One of the most popular Elm City destinations for Yale students is East Rock Park, located a couple miles north of main campus. Students often hike to the 366-foot summit, which affords a bird’s-eye view of New Haven.

From this vantage point, a hiker may notice the plethora of greenery dotting the New Haven landscape: parks, mountains and trails largely unexplored by students. From Edgewood Park to West Rock Ridge, New Haven is home to a diverse set of ecosystems for a city of its size — even if students rarely venture beyond East Rock.

“The city of New Haven itself is urban, but you only have to go a short ways outside to really hit woods and farmlands,” said Kaija Gahm ’20, events coordinator for the Yale Outdoors Club. “It’s very different from the rest of the Northeast.”

Gahm cited East Rock and West Rock Ridge as two especially isolated sites — places that “really feel like the woods.” Each park has miles of backwoods trails available for hiking, she said, far more than a typical urban city park.

New Haven is also home to West River Memorial Park, where city officials are currently in the process of building a three-mile long bird-watching trail; Bishop Woods Preserve, which offers challenging hiking trails; and Lighthouse Point, a multi-use park on the Long Island Sound that features picnic tables, a beach and a playground.

New Haven is home to a number of robust organizations that take full advantage of these green spaces. The Friends of Edgewood and East Rock Parks, both of which have more than 1,000 members, maintain reserves.

The New Haven Bird Club has around 400 members, according to President Craig Repasz ’00. The city has a strong bird-watching culture, with a number of prime viewing spots at parks such as Edgewood and Lighthouse Point. One of the club’s most popular events is its annual “Mega Bowl of Birding,” in which participants spend the day trying to spot as many different species of birds as they can.

East Rock in particular is a great place for finding birds — in the springtime, the abundance of migratory fowl brings watchers from all over the Northeast, Repasz said. Although the New Haven Bird Club was founded by Yale students and faculty in 1907, Repasz said University affiliates are less of a presence in the club now.

“There is a huge outdoors culture [in New Haven],” said Martin Torresquintero, the outdoor adventure coordinator for the New Haven’s Parks, Recreation and Trees Department. “More and more people are engaging in park-related activities, and this is people of all ages.”

Torresquintero’s department hosts numerous adventure and education programs for both students and adults, including bird-watching, whitewater rafting and kayaking. According to Torresquintero, the events typically run at full capacity, demonstrating the high level of interest Elm City residents have in the outdoors.

Torresquintero welcomed Yale students to connect with the city’s parks department and to sign up for events through Facebook, although students and faculty are already involved in activities, particularly at East Rock.

Organizations at Yale, in particular the Yale Outdoors Club, are also involved in the New Haven outdoors. Although Gahm acknowledged that the club has not interacted regularly with New Haven residents, it recently invited a speaker from Sleeping Giant State Park, which is located in Hamden, to come and discuss walks in the park. Emma Spence ’18, a former leader of the club, also mentioned the work the organization does with community service-focused high schools in the area.

The club — which has about half of Yale’s students on its weekly email panlist, according to Spencer and Gahm — organizes sunrise hikes to West Rock and Long Wharf most Fridays and offers classes and excursions for Yale students.

“The campus can feel very disconnected from green spaces,” Spence said. “Surprisingly, a lot of [upper-level students] I’ve talked with haven’t even been to East Rock.”

All public New Haven parks are available for free to the general public, including Yale students.

Conor Johnson |