The 65-acre Champlain Farm North Open Space is accessible by way of Wyckford Lane off US Route 1 (the Boston Post Road) just north of the I-95 interchange and the Old Lyme Inn. An off-street parking area is available at that entrance by the kiosk. A second entrance is available from Hillside Road West with available on-street parking.
The main “red” trail has been named the “Diana Atwood Johnson Trail” by the Open Space Commission and the Board of Selectmen in honor of the noted environmentalist and long-time commission chair. Ms. Atwood Johnson owned the adjacent Old Lyme Inn for over 25 years.
As you enter the property, you’ll find a typically rolling New England landscape, sculpted by colliding continents hundreds of millions of years ago, and polished by glaciers over tens of thousands of years.
Very shortly along the red trail, you’ll notice Formica ant hills, a genus of ants of the family Formicidae, commonly known as wood ants, mound ants, thatching ants, and field ants. Their nests can consist of a turret of soil above large mounds.
Continuing along the flat terrain, you’ll reach the Barbizon Oak. At over sixteen feet in circumference, the 300-year-old Barbizon is one of Connecticut’s largest white oaks. The famous oak was named in honor of the Old Lyme art colony, created in the late 19th century as an American equivalent to the French Barbizon School of painting. Many esteemed artists painted en plein air walking from Florence Griswold’s nearby home and property (now the museum). While you marvel at the tree’s size, consider that a mile of ice once stood where you stand today.
The moving ice of the last (Wisconsin) glaciation transported hundreds of millions of tons of rock, sand, silt and clay across this land, smoothing some places and plucking stone (granite, schist and gneiss) from the bedrock in others to fill valleys where streams and rivers continue to sculpt the landscape today.
Try to imagine the site 10 to 12 thousand years ago as the glacier receded. Cold, howling wind whipped across a landscape almost devoid of tress except dwarf willows, nibbled by caribou or perhaps musk ox. Perhaps a small band of Paleolithic hunters camped here on their way to the shore, which lay a hundred miles to the south, to fish and trap for warm furs.
The land today, now clothed in forest, has seen many transitions over the millennia since the ice receded. Native Americans, before there was an America, burned the forest to improve game forage and to ease travel from village to village.
When Europeans arrived, they fell back on traditional practices from across the Atlantic: clearing the forest (“the howling wilderness”) for pasture and crops and building hundreds of thousands of miles of stone fences to establish boundaries of land tenure.
The deforestation was so widespread and complete that only about 20 percent of New England remained wooded by the early 1800’s at the start of the Industrial Revolution. Then the westward migration began, and much of the land was abandoned, reverting to forest once again.
Some Champlain Farm North trail sections are rocky and can be slippery when wet. Please be cautious hiking.