Conservation & Environment Commission



1 - Introduction

2 - Physical Landscape Features

3 - Water Resources

4 - Biological Communities

5 - Land-Use

6 - Recreation & Open Space

7 - Environmental Problems




I: Animal Species List

II: Rare and Endangered Species List

III: Introduced & Invasive Species List

IV: Recreation & Open Space

V: Contact Information

List of Figures

List of Tables

< Back to BLT Main Site


Natural Resources Inventory for the Town of Branford


Branford has had a rich and diverse land-use history. Some minor historical accounts will be presented here to show the changes that have occurred and relate modern land-use to the last 300 years of settlement. For more information about Branford's history visit the Blackstone Memorial Library or contact the Branford Historical Society (124 Main Street; 488-4828).

Transportation Corridor
After its settlement during the 1600's, Branford remained a farming community and small town for much of its existence. It is only during the last half of the Twentieth Century that much of the land was developed for residential and commercial uses. Therefore, much of the character of this Town has changed within the last 100 years. One of the most important impacts on land-use in Branford during the last 100 years is the advent of a large transportation corridor between Boston and New York (Figure 9: Land-use). With the building of the railroad, the development of Route 1, and the origin of Interstate 95, the whole coast between New York and Boston changed dramatically. Much of the Town's present character and, subsequently, its land-use are tied to this corridor. Residential development and supporting commercial interests (strip malls and shops) account for the vast majority of development in Town. Light industrial and commercial developments are a distant second to residential development and farming is relegated to a few scattered sites around Town.

The effects of the transportation corridor can be seen in the distribution of land-uses throughout the Town. Most of the commercial and industrial development in Town takes place along the Route 1 corridor. South of I-95 (which includes both Route 1 and the rail line) is the highest density of houses. You can almost trace the position of Routes 1, 146, 139 and 142 by following the coded symbol noted on Figure 9 (Land-use) for residential/commercial development. This same approach can also be taken to map out the Branford Green and the areas surrounded by Main Streets. The least developed portions of Town are located north of I-95 where major thoroughfares are fewer. However, here too, one can follow the path of Brushy Plain Road by following the increase in housing and commercial densities. The least developed portion of Town is the area associated with the steep topography along the high angle Jurassic fault (Totoket Mountains), particularly those areas underlain by basalt deposits. The largest sections of uninterrupted open space are located north of I-95 in the Supply Ponds subwatershed, and on lands belonging to the Regional Water Authority (Lake Saltonstall subwatershed). The next largest tracts of uninterrupted open space are located along the eastern portion of the Town along the Branford/Guilford border.

With the exception of Lake Saltonstall, the Supply Ponds and the undeveloped areas along the eastern Town border, the forested areas in Town are highly fragmented. Most of these habitats are secondary growth and recently disturbed secondary growth deciduous forests. The last remaining contiguous tracts of coniferous forest are those located on Regional Water Authority land, some isolated tracts within the Supply Ponds sub-watershed and some isolated patches in the east and northeast corner of Town.

Land-use in and around Branford is tied to the geology in many ways (compare Figure 1, Figure 3 and Figure 9). For example, farms were most prevalent on the broader flats that overlie the glacial outwash plains while mining and quarry activities are more common where bedrock reaches the surface or glacial debris deposits are found. Although utilized throughout its history, the high angled fault region is the least developed area today because of the steep slopes and rough topography.

Early European settlers to the Town found ample forests and resources to survive. Like so many coastal areas of Connecticut, the open salt marshes provided grazing and other open space for early use in maintaining livestock. This coastline also provided food (fish, shellfish), pelts (e.g., muskrat) and other economic opportunities as the Branford River provided a good harbor and inland waterway for its early residents. The forests that had grown since the last glaciation were well developed hard and soft wood habitats and provided the early settlers with abundant building material.

As the land was cleared, the glacial tills provided good drainage to many of the soils and farming was readily accomplished. The Branford River was a good source of freshwater and irrigation was possible. The sloping topography, moderate yet moist climate (regulated by the proximity to the coast) and the sandy soils were especially good for the planting of orchards.

Coastal and Off-shore
Due to the Town's proximity to the shoreline, many opportunities are provided for residents to utilize the coastal and offshore resources. Early in its history, shellfish beds, including oysters, were available to the residents of Town. Commercial fishing in the Sound and near-shore area was also important. Beaches and access to the water have long served Branford's residents and in the past (early 20th Century) made tourism a relatively large trade. Today, coastal rentals still provide a source of income for a number of landowners, although most properties are now year-round residences. Coastal resources also include boating and access to the water. Branford has over 10 marinas and yacht clubs along the Branford and Stony Creek Harbors alone. The Farm River, Lake Saltonstall and upper reaches of the Branford River and its tributaries serve a number of purposes including canoeing and boat launches and rentals for smaller boats.

