Open Spaces / Grace Richardson area: A hike for all seasons
Updated 2:18 pm, Wednesday, October 12, 2011
One of the reasons we enjoy going back to familiar places in nature is that they don't stay completely familiar. Depending on when you return, memories from previous visits might not square up with what you find this time around. It's the same place, but because Nature completely redecorates every season, it can feel like you're visiting for the first time.
For example, the shady summer intimacy of a wooded trail is lost in autumn as trees shed their leaves and open the trail to the sky. But in exchange, your vision across the terrain expands. The solid green forest palette is tossed out and replaced by a brief explosion of fall colors. We come away with a different appreciation of the forest and its changing mood. Besides, in the fall it's neither too hot nor too cold, making it a great time to hike. An excellent autumn hiking choice is the Grace Richardson Conservation Area, where I returned recently for the first time since late last winter.
The 87-acre parcel was part of a major acquisition by the town from the H. Smith Richardson family in 1966. The rest became the H. Smith Richardson Golf Course and the Hoyden's Hill Open Space, described in a previous column.
The only official entrance is where Morehouse Highway joins Congress Street east of the Motel Hi-Ho, but I suspect many golfers have made unofficial entries along the east border of the property in search of balls that missed the nearby fairway.
There is an extensive, well-marked trail system, but 87 acres is quite a bit of property to wander around in. I strongly recommend taking the map from the Open Space Guidebook available from the Conservation Commission. The terrain is quite varied, with ridges and ravines, so expect vigorous hiking in spots. These days, sections of the trails are muddy and potentially slippery, but I had no problem.
I turned left off the old farm road that leads in to the property to follow the yellow trail into the western section. You'll descend into a ravine and come up the other side, catching a glimpse of the small South Pond downhill to your left, and crossing the unnamed stream that feeds it. The stream is running strong now thanks to the recent rains, but there's a fine stepping-stone bridge.
The yellow trail continues west on a bigger loop, but I took a shortcut on a section of the red trail to Bluebird Meadow. There is a boardwalk that leads to a lovely grassy trail through the meadow, now grown in with tall grasses and goldenrod. Several vacant bluebird houses jut up over the grasses. It makes sense that they're empty now, but I have never seen them occupied. I hope the bluebirds didn't get caught up in the subprime mortgage thing.
After Bluebird Meadow, you come upon Farmstead Field, once the site of a farmhouse and barn that have long since been taken down. The road from the entrance leads right here, and you can take it back or turn north on the yellow trail to lengthen the hike along the stream and through varied, wooded terrain. The leaves are still mostly green, but they're starting to fall, spiraling to the forest floor as they flash bits of color. They will increasingly cover the trails, so pay attention to the trail markers. There are several vistas from the ridgelines into the ravines that are not readily visible in summer. North Pond, with its small man-made dam and waterfall, comes up along the old farm road.
This being New England, there are several stone walls marking off former cleared agricultural property. The terrain probably made farming difficult, and the land was abandoned, long enough ago for mature forest to re-grow and leave us with a new hike for every season.
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.