Open Spaces / The crown jewel of open spaces -- with a pet peeve
Published 2:30 pm, Tuesday, October 25, 2011
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the last in a series profiling the Town of Fairfield's open spaces.
Lake Mohegan is far and away the most notable of Fairfield's open spaces, and with good reason. There's the popular lake itself. There are miles of trails crisscrossing 180 acres of exceptional terrain. It's also the best showcase of the Mill River, capped by the spectacular Cascades. By all measures it's the jewel in the open-spaces crown.
Yet I don't go there that often. There can be too many dogs.
There, I've said it! Before you round up the posse, let me explain. I stand by my dog-loving credentials. In fact, my son's dog, Preacher, dozing next to me right now, took me in his youth on a few walks around Lake Mohegan, let alone all the other open spaces. So what's my problem?
Dogs are allowed off leash in all open spaces under the same set of rules, but Lake Mohegan is without doubt the signature Fairfield dog-walking destination. Well, when the number of dogs reaches a critical mass, the trails, mainly in the southeast section, become a dog park -- a place where dogs and their owners congregate in the style of their respective species. I get it, but dog-free hikers, a distinct minority at Lake Mohegan, are sometimes left to pick their way through gaggles of romping dogs and owners comparing notes on all things canine.
Sound carries in the woods, and the natural ambience slips a few notches when through the trees comes, "Sparky, stop that! Sparky! Get over here! Now! (Sparky's name has been changed to protect his identity.) On my last visit, I shared the trail for quite some time with people whose dog wore a small cowbell. As a location device, the cowbell's thunk-thunk-thunk works very well with dogs, who unlike cows, ring it nonstop because they almost never stop moving.
But don't let my whining discourage you. Honestly, Lake Mohegan is big enough to share with dogs and their owners having a good time, and it's too beautiful to miss. Let me give a shout-out to dog owners: You do a great job picking up after your dogs. I get enough grief when I track mud into the house.
Like most of Fairfield, the Lake Mohegan area was at one time cleared for agriculture, the cleared fields reclaimed by second-growth forest. In the mid-20th century, a section of the west bank of the Mill River was excavated for gravel, ultimately allowing the creation of Lake Mohegan. From the 1960s to the 1980s, the town made a series of acquisitions to assemble the current open space.
There is unlimited parking at the Morehouse Highway lot by the lake. (I typed "unlimited barking" first. Calling Dr. Freud!) You can access all the trails from here. There's parking at the picnic area up the road, and several other on-foot access points. The conservation commission trail map is strongly recommended. The trail markings can be a little confusing at crossings, but you'll figure it out easily enough. It's actually part of the fun.
The Mill River creates a valley as it courses south, with the land rising on either side. There are a few steep climbs, but it's worth the effort, as you'll have sweeping views of the terrain. You'll come upon up-close access to natural sections of the river and the lake shore. The trails are well-maintained, with boardwalks, step stones, foot bridges and stairs to make the walk easier and safer.
I particularly enjoy the secluded North Pond and the foot bridge just south of the pond over the Mill River. Benches built into the bridge let hikers sit and enjoy the sights and sounds of the river. Every Fairfielder should visit The Cascades, a section of the river that surges through a series of massive rocks. It's spectacular and dramatic, with plenty of rocky perches to choose from. Keep your eye on small children; the dogs are on their own.
Ron Blumenfeld is a retired pediatrician, a member of the Fairfield Board of Health and an experienced hiker. His "Open Spaces" appears every other Wednesday. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.