ridgeline in both Massachusetts and Connecticut. Ridges and mountains affected include Trimountain, Bradley Mountain, Totoket Mountain, Chauncey Peak, Rattlesnake Mountain, East Mountain, Pocumtuck Ridge, and the former Round Mountain of the Holyoke Range. The gigantic man-like profile of the Sleeping Giant, a traprock massif visible for more than in south central Connecticut, bears quarrying scars on its "head". Mining there was halted by the efforts of local citizens and the Sleeping Giant Park Association.
Development and quarrying threats to the Metacomet Ridge have resulted in public open space acquisition efforts through collective purchasing and fundraising, active solicitation of land donations, securing of conservation easements, protective and restrictive legislation agreements limiting development, and, in a few cases, land taking by eminent domain. Recent conservation milestones include the acquisition of a defunct ski area on Mount Tom, the purchase of the ledges and summits of Ragged Mountain through the efforts of a local rock climbing club and the Nature Conservancy, and the inclusion of the ridgeline from North Branford, Connecticut to Belchertown, Massachusetts in a study by the National Park Service for a new National Scenic Trail now tentatively called the New England National Scenic Trail.
|East Rock||366 ft (112 m)||New Haven and Hamden|
|West Rock Ridge||700 ft (213 m) *||New Haven, Hamden, Woodbridge, and Bethany|
|Sleeping Giant||739 ft (225 m)||Hamden and Wallingford|
|Mount Sanford||880 ft (270 m) *||Hamden, Bethany, and Cheshire|
|Peck Mountain||431 ft (131 m)||Cheshire|
|Beacon Hill||130 ft (40 m) *||Branford|
|Saltonstall Mountain||320 ft (98 m) *||Branford, North Branford, and East Haven|
|Peter's Rock||373 ft (114 m)||North Haven|
|Totoket Mountain||720 ft (219 m) *||North Branford, Durham, and Guilford|
|Pistapaug Mountain||700 ft (213 m) *||Durham|
|Fowler Mountain||750 ft (229 m)||Wallingford|
|Trimountain||760 ft (232 m) *||Durham and Wallingford|
|Besek Mountain||840 ft (256 m) *||Meriden, Wallingford, and Middlefield|
|Higby Mountain||892 ft (272 m)||Middlefield and Middletown|
|Chauncey Peak||688 ft (210 m)||Meriden|
|Lamentation Mountain||720 ft (219 m)||Berlin, Middletown, and Meriden|
|The Hanging Hills||1,024 ft (312 m)||Berlin, Meriden, and Southington|
|Short Mountain||530 ft (162 m)||Berlin and Southington|
|Ragged Mountain||761 ft (232 m)||Berlin and Southington|
|Bradley Mountain||700 ft (213 m)||Plainville and Southington|
|Pinnacle Rock||600 ft (183 m)||Plainville and Farmington|
|Rattlesnake Mountain||750 ft (229 m)||Farmington|
|Farmington Mountain||530 ft (162 m)||Farmington|
|Talcott Mountain||950 ft (290 m)*||West Hartford, Farmington, Avon, Bloomfield, and Simsbury|
|Hatchet Hill||510 ft (155 m)||East Granby|
|Peak Mountain||730 ft (223 m)||East Granby|
|Barn Door Hills||580 ft (177 m) *||Granby|
|West Suffield Mountain||710 ft (216 m)||Suffield|
|Manitook Mountain||638 ft (194 m)||Granby|
|Provin Mountain||600 ft (183 m)||Southwick, Agawam, and Westfield|
|East Mountain||776 ft (237 m)||Holyoke, West Springfield, and Westfield|
|Mount Tom Range||1202 ft (363 m)||Holyoke and Easthampton|
|Holyoke Range||1106 ft (337 m)||Hadley, South Hadley, Granby, Amherst, and Belchertown|
|Mount Toby||1269 ft (387 m)||Sunderland and Leverett|
|Sugarloaf Mountain||791 ft (241 m)||Deerfield|
|Pocumtuck Range||846 ft (258 m)||Deerfield and Greenfield|
* Estimated elevation accurate within