Perry's Mill Ponds Open Space Area
||east side of Bronson Road; north of Sturges Highway bridge; north side of Perry Street; south side of Sturges Road; east side of Mill River
Perry's Mill Ponds Open Space Trail Guide
||education, hiking, fishing, wetland conservation, wildlife conservation
The 58-acre Perry’s Mill Pond Open Space Area straddles the Mill River in the geographical center of Fairfield. The open space area is surrounded by residential neighborhoods. Bronson and Sturges Roads are to the west of the area. Mill Plain Road is a short distance to the east. Included in the area are remnants of the old Perry’s Mill dam which is about 1,200 feet upstream from the Sturges Road bridge over the Mill River and a little over two miles upstream from the mouth of the river at Long Island Sound. The old dam site marks the northern extent of tidal influence on the river.
The main point of access is off Sturges Road where there’s a small off-street parking area. Access points to the eastern part of the area are on Pell Meadow Drive and Perry Street where there’s space for a few cars to park carefully along the side of the road. Currently, there is no dry access across the river within the open space area.
Main entrance from Sturges Road.
Prior to settlement of the Town, the Mill River meandered peacefully through this area. There were floodplain swamps and a bog to the east, with sand and gravel bluffs to the west. The present-day ponds did not exist.
After the Town was settled, the area underwent extensive clearing for its conversion to farmland. The first major change to the Mill River occurred in the 1600’s when a dam (the Perry’s Mill dam) was built just south of the present Sturges Road entrance to the open space area. The dam harnessed water power to operate a grist mill. River crossings, or fords, were established upstream and downstream of the dam. Although the dam site is partly within the open space area, the mill building is outside of the area and privately owned.
Beginning in the late 1920’s and continuing into the 1960’s, gravel was mined from the river channel and adjoining wetlands (some of it was used to build the Connecticut Turnpike). This diverted the river from its natural channel, created several ponds, and left behind stockpiles of sand, gravel, and topsoil.
In the period 1968 to 1974, the Town acquired a number of land parcels for the purpose of establishing the open space area and subsequently dedicated the land for recreational and conservation purposes. Today, the area is used for recreational activities such as hiking, fishing, boating, nature observation, skating, and picnicking. Except during periods of low flow in the river, a canoe launched at the Upper Pond in the open space area can be paddled almost without interruption all the way downstream to the Tide Mill Dam at Southport Harbor.
Since 1968, the open space area has also been the location for the outdoor segments of the River-Lab; an environmental education program for Fairfield school children. The volunteers who conduct this program are organized and trained by the Mill River Wetland Committee. In 1987, the Conservation Commission prepared the “Multiple Use Management Plan for Perry’s Mill Pond Open Space, Draft Concept Plan.” Provisions for beneficial use and conservation of the area are also included in the Commission's 1997 Multiple Use Management Plan for Coastal Open Space.
Fishing in the Lower Pond.
Most of the open space area is within the 100-year floodplain of the Mill River and exposed to significant flooding during severe storms and high tides. The area’s most significant landscape features are the two ponds (Upper and Lower ponds) with unnaturally steep banks created by the past mining operations and an eight-acre freshwater bog in the eastern part of the open space area. The bog is also referred to as Pickerel Pond and is accessed from Perry Street. The high point in the open space area is about 35 feet above sea level on a knoll northwest of the bog.
The many topographical changes that occurred as a result of the past gravel mining operations are still evident in the open space area. Those changes have affected water flow, vegetation, wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities, and the visual character of the area. Mounds and berms of excavated material are still scattered throughout the area, some rising to 10 or 15 feet above the surrounding grade.
Vegetation and Wildlife
Although this reach of the Mill River has been significantly altered by human activities, the open space area contains a variety of vegetative communities. These habitats collectively make up one of the most diverse ecosystems in Fairfield. Included are floodplain, bog, marsh, and upland forest communities and several types of open water aquatic habitats.
The river channel through the open space area is lined with dense to moderately dense woody vegetation typical of floodplain environments. Red maple communities cover a good part of the floodplain. Upland forest is found in the drier sections and includes black birch, beech, and oak trees.
The bog is the only known habitat of this type in Fairfield and it has unique botanical assemblages and wildlife populations. It’s supplied with water not by the Mill River, but by two streams to the east. Peat deposits under the south end of the bog measure almost 40 feet in depth; 15 to 25 feet of peat underlie much of the rest of the bog. Woody vegetation covers a good part of the transition area around the edge of the bog pond and includes sumac, buttonbush, dogwood shrubs, multiflora rose and raspberry.
Wildlife abounds in this open space area. Inventories conducted by the Conservation Department have identified as many as 48 species of birds and numerous species of mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and aquatic insects. The area provides habitat for animals living in the vicinity as well as those passing through during migration periods. In addition, a number of different fish species can be found in season throughout this reach of the river. Schools of the anadromous alewife concentrate here during spawning runs upstream to the Samp Mortar dam. In 2005, a fish ladder was built to ease the movement of herring and alewives between the Mill River and the Bog Pond.
There are three independent trails in the open space area, separated by the Mill River and private property. The “yellow” trail starts at the main entrance on Sturges Road and goes north, following the west side of the Mill River and the upper and lower ponds for almost ¾ of a mile. The shorter, northern “orange” trail is entered from Pell Meadow Drive. The third, “blue” trail, is reached from Perry Street and provides a loop between the Lower Pond and Pickerel Pond that’s a little less than a ½-mile long.
Scroll below to view photographs of the Perry's Mill Ponds Open Space Area: