Lake Mohegan Open Space Area
Location and Access
The open space area is just south of the Merritt Parkway and east of Morehouse Highway in the northeast part of town. (See Map 6.) The area isn’t very far from the Grace Richardson Conservation Area which is across the parkway to the northwest. The entire open space area, which encompasses about 170 acres, is in the Mill River watershed. The river flows through the northern part of the area and into Lake Mohegan and then exits the lake through a spillway and continues south. The open space area is bounded by residential areas on the west, south and east. To the northeast is the headquarters of the General Electric Company.
A large parking area at the south end of the open space area, near the intersection of Morehouse Highway and Tahmore Drive, provides plenty of parking for visitors, including visitors to the Lake Mohegan swimming beach. Access to the swimming beach requires a Town permit but access to the open space area and the parking area is not restricted. You can also drive into the open space area by going north on Morehouse Highway and following the Cascades area access road. Parking is permitted in the lower area of the access road but it’s limited.
Also, there are several pedestrian-only points of access: from Morehouse Highway; from Morehouse Drive near the Merritt Parkway; and on Eastfield Circle (for neighborhood use). There’s no designated parking at any of these locations.
When Fairfield was settled in the 1600’s, the area now comprising the open space area was covered with a forest of hemlock and northern hardwoods. Then, as the Town developed and until the early 1900’s, the forest was cleared and farming was the principal land-use in this part of Town. Open fields covered the area where Lake Mohegan would later be created. In addition, during the 1800’s this area near the Mill River was famous for producing spring water bottled by the Mohican Spring Bottling Company and sold as “the most delightful of all table waters” throughout the country. There were guest houses and hotels in the vicinity of the present-day open space area for visitors seeking the health effects of the spring water.
During the early and mid-1900’s, gravel was excavated from the area immediately east of the Mill River and much of it was used in the construction of the Merritt Parkway. This excavation is responsible for creating the 17-acre Lake Mohegan and the smaller North Pond that are now within the open space area.
The open space area was established by the Town through acquisition of five separate parcels of land from 1967 through 1985, using a combination of Town funds, state grants, and donations from the General Electric Company. Natural features damaged by the previous gravel mining operations have been gradually restored by the Town since that time.
Due to its location, size, and natural diversity, the open space area today provides a variety of recreational opportunities that include walking and hiking, picnicking, fishing, and nature observation. Fishing is only permitted from the shoreline but is a major activity as the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection annually stocks Lake Mohegan and the Mill River with trout.
In addition, the beach and swimming area is the only supervised freshwater swimming area in the Town and is heavily used during the summer. The beach and swimming area is managed by the Parks and Recreation Commission. The rest of the open space area is the responsibility of the Conservation Commission.
Although the greatest amount of activity in the open space area occurs during the summer months, the area is actively used year-around and is one of the most popular of the Town’s open space properties.
In 1990, the Conservation Commission adopted its Lake Mohegan Open Space Area Multiple Use Management Plan which guides the beneficial use and conservation of the area.
Within the open space area, the Mill River and Lake Mohegan occupy much of the valley floor of the Mill River valley. The land rises quickly on both sides of the river and lake. As a result, the floodplain covers only a narrow strip alongside the river and lake and a good part of the open space area has slopes that exceed 15 or 20 percent.
The highest point in the area is about 270 feet above sea level on the eastern side of the valley. On the western side, the highest point is about 220 feet. The lowest point is the outlet of Lake Mohegan at about 80 feet above sea level.
Outcroppings of bedrock in the Mill River channel constrict the river about 1,200 feet upstream of Lake Mohegan, creating a short section of rapids where water cascades down a series of rock ledges. Known as the Cascades, this is a unique feature of the open space area and one of its major attractions.
Vegetation and Wildlife
The diversity of vegetation types found in the open space area provides a variety of wildlife habitats including: forest, open fields, wooded swamp, and shrub/scrub complexes. Wildlife habitat also includes and is enhanced by the area’s aquatic resources including Lake Mohegan and the Mill River.
Much of the area is covered by forest. Several stages of succession are present, ranging from early to mid-successional stands of young black birch to terminal communities dominated by beech, hickory, oak, and hemlock. Other forest species include sycamore, tulip, poplar, ash, and red maple. The understory includes viburnum, spicebush, and many flowering dogwoods.
The slopes east of Lake Mohegan were severely disturbed by the past gravel mining and left with little or no soil cover. These areas have slowly revegetated and are now covered with a mixture of grasses, wildflowers, and herbaceous plants. The open fields are now maintained through annual mowing by the Conservation Department.
Wildlife in the open space area includes mammals such as deer, rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, fox, mice, and muskrats; a variety of birds such as ducks, egrets, herons, hawks, owls, woodpeckers and songbirds; and various amphibians and reptiles. Rare sightings of the Pileated Woodpecker and Bald Eagle have been reported. Many fish species have been identified, including large-and small-mouth bass, trout, bluegill sunfish, common sunfish, yellow perch, chain pickerel, brown bullhead, white sucker, and American eel.
An extensive trail system is established throughout the open space area, providing the opportunity for short walks and longer hikes over varied terrain.
The yellow and red trails are the two primary routes. The yellow trail is about 2½ miles long around the perimeter of the area and traverses the steep hillside east of the lake. The trail later crosses the river north of the Cascades on a footbridge called the Mill River Bridge. You can start on the yellow trail from the south side of the main parking area.
The red trail is shorter than the yellow trail and measures about 1.6 miles in length. It’s also flatter and more closely follows the edges of Lake Mohegan and the Mill River, providing access to the Cascades. Several secondary trails are also found in the area. Please stick to the marked trails to help preserve and enhance the forest and meadow habitats.
You may bring your dog but remember that all dogs must be on a leash from the main parking area until you reach the “100-foot” sign posted on the trail, at which time you may release your dog to run freely but under voice control at all times. Also remember to clean up after your dog.
Scroll below to view photographs of the Lake Mohegan Open Space Area: