Monroe Conservation Commission
Monroe Town Hall
7 Fan Hill Road, Monroe, CT 06468
Seal Town of Monroe


Conservationists of the Month

Natural Resources


Discovery Zone:
An Outdoor Classroom In Monroe

Peter Marteka - Nature's Path
June 27, 2008
Hartford Courant
Visit for video of the Webb Mountain Discovery Zone.

      If I were walking through the forest and saw it, I would have believed it was just a pile of lichen-covered rocks.
      But this was no ordinary forest. This was the Webb Mountain Discovery Zone in Monroe, an outdoor classroom for all ages. A huge white sign near the mound identified the rock pile as the remnants of a livestock birthing hut once used by Colonial farmers.
      The 171 acres in the shadow of Webb Mountain Park are filled with more than two dozen interpretive signs pointing out things like vernal pools, a 19th-century charcoal kiln and a place where deer rub their antlers. It's an open space that pleases the senses and educates visitors.
      It's kind of like a miniature golf course. Instead of golf balls being swatted away by rotating windmills, visitors go from sign to sign doing activities like counting rings of trees, looking for salamanders, frogs and animal tracks or bits of charcoal from old kilns. Score cards and pencils are available at a kiosk at the trail entrance.
      As visitors travel around the zone's three loop trails, they keep track of the items they find. For example, a point is given for finding decomposed logs or lichen on trees and rocks. Two points are awarded for finding charcoal from old kilns or quartz boulders. Three points are awarded for finding things like a drill hole in an abandoned quarry or a salamander.
      So I'm thinking if you find a salamander in a drill hole in a quartz rock under a decomposed log, that should be 50 points. Well, my math may be a little off, but you get the idea. The more difficult something is to find, the higher the points. And unlike miniature golf, you are going for a high score.
      The park was the brainstorm of Monroe Conservation Commission Chairman Tom Ellbogen, Hank Gruner, a biologist with the Science Center and Nicholas Bellantoni, state archaeologist. The trio looked at the parcel shortly after the town purchased it in 2004 for $4.1 million, The land had been slated to be turned into a 125-home cluster housing development.
      The trio mapped out places of natural interest like vernal pools, Scotch pine plantations and mountain laurel stands. They also found old farm roads, Native American toolmaking areas and historical hayfields. Then 1.1-mile, 1.8-mile and 1.6-mile loop trails were created with names like "Froggy Freeway," "Turtle Turnpike," "Salamander Street" and "Hawk Highway."
      A total of 27 huge signs were laid out marking the natural and human history within the preserve. The Zone opened last year, and has become a destination for people across the state. Ellbogen said his aim was to get schoolchildren to visit the Zone.
      "This gets and keeps kids outside and engaged in the outdoors," he said. "They are interacting with nature in ways they may not if they were just walking through. Every stop has a purpose and a story behind it. We think it's a unique setup we have here and a great way to use our open space. Kids and adults can get a lot out of it."
      My favorite trail was the 1.8-mile loop, which takes visitors along Pond Parkway and past Knecht Pond along Bullfrog Boulevard to Hay Field Way. Along the way, visitors should be on the lookout for huge stands of mountain laurel, patches of Indian pipes growing on the dark and dank forest floor and a wonderful hayfield filled with wildflowers. And don't forget to look for bullfrogs.
      The Discovery Zone is not only a place for kids to enjoy. It's a place where adults can go on a scavenger hunt and relive their childhood.
      Admission is free and the area is open to the public. Leashed dogs are allowed. For trail maps and directions to the Zone at 100 Webb Circle, visit

Visit for video of the Webb Mountain Discovery Zone.

The Monroe Conservation Commission manages parks and open space properties for the town's enjoyment and use, including Webb Mountain Discovery Zone and WebbMountain Park. It is in the planning stage for the Chalk Hill Nature Trail, Lane's Mines Park, and the Halfway River properties.

Commission Members
Cindy Ambrosey
Gail Bunovsky, Vice Chairman
Tom Ellbogen, Chairman
Michael O'Reilly, Secretary
Andrew Pfau
Michael Visconti
Christine Clark, Treasurer
Town Hall Liaisons
Dave Solek
Vincent Mangiacopra

The Monroe Conservation Commission
meets the first Wednesday of every month at 7:30pm
in the Town Hall conference room.
Public participation is welcome.
Email us at with questions, comments
or concerns about our properties and nominations for Conservationist of the Month.
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