Today, although access to many of the offshore and coastal resources are restricted at times due to pollution, there are still many uses of the offshore habitat by Town's residents. Lobster and clams (steamers and round) are still important seafood resources to the region. Crabs are also locally important. Fish such as shad, that were probably present at one time in the River, are now no longer part of the catch. Flounder, fluke, blackfish, bluefish, porgies (scup) and weakfish are still taken in the gray and blue waters off the coast. Most of the coastal fisheries are almost exclusively an offshore resource. Near shore and coastal resources are now limited to clamming and some limited crabbing, although these too are subject to closure depending on the tide and storm activity (see Figure 10 - Recreational Shellfishing in Branford; reprinted from Branford Shellfish Commission Brochure, January 2002). Other shellfish include blue mussels, oysters and razor clams (Figure 10: Shellfish Beds). Some important commercial and sport fish include sunfish, trout (rainbow, brook and brown), wide-mouth bass, striped bass, flounder and sea trout. Bait-fish such as killifish and silversides are also part of the resource (for more information see Biological Communities Chapter).

Thimble Islands
Within Stony Creek Harbor there is a collection of over 350 islands that form the Thimble Island chain. These islands, the result of a fault line scarp (thrusting), range in size from just a half acre to 12 acres and support a variety of land-uses including residential development and habitat conservation. While some of the islands do support houses, most are too small for residential use. Many of these smaller islands are home to birds and seals and some are part of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge. Tour boats offer sight-seeing tours of the Thimbles and many smaller private crafts come here for recreation and fishing.

Scenic and Unique Resources
The Town of Branford has some unique resources (both natural and man-made) that make the area a destination for tourism. The Thimble Islands (noted above) are home to a number of celebrities and many people come here each year to tour the islands and possibly get a glimpse of some of the more famous individuals. The island tours also provide a unique opportunity to see harbor seals in their natural environment in the winter and unique bird nesting sites on the outer islands in the summer. At times, whales have even been spotted near the outer islands. Folklore has it that the pirate, Blackbeard used the area for stashing his treasure and eluding capture.

State Route 146 is a State-designated scenic highway and includes some of Branford's most spectacular views. The Town Green is a quaint reminder of New England's past complete with churches and open land (historically used for grazing). South of the Green, Route. 146 passes along the shore providing views of the coast, Long Island Sound and the Thimble Islands. Off of Route 146 is the old Stony Creek Quarry. There is still an active quarry on the site, although much of the property is now used for hiking and passive recreation. The rock from this site was once used to build such places as New York City's Grand Central Terminal. The pinkish coloration to the granite is still considered some of the nicest example of rock of its kind.

The oldest continuously operating trolley line in America is in the western portion of Town. Although the Shore Line Trolley Museum pavilion is located in East Haven, much of the museum and the entire trolley line are located in Branford. This includes a fully restored 2.5-mile roundtrip ride through Branford's Farm River marshes.

Areas along Shore Drive (Route 142) and Johnson Point also provide scenic views of Branford Harbor and open waters of the Sound.

Branford's utilities are served by a number of companies including Connecticut Light and Power (a division of Northeast Utilities) for electricity, Southern Connecticut Gas Company for natural gas, South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority for potable water and a variety of communications and private home heating oil companies. At present none of these companies maintain records for individual towns on a per capita basis. Rather the records are kept on an account basis and the information is not available for public use.

Commercial and industrial resources in Town are varied and range from small shops and services to large manufacturers such as the Dana Corp. Recently Branford has seen an increase in the number of biotechnology and research and development firms. For example Curagen, Inc., a genetic research company, has plans to consolidate its offices in the eastern portion of Town and may one day employ upwards of 1,100 employees.

Commercial (retail & wholesale) establishments are found throughout the Town. These range in size from single structures in isolated areas (i.e., Pine Orchard Market on Route 146) to large shopping plazas (i.e., Branhaven Center with 17 business including Kohl's and Foodmart). Many of the larger shopping plazas and smaller retail businesses are located along the Route 1 corridor (Table 4: Commercial Resources). Although not directly located on Route 1, the Cherry Hill Center does meet Route 1 at the I-95 connector and includes Walmart.

In addition to the Route 1 corridor, there are clusters of businesses scattered throughout the Town. For example, a number of small service and retail establishments can be found in Stony Creek near the Town Dock, on South Montowese Street (Route 146) near Linden Avenue, and along Shore Drive (Route 142) in Short Beach. There are concentrations of establishments surrounding the Town Green on Main Street and Montowese Street and elsewhere in the center of Town, and a number of stores are located on Cedar Street/Brushy Plain Road near Exit 54, and on Leetes Island Road on either side of I-95.

Many manufacturers and industries are concentrated in industrial and business parks in the eastern portion of Town. The major areas include the business and industrial parks along Route 139 (Commercial Street and Thompson Street), the industrial and manufacturing parks off of Route 1 (Sycamore Way, Northeast Industrial and School Ground Roads (behind the Chowder Pot)), and the cluster of businesses off of Leetes Island Road near Exit 56 on I-95 (East Industrial Road and Business Park Road). There are some smaller clusters of businesses that are scattered throughout the Town such as the establishments located on Meadow Street north of the train station (i.e., Atlantic Wire) and the area between Bradley Street and Elm Street (i.e., future home of Cherry Hill Glass Co. at the old Nutmeg Steel plant).