Hoyden’s Hill Open Space Area
Location and Access
The 58-acre Hoyden's Hill Open Space Area (see Map 4) is centered on the plateau of Hoyden’s Hill, the highest point in Fairfield. The open space area is on the northerly side of Hoyden’s Lane, opposite the Town’s H. Smith Richardson Golf Course. It’s bounded to the west by the Town-owned “Parcel’s” property and the Centennial Watershed State Forest which extends north to Beers Road. The Centennial Forest also borders the east side of the open space access road from Beers Road and the north property line of the open space area. Beers Road and Morehouse Highway mark the boundary between Fairfield and the Town of Easton.
The open space area is bounded on the northeast by the Rolling Hills Drive residential neighborhood which extends south to the Barbieri open space parcel. The Barbieri parcel adds 27 acres to the Hoyden’s Hill Open Space Area; hiking trails are now being planned for this land.
The main open space entrance from Hoyden’s Lane is shared with the Town’s golf driving range. If the range is open, you can drive into the open space area and park along the driveway. Take care not to be locked in as the bar gate is shut when the range is closed. If the gate is closed you’ll have to park with care along Hoyden’s Lane. Pedestrian access to the open space area is provided at Beers Road and the Rolling Hills Drive cul-de-sac.
Much of the land now included within the Hoyden’s Hill area (and within the Grace Richardson Conservation Area) was part of a 271-acre tract acquired by the Town of Fairfield from the H. Smith Richardson family in 1966. Several smaller parcels were later purchased by the Town and added to the original acquisition, most recently the area known as the “Barbieri” open space parcel.
Prior to Town acquisition, much of the land that’s now part of the open space area was used for agricultural purposes, dating back to at least the 18th century. A farm road once extended southward from Beers Road through the center of the present-day Hoyden’s Hill Open Space Area, H. Smith Richardson Golf Course, and Grace Richardson Conservation Area down to Congress Street.
Stonewalls indicating historical property divisions and past agricultural uses crisscross the area and are notable landscape features. Several of these walls mark the boundaries of 17th century “Long Lots,” although the actual walls were likely not constructed until the 1800’s.
In the early 1970’s, the Town built the H. Smith Richardson Golf Course and formally set aside the Hoyden’s Hill and Grace Richardson areas specifically for open space purposes.
Today, uses of the open space area are fairly diverse. The area contains a golf driving range, agricultural fields that until recently were privately cultivated under lease agreement with the Town, and trails for hiking, cross-country skiing, horseback riding, and wildlife observation. There’s also an old farmhouse that serves as the residence of the golf course superintendent; an old barn that dates back to past agricultural uses; and the outdoor shooting range of the Fairfield Police Department. Visitors needn’t worry about the shooting range interfering with their hiking. The range is used infrequently and there are plenty of signs that alert everyone when it’s being used.
In 1992, the Conservation Commission prepared and adopted the Hoyden’s Hill Open Space Area and Grace Richardson Conservation Area Multiple Use Management Plan which includes management provisions to guide the beneficial use and conservation of both areas.
Hoyden's Hill is a drumlin--a smooth, dome-shaped hill formed beneath moving glacial ice. The long axis of this elongated hill is oriented northwest to southeast, indicating the direction of ice movement some 10,000 to 20,000 years ago. The plateau of the hill is centered in the open space area and contains the highest elevation in Fairfield at about 443 feet above sea level. It’s been written that the hill affords a view of Long Island Sound, but the view is now obstructed by the regeneration of forest vegetation.
Relatively flat topography with slopes of only 3-6% covers most of the open space area and makes the land suitable for a variety of purposes, including its historical farming uses. Steeper slopes, in the range of 15-20%, are found in the northern part of the area, including the trail to and from Beers Road. The open space area drains to the west through the Centennial Watershed State Forest and into the Hemlock Reservoir. The state forest land was purchased by the Department of Environmental Protection in 2002 from the Aquarion Water Company.
Vegetation and Wildlife
Vegetation types include fallow farm fields, an abandoned orchard, hardwood hedgerows, old fields, and woodlands. The fields set amidst the woodland of Hoyden’s Hill provide an important “edge” community and diversity of habitat for wildlife. The fields are separated by hedgerows approximately 10 to 30 feet wide and made up of a variety of trees such as sassafras, dogwood, red maple, oak, ash, birch, and black locus. Shrubs such as barberry, honeysuckle and sumac, along with vines such as bittersweet and poison ivy provide a dense understory in the hedgerows.
Old field successional habitat is found west of the entrance driveway and north of the old barn. These are fields that have been colonized by red cedar, black cherry, and woody shrubs, and they will eventually revert to woodland if left unchecked.
North of the fields and the police shooting range, the open space area is densely wooded. The steeper hillside of the northwest corner of the open space area supports the most advanced forest growth, including large 24” to 30” diameter maples, tulip poplars, ash, oak, and hickory. Due to moist conditions created by runoff flowing down the slope, viburnum, blueberry, winterberry, sedge, ferns, and jack-in-the-pulpit grow on the hillside.
The fallow fields, hedgerows, and old fields interface with the woodland areas to create very productive wildlife habitat. The hedgerows separating the fields are attractive to birds, and the formerly cultivated fields are important to many wildlife species. The edges between the open and wooded areas are transitional zones (ecotones) between different habitat communities, and are especially valuable. Song birds, small mammals, fox, deer, raptors, upland game birds, and reptiles are commonly found in the open space area. The large unbroken expanses of forested land in and adjoining the area provide significant interior-forest bird habitat that elsewhere has been lost as a result of development.
When you enter the open space area from the paved access road off Hoyden’s Lane, you should follow the path to the right leading toward the barn. You can then walk into the interior of the open space through the abandoned orchard north of the barn. If you then follow the trail through the center of the open space area and down the forested northwest slope of Hoyden’s Hill to Beers Road, you’ll have walked about ¾ of a mile.
The northern section of the old farm road that extends from Hoyden’s Lane through the open space area to Beers Road provides the backbone for the hiking trail system. Portions of the farm road have been utilized as hiking trails, while some sections of the road have been allowed to develop into hedgerows adjacent to the trails. The remaining parallel stonewalls indicate the original route of the roadway across the farm fields.
After crossing the police shooting range (walking north), the trail travels through woodland. At the northerly end, the trail regains the old roadbed bounded on two sides by stone walls and runs down-slope to Beers Road.
Mowed paths are maintained on either side of the fallow fields. A woodland trail that bypasses the shooting range is located along the eastern boundary; this trail travels north and connects with two cross trails leading west to the main trail that goes to Beers Road.
Scroll below to view photographs of the Hoyden's Hill Open Space Area: