My Town: Simsbury
December 19, 2017
John Brown and the Road to the Civil War
January 17, 2018

Let’s Explore the McLean Game Refuge

By Bobby Shipman

Imagine it’s early one summer morning. The sun is rising. Around you, the dewdrops sparkle on the petals of wildflowers and blades of grass. Small animals around you are scampering to and fro. The birds are singing. You dip your toe in the warm, clear water of a pond. You breathe in the cool, crisp air. Does it sound too good to be true? This wonderful place is real. It is in our very own backyard. It is the McLean Game Refuge in Simsbury and Granby.

McLean Game Refuge began with a man named George McLean. He was born in Simsbury in 1857. He was a United States Senator representing Connecticut from 1911 to 1929. A Senator’s job is to make laws. He was very interested in land conservation. Conservation is taking care of the environment. Nowadays, people are very worried about caring for our environment. But to most people back then it was a new and crazy idea.

Senator George P. McLean. Library of Congress

In 1918, Senator McLean helped pass the Migratory Bird Act. This law protected birds. It was one of the first laws that defended endangered animals. But that wasn’t all Senator McLean did for the environment. In 1903, he had started buying land in his hometown. He started with his family’s farm. He bought more and more land until he owned 3,200 acres! He like to walk in the woods, and hunt and fish. He hired Amos George, a Pequot man who knew a lot about nature. George helped take care of the land while Senator McLean was in Washington. McLean invited visitors to his property—including three presidents! When he died in 1932, he left behind money to start McLean Game Refuge.

Today McLean Game Refuge has 4,234 acres of land. It spreads over parts of Granby and Simsbury.

The land started forming over 2 million years ago during the Ice Age. All the land was covered in ice. The ice melted about 12,000 years ago. It revealed mountains, ponds, streams, and forest. The Native Americans hunted and farmed there. When the European settlers arrived in the 1600s, they cut down trees to make fields. They built houses. The land was farmed and harvested. By the early 1900s, the land had become overused. McLean could buy land at a small price. Today, the refuge still has many cellar holes. These date back to when people still lived there on the land. There are hidden Native American graves in the woods. Legend has it that runaway enslaved people were hidden in the forest.

Map showing the portion of the McLean Game Refuge (brown area) that is in Granby.

The brown areas on this map are the portions of the McLean Game Refuge that are in Simsbury. The green line is the border with Granby.

Many kinds of plants can be found at the refuge. There are oak, beech, maple, chestnut, and birch trees. Poison hemlock, a white flower, is also common there. Poison hemlock is a weed and grows like crazy. Blueberries and huckleberries abound. Mountain laurel, the state flower, is there, too. There are two ponds: Kettle Pond and Spring Pond. Nearby is Bissell Brook. In fact, the two ponds were created by people damming the brook!

McLean Game Refuge. S. Philbrick, Wikimedia Commons

Lots of animals call the refuge home. The most common animals are birds. They make up over half the animal species that live there. Birdwatchers come to the refuge to see species like the hermit thrush, the blue-headed vireo, the blackburnian warbler, the pileated woodpecker, and the winter wren. Black bears are seen a lot, too. In the ponds there are frogs, trout, and salmon. There are over 250 different species of animals at the refuge!

The refuge is a truly special place.You can hike its many trails. It is full of animals and plants. The land holds many stories. There is no place in the world like McLean Game Refuge.

McLean Game Refuge
The main entrance is on Route 10/202 in Granby about one mile south of Granby center. For more information and more pictures visit

Bobby Shipman is a 5th grader at Tariffville School in Simsbury. You can also read his stories about Benedict Arnold, Ethan Allen, and My Town: Simsbury.