Ames Open Space
The 195-acre Ames Family Open Space (PDF) may be accessed from Evergreen Trail (via Boggy Hole Road).
A variety of trails crisscross the property, including the nearly 2-mile "blue" trail. As you hike a distance on this trail, heading east, enjoy a tranquil view of beaver ponds. As you read on, note how beaver habitats benefit a host of wildlife and improve ecology.
The Open Space Commission created wildlife observation areas on this trail as part of a beavers and birds conservation / education program (PDF).
Natural landscape architects, beavers initially dam slow-flowing streams in forested areas. As some older, larger trees die, they offer prime nesting sites for great blue herons, wood ducks and woodpeckers. Openings in the forest canopy provide increased sunlight and nutrients for aquatic vegetation. Invertebrates, like crayfish, dragonflies, damselflies and fishing spiders become more common. The invertebrates attract insect-eating wildlife, such as tree swallows, eastern kingbirds and bats.
Although conditions for brook trout may initially improve in a dammed stream, eventually accumulated silt covers the gravel substrate upon which fish lay their eggs. Fish that flourish in warm water, such as bass, perch and sunfish replace fish that prefer cooler water like brook trout. Mink and river otter feed on the fish, and frogs, salamanders and invertebrates inhabit the new wetlands.
Over time, the area may look like an open pond, as fewer trees remain standing and aquatic plants, such as cattails, sedges and rushes become more dominant. The wetland is now highly attractive to muskrats, mallards, Canada geese, black ducks, and least bitterns (a threatened species) and king rails (an endangered species).
Great changes are also taking place on land. As the forest canopy is removed by the beavers' cutting, plants, shrubs and vines that prosper in open sunlight begin to dominate. Deer feed on the various fruiting, succulent plants and grasses growing in the rich soil. The American woodcock, whose long bill is highly adapted for probing the soil for earthworms, finds abundant worms in the moist soil.
Beavers typically exhaust their food supply over a period of years. After they move on or die, their dams eventually break and a mud flat or silt bottom is exposed. A meadow containing a mix of grasses, sedges, wildflowers and weeds may persist for years, providing habitat for the American goldfinch, chipping sparrow, field sparrow, monarch butterfly and others.
After a period of years, shrubs become established and provide habitat for the yellow warbler, common yellowthroat, blue-winged warbler and chestnut-sided warbler. The change in plant communities is variable. It may take 20 to 50 years before the area resembles a forest again.
In recognition of this fascinating natural evolution, the Open Space Commission adopted a policy in 2019 to allow beaver activity to continue undisturbed on open space properties as long as it doesn't threaten critical infrastructure or private property.
Ames Property History
The Ames Family Open Space also has an interesting history of early occupation. The Old Lyme Conservation Trust's August 2010 Tributaries featured an article on the property. Here is an excerpt:
[Sheep's Ledge, accessible via the blue trail,] … was used by Native American Indians for shelter and has been recognized locally as an important historic site for at least two hundred years. According to Dr. John Pfeiffer, Old Lyme Town Historian, it was referred to as the Old Indian Stone House in Lyme town land records of the 1820's, and was the subject of a painting called "Indian Cliff Dwellers" by Edward Rook. Rook, one of the Old Lyme Impressionists, was a contemporary of Harry Hoffman and stayed at the Florence Griswold Boarding House in the early 1900's.
In 1972, Dr. Pfeiffer studied the site under the auspices of the Department of Anthropology of the University of Connecticut. Says Dr. Pfeiffer: "My excavations revealed a site that was occupied seasonally over the last 4255 years. Various aboriginal groups utilized the rock overhang as an interior hunting camp. In such a function, groups of hunters as well as family or extended family units resided within the 'cave' during the winter months and then relocated during the spring and summer to more coastal locations. … Prior to this excavation, it was not known that the prehistory of southeastern New England dated back this far.