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West Hill Lake, in Connecticut's Litchfield Hills Region, is the quintessential New England lake. Perhaps more commonly called West Hill Pond, West Hill Lake has stood sentinel over centuries of change in the Connecticut hills. These Connecticut woods and waterways were the home of the Pequot for likely a thousand years before the arrival of European settlers. Artifacts are quite often found in the area around West Hill Pond, and an entire chestnut log canoe was found at the bottom of West Hill Lake by divers in 1989. Carved from a single log, the canoe is considered to be between 350 and 500 years old; it is now preserved at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum. The European settlers arrived here early in the 17th century, and by 1635 a smallpox epidemic had killed nearly 80% of the tribe. The Pequot were known to be fierce defenders of their territory, but were soon overwhelmed by sheer numbers; the rocky hills and sparkling streams became the property of the white newcomers.
West Hill Lake is one of the most pristine lakes in Connecticut. The 261-acre natural lake was dammed at the outlet to Morgan Brook at some time in the past, likely to operate a mill. The dam was rebuilt in the 1970s, keeping the water level about five feet higher than it was historically. In winter, the water level is lowered by three feet to minimize ice damage and allow for dam inspections and repairs. One of the deepest natural ponds in western Connecticut, the springs feeding the lake are cold and produce a fine cold-water fishery. Besides the trout found in the lake, kokanee salmon were planted several years ago and now reproduce well enough that salmon are regularly removed to the Burlington State Trout Hatchery for spawning. The salmon are then used to stock other lakes. Divers often use the small island near the south-west shore for diving and warn novices that the water is extremely cold below 15 feet. The shoreline is moderately developed for summer cottages and year-round homes, but the wooded shoreline still gives an air of peace and solitude. A Boy Scout Camp has occupied a portion of the shore since the 1920s. In fact, the local Boy Scout Council is listed as the owner of the dam. In the past, several small businesses dotted the shoreline but most have moved on to busier highways. Now, the closest supplies are found near New Hartford Center, Torrington, Winsted or Barkhamsted, all within ten miles.
Sailing, pontooning, canoeing and kayaking are favorites on West Hill Pond. Motors are limited to 8 horsepower from Memorial Day through September 15th. Speed limits of 15 miles per hour daytime and 6 miles per hour nighttime apply year round. Brodie Park on the southwest corner of the lake provides public boat launch facilities and rental space for small boats or canoes. There is a fishing pier and swim area with sand beach. Brodie Park also has two clay tennis courts and a four-hoop basketball court and playground. A skate park is in the planning stages. An additional 150 acres across the road provides trails for hiking and horseback riding. A conservation trail leads into an adjacent cedar swamp.
Fishermen enjoy the quiet waters while fishing for brown trout, brook trout, rainbow trout, kokanee salmon, pickerel, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass and sunfish. Ice fishing is just as popular at West Hill Lake as lazy summer casting is. In fact, West Hill Pond is considered one of the better ice fishing lakes in western Connecticut. Paddling the shoreline to enjoy nature is likely as popular as fishing. The heavily-treed shoreline holds a wealth of birds and small mammals. The occasional deer slips down to the water to drink. Exceptionally clear water allows paddlers to spot schools of fish as they silently glide beneath the boats. At night, visitors can watch the sun go down over the Berkshire foothills, warming toes at lakeside campfires in the chilly evening air. What better place to spend the day, either for vacation or for keeps?
Off-water, there are loads of nearby activities to entertain visitors.
American Legion State Forest and Peoples State Forest are within 10 miles of West Hill Lake and are supplied with hiking trails, fishing and camping opportunities. In winter, both have cross-country ski trails. A downhill ski area is located within the same 10-mile circle as are wineries, the Canton Historical Museum at Collinsville and many, many historical markers and pieces of early American history. For a change of pace, the Farmington Valley Arts Center at Avon is less than 15 miles away with art galleries and studios, art lessons and events to support the arts. For nightlife, specialty shopping and an eclectic blend of restaurants, the city of Hartford is only 25 miles from West Hill Pond.
Vacation rentals are a way of life at West Hill Lake. Some rentals have been available continuously for many years. Small resort cabins share the market with luxury up-scale homes. A vacation rental can usually be found to fit any budget, as long as reservations are made well in advance. The nearby Connecticut hills are famous for rustic inns and bed-and-breakfasts. Real estate is often available along the lakeshore or within a couple of miles of the lake. All it will take is one weekend or one summer vacation to decide that West Hill Lake is what you've been looking for. Bring your canoe and paddle the shoreline as did the ancient Pequot. You'll find the fish aren't the only ones who are hooked!
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