July 9, 2020

Take a Hike on Old Lyme’s Newest Open Space, the McCulloch Family Property

OLD LYME — (taken from a press release issued by the Old Lyme Open Space Commission) The Old Lyme Open Space Commission welcomes you to the “officially open” McCulloch Family Open Space on National Trails Day, June 6.

The newest town open space property has three trails, all with well-marked entrances.

“Tree in the Gap” trail:  This trail is accessed from Whippoorwill Rd., but note the trail begins in a temporary earthen parking area.  The Commission advises walkers to be cautious entering and exiting the area, particularly after a rain, when tires may slip.  When the town receives approval, a gravel parking lot will be constructed.

Yellow trail: This trail is accessed off Whippoorwill Rd.  A parking area is adjacent to the trail.  Both the McCulloch Family Open Space and the Deborah and Edward Ames Open Space, across the road, share parking in this area. It is important to note the parking area is adjacent to private property, which the owner has graciously allowed the town to use, so the Commission urges people using the parking area to respect property boundaries.  

Red trail: A third trail begins from Flat Rock Hill Rd. Parking is permitted on the road cul-de-sac.  Again, the Commission requests that walkers should respect homeowners’ property as the trail briefly runs alongside a private driveway.

Rook’s Meadow & Jimmy’s Pond

A beautiful meadow overlooking a peaceful pond is a short walk from the “Tree in the Gap” trailhead.  A hand-hewn bench is in the meadow (with additional facilities to be added later).  The Commission suggests this is a wonderful spot for quiet contemplation, plein air painting, reading a book or just taking a relaxing lunch break.  

Jean Vasiloff, in a past interview, said, “This was really my mother’s land,” and the Open Space Commission chose to honor (Vasiloff’s mother) Rook, and her husband Warren McCulloch, with its naming. Jim Mildrum, a life-long property resident and now one of its land stewards, was similarly honored for the pond he created alongside the meadow.

Lay Preserve: The McCulloch Family Open Space is connected seamlessly with the Old Lyme Land Trust’s Lay Preserve offering an option of longer hikes.  

A map of the McCulloch Family Open Space is now available on the town website. The Commission is pleased to offer a new option for walkers and hikers in the form of downloadable maps accessible via your smartphone with a QR code found on the trail kiosks at each entrance.  Paper maps can still be printed from the website. 

Point your smartphone’s camera at the QR code and you will see a drop-down section or link to the “hiking” section within the Old Lyme Open Space website.  Access the map and open it on your device.

Since the town closed on its McCulloch property purchase last September, volunteers have devoted hundreds of hours toward this opening.

In the fall, the beautiful property was simply not ready for visitors — there were no trails. Old farm fencing criss-crossed the property and the existing conservation easement did not allow for parking.

The Open Space Commission worked with the Old Lyme Land Trust to blaze and map its new trails.  It partnered with the Connecticut Hiking Alliance to pull fencing. 

Students from Lyme-Old Lyme High School, with safe social distancing, helped to groom trails this spring.

Legal work proceeded to modify The Nature Conservancy (TNC) easement to allow construction of permanent off-road parking. 

At present, TNC and the State Attorney General have approved an easement modification, but a last legal step of judicial approval was halted when state courts closed due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Over this time, trail markers have been posted, kiosks and gates constructed, and signs purchased and mounted, all to make the open space experience as safe and pleasant as possible.

Warren and Rook McCulloch, with their children, moved to Old Lyme in the late 1920’s, and purchased about 450 forested acres on the cusp of the Great Depression.  

Over the years and generations, the McCulloch property served many purposes – a summer camp for city children, a working farm attracting kids who came to work and stayed, and a breeding farm for Morgan horses. 

Warren and Rook’s children, Dave McCulloch, Jean Vasiloff and Taffy Holland, so loved the property they gave The Nature Conservancy a conservation easement to “protect and preserve” the property in perpetuity.

Now it is the town of Old Lyme’s turn to safeguard this lovely land.

The Open Space Commission asks only that hikers and visitors respect the property and leave trails in the condition you find them (or better).  There are no trash bins, so take out all your waste, including that of dogs.

Per safety guidelines, maintain a social distance of six feet and, if that is not possible, wear a face covering.

The Commission notes National Trails Day is the perfect opportunity to, “Take a Hike,” and enjoy the truly special McCulloch Family Open Space.

Here at LymeLine.com, we say kudos and congratulations to everyone involved in this wonderful project which will benefit the town for generations.

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