Flood Risk Management
West Thompson Dam lies on the Quinebaug River in Thompson, Conn., about one quarter mile upstream of its confluence with the French River. The dam is part of a network of six flood control facilities in the Thames River Basin that were constructed and are maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This network helps to reduce flooding all the way from the upstream tributaries of the Thames River to the Long Island Sound.
West Thompson Dam was completed in 1965 at a cost of $6.7 million dollars. Since being put into operation West Thompson Dam has prevented an estimated $56.4 million.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regulates the flow of the Quinebaug River, which exits the dam by raising or lowering three (5 feet by 9 feet) hydraulically operated sluice gates from within the dam’s gate house. The water flowing through the dam drains from an area of 174 square miles.
Total potential storage at West Thompson Lake amounts to 342 million gallons of flood water, at a maximum level of 342.5 feet above mean sea level. Water stored during potential flood conditions is released after water levels downstream recede. The highest water level recorded at West Thompson Dam occurred in October 2005, with a pool height of 41.32 feet where the normal pool height at that time of the year is 15 feet. The reservoir at that time was approximately 60 percent full with another 9.18 feet to go before reaching spillway crest at 50.5 feet.
The Reservoir Regulation Team (RRT) in Concord, Mass., is the "nerve center" for New England flood control dams such as West Thompson. Using radio and satellite communications, the RRT constantly monitors river levels and weather conditions that influence flood control decisions. The RRT website is loaded with information about New England river flows, dam operations, snow depths, recreational water releases, and more.
The natural setting surrounding West Thompson Lake is enjoyed year-round. Pleasing views from the dam offer sightseers and photographers a panoramic view of the area. Visitors will discover the biodiversity of nature as they explore our recreation areas.
West Thompson Lake Campground offers 24 campsites (11 basic sites, 11 premium sites with electrical and water hookups, and two lean-to shelters) in a quiet, wooded environment. West Thompson Lake Campground is suited for all types of RV’s, from small truck-back pop-ups to 45 foot campers depending on the site. All the sites are private and wooded with level gravel surfaces. There is a handicap accessible comfort station with flush toilets and hot showers. A dump station and firewood are also available. The entire family will enjoy nature programs, hiking trails, children’s play area, basketball court and horseshoe pits. The nearby boat ramp affords boating and fishing enthusiasts access to the 200-acre West Thompson Lake. On-site campground hosts and park rangers are available to assist campers.
There are three main trail systems at West Thompson Lake. These are signified on the map by the three different colored trail markers.
The trail blazed with yellow markers is The Shoreline Trail, 4-mile loop around the lake that takes you through varying habitats from open fields to forested wetlands. The Shoreline Trail has one “side trail”, The Woodland Walk Trail. The Woodland Walk is a short 0.4-mile walk near the West Thompson Lake Campground and is designated by yellow markers with black triangles.
The trail blazed with blue markers is The Lost Trail; this is a Figure-8 trail which connects the campground with the Shoreline Trail. It begins at the north end of the campground loop. The Lost Trail is a short 1.2-mile walk.
The trail blazed with orange markers begins as the Ramsdell Woods Trail; this is a 2.2-mile trail that takes you from the Dam north to the Ramsdell Farm. The trail continues on to the northern part of West Thompson Lake where it comes to a junction. Crossing Old Blain Road the trail becomes the Ravenelle Ponds Loop. Crossing Blain Bridge you will pick up the Shoreline Trail. The Ravenelle Ponds Loop is a 1.2-mile loop which travels through serene old pine stands and agricultural fields past the three peaceful ponds and back again to Old Blain Road. If you continue north from the top of The Ravenelle Ponds Loop you will find the Quinebaug River Trail which travels another 4.5 miles north to Fabyan Road. There is also a 1.5 mile section of the Quinebaug River Trail located on the east side of the Quinebaug River which links Old Blain Road to Red Bridge Road.
UPDATE: Currently the bridge on Old Blain Road has been removed so the only way to complete a loop around West Thompson Lake is to begin on the Shoreline Trail and when you get to Old Blain Road take the Quinebaug River Trail north to Red Bridge Road were you can cross the river. Once you have crossed the river, there is another section of the Quinebaug River Trail on the opposite side which will take you back to Old Blain Road and the Shoreline Trail.
Quinebaug River Water Trail
The Thompson section of the Quinebaug River Water Trail is located within the project boundary of West Thompson Lake. This stretch of the trail is about five miles long with moving water (but no rapids), flat water, extensive wildlife habitat, and no portages. It is an excellent three-hour outing for paddlers who are comfortable with moving water.
The banks range from steep and forested to flat agricultural fields. During the first three miles of the trip you will feel isolated except for two bridge crossings. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Thompson Trails Committee work collectively to maintain the entire length of the water tail and the put-in at Fabyan Dam and the take-out at the West Thompson Lake Boat Ramp.
Put-in: Fabyan Dam Canoe Launch
Six parking spaces are available in a paved lot at the launch on Fabyan Road in Thompson. There is an unpaved lot with room for about ten vehicles across the street. The carry to the water’s edge is less than 250 feet and gently downhill, or you can back your vehicle down the paved ramp to the water’s edge. The put-in is a paved ramp with some rocks at the water’s edge. There are no public restrooms located at this ramp.
Take-out: West Thompson Lake Boat Ramp
Free parking is available at the West Thompson Lake Boat Ramp located at 400 Reardon Road. There are about 25 spaces in the gravel lot and the carry from the water’s edge is less than 50 feet. Take-out areas include a large concrete launch ramp and a grassy slope into the water. There are seasonal public restrooms available from April to October.
Disc Golf Course
West Thompson Lake offers a no charge Disc Golf Course with 18 challenging holes known for long drives. There are eight holes under 300 feet., six holes 300 to 400 feet., and four holes over 400 feet. This course is great for players of all skill levels and ages, and offers scenic views of West Thompson Lake and the Dam.
West Thompson Lake has three picnic shelters available for rent. All of our shelters come with drive up access, two large charcoal grills, picnic tables and access to a portable toilet. To check the availability of a shelter or reserve one please contact the Park Office at 860-923-2982.
The Overlook Shelter is a large shelter located in a field on the south west side of the lake near the dam spillway and gate house. This shelter can accommodate a party of approximately 100 people. This shelter has both electricity and potable water available for special event use. Access to the shelter is from the gated entrance on West Thompson Road.
West Side Shelter
The West Side Shelter is a large shelter located out in the fields on the west side of the lake. This shelter can accommodate a party of approximately 100 people. Access to the shelter is from the gated entrance on Ravenelle Road. Because of its remote location there is no electricity or running water available at this shelter.
East Side Shelter
The East Side Shelter is a smaller shelter located between the entrance road to the campground and the boat ramp. This shelter can accommodate a party of approximately 50 people. Drive up access is through the campground road but the majority of parking for this shelter is located in the boat ramp as is the portable toilet. This shelter has both electricity and potable water available for special event use.
Hunting and Fishing
Hunting is allowed at West Thompson Lake and is governed by the state of Connecticut laws and regulations. In the fall, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection stock pheasants in the fields on the west side of the lake as well as the corn fields along the Quinebaug River, which makes West Thompson Lake a popular destination for upland bird hunters. Deer hunting is also popular, which begins in mid-September and runs through December 31. We encourage visitors to wear fluorescent orange during this time of the year.
Fishing is permitted at West Thompson Lake and in the Quinebaug River. The Quinebaug River is stocked with rainbow, brook, and brown trout by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Common warm water fish species in the lake include largemouth and smallmouth bass, pickerel, perch, carp, and sunfish. An inland fishing license is required for anyone 16 years of age or older fishing at West Thompson Lake or the Quinebaug River.
Reservations and Fees
To To make reservations for the West Thompson Lake Campground contact the National Recreation Reservation Service at their website: www.recreation.gov or call toll-free: 1-877-444-6777. Walk-in registrations also welcome, depending on availability.
Basic Site - $15.00/night
Lean-to Site - $20.00/night
Premium Site - $30.00/night
Firewood - $3.00/bundle
Special Events and Shelter Reservations
West Thompson Lake hosts many special events which require special use permits. If you are interested in holding a special event please contact the West Thompson Lake Park Office at 860-923-2982 in advance. There is a fee for special events and the amount varies depending on the event or area requested. Areas are rented on a first come first served basis. The following are the available special use permit areas:
East Side Picnic Shelter:
Reservations for this shelter must be made by contacting the park office.
West Side Picnic Shelter:
Reservations for this shelter must be made by contacting the park office.
Overlook Picnic Shelter:
Reservations for this area must be made by contacting the park office.
No Charge for public use.
Disc Golf Course:
No Charge for public use.
Contact West Thompson Lake Park Office for special event pricing.
West Thompson Lake is rich with natural resources and a great diversity of habitats, landscapes, plant life, and wildlife. Park Rangers manage the 1,857 acres based on a multiple-use approach focusing on water resources, forest health, wildlife, and recreational use which assures a diversity of resources for future generations to enjoy.
Forest covers approximately 1,125 acres of the project. Forest management practices include timber harvests and thinning which improve timber quality, promote regeneration, enhance wildlife habitat, and provide additional recreational opportunities. The dominant tree species at West Thompson Lake are eastern white pine, oak, and shagbark hickory. Other common species are birch and maple with smaller undergrowth species including American hornbeam, sassafras, witch hazel, black cherry, and winterberry. It is very common to see low bush blueberries growing in the midst of white pine stands while you are hiking along the trails.
The Quinebaug River crosses the Massachusetts border and flows for six miles before entering the 200 acre West Thompson Lake. Wetlands, streams, river banks, beaver ponds, and vernal pools are plentiful and provide breeding habitat for many invertebrates, reptiles, amphibians, fish, waterfowl, and other bird species. The Quinebaug River is stocked with rainbow, brook, and brown trout by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Common warm water fish species in the lake include largemouth and smallmouth bass, pickerel, perch, carp, and sunfish.
Approximately 200 acres of land are leased to local farmers for agricultural use. Many grow feed corn for livestock while others grow vegetables. The farmers leave a portion of their crop standing for fall and winter food sources for various wildlife species including deer, turkey, geese, waterfowl, and raccoons.
An important habitat at West Thompson Lake is the 80 acres of open grassland immediately surrounding the lake. Grasslands are a vital but diminishing natural resource throughout the United States. Numerous wildlife species, particularly birds, are dependent on these areas for food, cover, and breeding. Wildlife that can be found in these grasslands include bobolink, eastern meadowlark, black racer, horned lark, northern leopard frog, small rodents, turkey, pheasants, wood turtles, and numerous insects. At West Thompson Lake, we actively manage grasslands for breeding populations of ground nesting birds such as the bobolink and eastern meadowlark, which are species of special concern in Connecticut.
Due to the vast diversity of habitats at West Thompson Lake, it is not uncommon to see an array of wildlife while hiking the trails. Start off at the flagpole on top of the dam and see the ravens flying through the field, then hop on the Ramsdell Woods Trail and peer out of the wildlife viewing platform to see the great blue herons feeding their young in their tree top nests in the beaver pond. Hike around the back side of the pond and see fish jumping while mallards dabble and beavers slap their tails on the surface of the water. Continue on to Old Ravenelle Road and you might catch a glimpse of a deer or a raccoon feeding in the planted corn field at the historic Ramsdell Farm site. A fox may even dart across your path into the rocky ledges along the old road. Hike up to the north end of the lake and switch paths onto the Shoreline Trail which provides amazing views of the lake. Keep your eyes open for bald eagles, both mature and immature, who are frequent visitors. Hiking through the grasslands along the west side of the lake you will almost certainly spot bobolinks, kingbirds, red-winged blackbirds, song sparrows, bluebirds, and swallows. Experience this natural splendor in less than a four mile hike.
Historical and Cultural Resources
Prior to the English colonization of New England, the valley of Quinebaug River was the home to the Nipmuc people. There were two small sub-tribes of the Nipmucs that inhabited the area now known as West Thompson. West of the Quinebaug River were the Wabbaquasett and east of the river were the Quinebaug. These people raised corn, beans, and squash; fished from the fiver for salmon and shad during the spring; and hunted deer and other game from the surrounding woodlands.
During the colonization period, Thompson was the crossroads for the highways connecting Hartford, Worcester, Springfield and Providence. Taverns and stores sprang up to take advantage of the travelers. Several mills were built to utilize the waterpower from the Quinebaug River. Agriculture and dairy farming were another important industry in the area. Much of the land adjacent to the lake and river is still used for this purpose today.
The Ramsdell Farm was located on the west side of West Thompson Lake. After the devastating floods of 1955, the U.S. Government planned flood control projects to prevent future disasters. The Entire town of West Thompson was needed in order to construct a dam and flood plain on the Quinebaug River. Land was acquired by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers through eminent domain. Alice Ramsdell refused to sell her farm to the government and lived on the land until her death in 1995. You can still visit the historical Ramsdell farm site off of the Old Ravenelle Road trail and view the foundations, stone walls, fruit trees, and even the original rail road ties where Alice’s father Frank kept his personal railroad engine and boxcar.